Acidophilus milk, sometimes called sweet acidophilus milk, has Lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria added to it, giving it a tangy flavor and thickened texture. This cultured product is usually low in fat and has a longer shelf life than ordinary milk. Many people believe it can benefit digestion and prevent allergies due to the activity of the acidophilus bacteria in the intestines. Milk of this kind is often available at health food stores as well as some major supermarkets.
How It's Made
The culture process used to make acidophilus milk starts with inoculating sterile milk with the bacteria. Next, the milk is allowed to sit at a warm temperature while the bacteria reproduce. L. acidophilus thrives in the mildly acidic environment of milk, consuming some of the lactose in the milk in the process. The tangy flavor of the milk will increase the longer it stays warm. This process is similar to the one used to make yogurt but results in a thinner, drinkable product.
It is possible to make acidophilus milk at home, as long as the cook has the correct bacteria. Starter cultures that contain L. acidophilus are available, although they often contain other strains, including Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, that are commonly used to make yogurt. If fermented too long, the milk will turn into yogurt.
Store-bought acidophilus milk is sometimes treated to make it slightly sweet rather than tangy. It can be used like regular milk in recipes, unlike kefir and other fermented products with a strong flavor. Some people also drink it in place of regular milk, preferring the distinctive flavor.
Generally speaking, acidophilus milk is comparable to regular milk of the same type. Most of the commercially available products have about 1% milkfat, providing about 110 calories per 8 ounces (236 mL); regular 1% milk has about 102 calories. Both have about the same amount of protein (8 grams) and calcium (about 30% of the recommended daily allowance).
Like other milk products, acidophilus milk should be checked regularly for changes in texture, color, or smell. If the milk begins to smell different or change color, it should be discarded. Active bacteria in the milk can continue reproducing as the product ages, causing it to become dangerous to consume. It is important to keep this type of milk chilled to minimize bacterial activity. When homemade, this milk should be used within a week; commercial products may have a longer expiration date.
Acidophilus bacteria is considered a probiotic, meaning that they are usually beneficial to human health. Some people believe that consuming products that contain live active cultures can help to treat digestive problems and yeast infections. Acidophilus bacteria is said to increase the number of beneficial intestinal and vaginal bacteria when eaten. Dairy cultures typically contain a smaller amount of probiotic bacteria when compared to acidophilus supplements in pill or powder form.
This beverage is used in place of regular cow's milk for some individuals who are lactose intolerant. During fermentation, the bacteria feed on the lactose sugar in the milk, breaking some of it down. For people who are lactose intolerant, that means that their bodies may have an easier time digesting this milk. Acidophilus milk is only lightly fermented, however, so it does still contain milk sugar; this can cause gas and bloating in some people.
Acidophilus milk is also sometimes recommended for use with infants who are old enough to drink cow's milk. One theory holds that, when consumed by infants, acidophilus milk might reduce the chances of the child of developing allergies later in life. There is no proof that drinking this milk will cure an already existing allergy.
Some studies also suggest that this type of milk may help lower cholesterol levels. The bacteria in the intestines may help prevent cholesterol in food from being absorbed so it does not enter the bloodstream.
Possible Side Effects
Some people report bloating and gas when they first start drinking acidophilus milk. This is likely because it changes the balance of bacteria in the digestive system, and because the milk does contain some lactose, which can cause these side effects in people who have an intolerance. This usually passes in a short amount of time, however.
Acidophilus milk is usually not recommended for people who have immune system problems. Because there are live bacteria in the milk, they could cause an infection in people who's bodies cannot control their growth. People who are allergic to milk should also avoid this product.