When most Americans think of milk, they think of cow’s milk. But horse milk was all the rage on the steppes of Asia 5000 years ago.
Today horse milk is back in fashion as a purported health food.
About 15 years ago scientists in Italy tested whether children who were allergic to cow’s milk were also allergic to horse milk. Only one of the 25 allergic children in the study showed sensitivity to horse milk.
And on the Internet horse milk is touted as a fix for eczema, stomach aches, and inflammatory bowel problems. (There aren’t any rock solid data supporting those claims.) Unfermented, horse milk is a strong laxative because it has 40% more lactose than cow’s milk. Most people drink it fermented.
But the really big problem with horse’s milk is its scarcity. How do you safely milk a horse? Asked that question, one milker said, “The adrenaline rush from milking a high-strung Arabian mare is like nothing else.”
Here in America many of us have encountered sheep’s or goat’s milk made into cheese. But any ruminant—indeed, any mammal—can “donate” milk. Yaks grow very quickly into huge animals, and so yak milk is particularly rich in fat and sugar. It has a reputation for making great butter and cheese.
Cat’s milk is used in the Europe and in the San Francisco Bay Area to create fromage de chat. Cats are milked mostly on small rural farms. You hold the cat in your lap to milk it. The trick is to wear gloves so they don’t scratch you.
The milk of large cats like mountain lions and panthers is so rich and creamy that it can sell for around $1,000 a gallon. Large cats are tranquilized before they’re milked.
As interesting as esoteric milks may be, most people in the western world drink cow’s milk. And, apparently, a cow with a “pet name” produces more milk than a cow without one. In a study conducted by agricultural scientists at England’s Newcastle University, researchers sent surveys by mail to farmers in northern England. On farms where cows were called by name, milk yield was 500 pints a year higher than on farms where they weren’t.
In 2009 scientists in England demonstrated that drinking cow’s milk can lessen the chances of dying from illnesses such as heart disease and stroke by as much as 20 percent. That conclusion was based on an analysis of 324 separate studies of milk consumption. Never mind what organs the fat and sugar in milk might be bad for or good for. People who drink milk live longer.
But sometimes milk is not so healthy. It might not be, for example, when added to black tea. The favorite drink of the English offers protection against heart disease by dilating arteries and keeping blood pressure low. In 2007 a small German study found that adding milk to black tea completely stops that affect.
What kind of ice cream do you think would be sold in England under the name BABY GAGA? Ice cream made from human breast milk. The Icecreamist in London started selling it on February 25, 2011. They paid a medically-screened mother for her milk. They pasteurized it, added vanilla, cream from cow’s milk, and lemon zest, eggs, and sugar, and sold it for about $2 a scoop in a cocktail glass. The health department swooped in and seized all samples, but in the end declared it safe. And, yes. Lady Gaga threatened to sue.
If you are a working mother and express milk for someone else to feed your baby, you might want to make sure the baby is given the night-time milk at bedtime, and the morning milk in the morning. Melatonin, a hormone in mother’s milk, is sleep inducing. In 2009 a team of Spanish scientists found that lots of it is in milk expressed by the mother or fed to the baby at night-time, and it’s undetectable in morning breast milk.
And if you’re a nursing mother and you want your baby to be sleep well, laugh. In 2007 a Japanese researcher found that laughing while watching a funny movie increases the level of melatonin in mothers’ milk.
As the legends go, Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile, enjoyed milk baths. (The lactic acid in milk breaks down dead skin.) In Rome it was Nero’s wife who bathed in milk. In the 16th and 17th century in England, the aristocracy and nobility took milk baths. And in the eighteenth century in France Napoleon’s sister had a hole drilled in the ceiling of her bathroom so that servants could pour milk into her tub from the floor above her.
But actually the story of milk baths isn’t all that pretty. It seems that, in the eighteenth century, there was a French aristocrat who had his servants sell the milk once he had finished bathing in it. An Abbess may have used the milk from her baths to cook soup for the nuns at her convent. And apparently some Swiss innkeepers in the nineteenth century re-used the bath milk of their guests to make cheese.
But I digress. Drink up. Remember? It’s good for you. Except in tea.