Introduction to Dairy Science and Technology: Milk History, Consumption, Production, and Composition


 This course is about the study of milk and milk-derived food products from a food science perspective. It focuses on the biological, chemical, physical, and microbiological aspects of milk itself, and on the technological (processing) aspects of the transformation of milk into its various consumer products, including beverages, fermented products, concentrated and dried products, butter and ice cream.

Milk is as ancient as humankind itself, as it is the substance created to feed the mammalian infant. All species of mammals, from humans to whales, produce milk for this purpose. Many centuries ago, perhaps as early as 6000-8000 BC, ancient peoples learned to domesticate species of animals for the provision of milk to be consumed by them. These included cows (genus Bos), buffaloes, sheep, goats, and camels, all of which are still used in various parts of the world for the production of milk for human consumption.

Fermented products such as cheeses were discovered by accident, but their history has also been documented for many centuries, as has the production of concentrated milks, butter, and even ice cream.

Technological advances have only come about very recently in the history of milk consumption, and our generations will be the ones credited for having turned milk processing from an art to a science. The availability and distribution of milk and milk products today in the modern world is a blend of the centuries old knowledge of traditional milk products with the application of modern science and technology.

The role of milk in the traditional diet has varied greatly in different regions of the world. The tropical countries have not been traditional milk consumers, whereas the more northern regions of the world, Europe (especially Scandinavia) and North America, have traditionally consumed far more milk and milk products in their diet. In tropical countries where high temperatures and lack of refrigeration has led to the inability to produce and store fresh milk, milk has traditionally been preserved through means other than refrigeration, including immediate consumption of warm milk after milking, by boiling milk, or by conversion into more stable products such as fermented milks.

World-wide Milk Consumption and Production

The world dairy situation - facts and figures regarding production and consumption - is presented by the International Dairy Federation here.

Total milk consumption (as fluid milk and processed products) per person varies widely from highs in Europe and North America (60-90 kg) to lows in Asia (<30 kg). However, as the various regions of the world become more integrated through travel and migration, these trends are changing, a factor which needs to be considered by product developers and marketers of milk and milk products in various countries of the world.

Even within regions such as Europe, the custom of milk consumption has varied greatly. Consider for example the high consumption of fluid milk in countries like Finland, Norway and Sweden compared to France and Italy where cheeses have tended to dominate milk consumption. When you also consider the climates of these regions, it would appear that the culture of producing more stable products (cheese) in hotter climates as a means of preservation is evident. Table 1 illustrates milk per capita consumption information from various countries of the world (older data from 2011) while Table 2 shows the quantity of raw milk produced around the world.

Table 1. Per Capita Consumption of Milk (L) and Milk Products (kg) in Various Countries, 2011 data (

Table 2. Cow Milk Production (‘000 tonnes) in Selected Countries of the World, 2011 data (

Milk Composition

The role of milk in nature is to nourish and provide immunological protection for the mammalian young. Milk and honey are the only articles of diet whose sole function in nature is food. It is not surprising, therefore, that the nutritional value of milk is high.

Table 3. Composition of Milk from Different Mammalian Species (per 100 g fresh milk).

Table 4. The changing yield and composition of milk over the last two decades in Canada, as a function of breed (Canadian Dairy Information Centre,, 2010).

Now you can return to the home page Table of Contents and work through the various topics within this Education Series systematically, or you can select any topic of interest for further, in-depth information. I hope you enjoy!