"I jumped on board with IDDSI because I’ve always believed it would reduce errors in the food served to people."

John Holahan

Image by João Silas
  • John Holahan

Milk.  A Natural Challenge.

Our simple directions at SimplyThick are printed on all of our packaging: “Stir briskly for 30 seconds. In the vast majority of cases, these directions work.

On occasion, we find some beverages for which these directions aren’t enough. This is one of the eternal challenges of writing directions - what to do with the exceptions to the rule? Add in the fact that a product like SimplyThick® EasyMix™ works well in so many different beverages, people want to believe there should be a universal set of directions. Occasionally, I have someone who challenges me to come up with a universal set of directions to be certain they will work every time. My response is usually something like, “Mix vigorously with a whisk for 15 minutes. That will work universally.” But it’s not practical. And most people’s arms will be too sore and too tired to mix that long.

Now, let’s talk about milk. For simplicity, today I am just talking about old-fashioned, plain, ordinary, white cow’s milk. Our directions, “stir briskly for 30 seconds” work most of the time with most milk found in the US and Canada. However, we do seem to have some customers in some places where this doesn’t work. The product labels on the milk that a customer may have difficulty mixing and the milk we mix in our testing say the two different milks are the same. And according to various regulations, they are the same.

So why do they behave differently?

The answer is that cow’s milk is a natural product. The actual composition of the cow’s milk we drink is generally the same, but the exact composition of milk in every container is influenced by several factors. So from the chemist’s standpoint and more importantly from the viewpoint of xanthan gum, there are (obviously) some differences. In one case the gum is thickening quickly and easily. In the other case, it is slow.

Diet, nutrition, age, breed of cattle, the seasons, and the stage of lactation are some of the factors that can affect the composition of milk from a particular cow. At the farm, milk from multiple animals is combined in the same tank. On the truck, the milk from a few farms may be combined. And at the dairy, milk from many tankers are combined. Blending the milk from so many animals helps to smooth out much of the local variation in the components of the final fluid milk. However, the specific processing conditions at each dairy and even the environmental factors in a region can all influence the composition of the milk that is found at the store.

The 2 primary factors in milk that will slow down the thickening action of xanthan gum are calcium and protein. Higher quantities of either or both of these will slow down the rate of thickening. Both of these can and do vary depending on the source of the milk.

What can be done about it?

You may think a different thickener may help, but it really won’t. The liquid formulation of SimplyThick EasyMix thickens much faster than any powder. The powders must first liquefy before thickening and SimplyThick already has that step accomplished. Look up the recommendations for mixing powders in milk and you will see recommended wait times of 10-15 minutes.

Another option is to switch to a different dairy for your milk. They might process it differently, and it will allow the xanthan gum to hydrate quicker. But this is not often appealing nor easy to do.

The option we usually recommend: wait a few minutes after mixing. Most often, the milk will be at the desired consistency in under 5 minutes. In most facilities, the milk won’t be served in less than 5 minutes, so this is an acceptable delay.

In any case, we always recommend that you confirm your mixing procedures with the IDDSI Flow Test. This will ensure that you are properly mixing and properly thickening to the desired consistency.

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