Your Biggest Milk (and Dairy) Questions, Answered

We tackled all your biggest questions about milk—and then some. If you’re wondering how to minimize food waste, whether you should use heavy cream or half-and-half in that recipe, or if you just want to know more about milk’s nutritional profile, keep reading.

Milk and other dairy products are absolute staples in millions of households, but getting the most out of them takes a little bit of insider knowledge. To help out, we tackled all your biggest questions about milk—and then some. If you’re wondering how to minimize food waste, whether you should use heavy cream or half-and-half in that recipe, or if you just want to know more about milk’s nutritional profile, keep on reading.

What do the different milk fat percentages mean?

Milk is milk, but there are a variety of different types available at your local grocery store. The main difference between these types of milk is their fat content, which is expressed either as a percentage or a word on the label:

  • Whole milk contains about 3.5% fat by weight (the California standard), and 3.25% fat by weight (the federal standard)
  • Skim milk contains extremely low levels of fat (<0.2%)
  • 2% and 1% milk contain 2% and 1% fat by weight, respectively

To make it easy to choose the right kind of milk, you’ll often see different colored packaging to reflect the different milk fat percentages. Crystal Creamery’s color scheme is red for whole milk, blue for 2%, green for 1%, and light pink for skim. 

What’s the Difference Between Regular Milk and Lactose-Free Milk?

Lactose-free milk is just regular cow’s milk with its main form of sugar—lactose—removed. This is done by filtering the lactose out of the milk and/or breaking it down by adding an enzyme called lactase to the milk before pasteurization. The human body makes its own lactase specifically to digest lactose, but not everyone makes enough, which causes lactose intolerance. Removing the lactose makes milk much easier to digest, especially for lactose intolerant people.

Is Milk Healthy?

Yes, milk is incredibly nutritious. It contains all three major macronutrients—protein, fat, and carbohydrates—as well as essential micronutrients like calcium, iron, vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin B-12, and folate. Whether you drink it by the glass, pour it on cereal, enjoy it with cookies, or use it in your favorite recipes, cow’s milk is an easy (and delicious) way to add serious nutrition to your diet.

Can You Freeze Milk?

Yes, you can freeze milk. It’s an easy, safe, and effective way to prevent food waste. All four widely-available types of cow’s milk (skim, 1%, 2%, and whole) can be frozen and thawed with no change in nutrition. That said, you may experience mild changes in color, texture, or flavor. Any container will work, including the original jug or carton. Just remember that water expands when it freezes, and milk is mostly water—so always leave a little room for expansion. If you’re freezing milk in its original container, pour yourself a glass first, then put it in the freezer. One last pro tip: If you plan to keep your milk in the freezer for longer than a month or so, freeze it in a glass container to prevent the milk from absorbing smells and flavors from its freezer neighbors.

Does Milk Have Sugar?

Yes, plain cow’s milk does naturally contain some sugar, mainly in the form of lactose. This type of sugar is unique to dairy products, and it gives milk both its carbohydrate content and slightly sweet taste. If you’re worried about the sugar content in milk, you don’t necessarily have to be: Plain milk doesn’t contain any added sugar at all. In fact, lactose is totally different from the sugar you add to coffee and baked goods. (Granulated sugar is mainly sucrose.) Chocolate milk does contain added sugar, and those extra carbs make it an excellent pre- or post-workout beverage.

What’s the Difference Between Heavy Whipping Cream and Half-and-Half?

The difference between heavy cream and half-and-half is simple: heavy whipping cream is pure cream, which contains either 36% or 40% butterfat, while half-and-half is a mixture of half milk and half cream with butterfat content between 10.5%–18%. Half and half doesn’t contain enough milk fat to whip, unlike whipping cream, which can whip it to soft or stiff peaks—but you can use half and half to add extra creaminess to recipes where you might otherwise use plain milk. If you’ve never put half-and-half in your scrambled eggs, you should.

What Can You Use to Replace Buttermilk?

As anyone who's tried to swap plain milk for buttermilk knows very well, these two ingredients are not the same. Buttermilk is a cultured dairy product, so it’s thicker and tangier than plain milk—you really can’t use them interchangeably.

If your recipe calls for buttermilk and you don’t have any, don’t worry. You can make a passable substitute with either of these techniques: 

  1. Mix Plain Milk with Acid: Just add a small amount of lemon juice, vinegar, or cream of tartar to regular milk and let it stand for about 5 minutes.
  2. Thin Out Yogurt or Sour Cream: Gradually add milk or water to a cultured dairy product like plain yogurt or sour cream until it’s pourable, but still thick.

Neither of these substitutes is exactly the same as buttermilk, but they mimic the thicker texture and slightly acidic flavor of buttermilk much better than plain milk.

What is the Difference Between Buttermilk and Bulgarian Buttermilk?

For even more information about buttermilk and how it’s made, you can read the California Dairy Press Room’s blog post about buttermilk. These days, most buttermilk you can buy in the grocery store is made from pasteurized low-fat milk that’s been treated with Streptococcus lactis bacteria and allowed to ferment slightly, producing the thick texture and tangy flavor we associate with buttermilk. Bulgarian buttermilk is made with a similar process using fermented whole milk, but it uses different bacteria and contains additional butterfat, which produces a thicker texture than plain, low-fat buttermilk.  

Can you Freeze Sour Cream?

Unfortunately, sour cream is not the best candidate for freezing. Although it is safe to eat after freezing and thawing, you will definitely notice some separation and a change in texture. These changes probably won’t be noticeable in baked goods like cakes, quickbreads, and waffles, but you’ll definitely notice them if you try to dollop thawed sour cream on tacos. 

Can Dogs Have Cottage Cheese?

Yes, dogs can have cottage cheese—in moderation, of course. According to the American Kennel Club, the main issue with feeding dogs cheese is its high fat and sodium content, which dogs don’t tolerate as well as humans. Cottage cheese is much lower in fat and sodium than other kinds of cheese, though, making it a safe choice for a high-value treat. That means your dog gets to enjoy all the good parts of cheese—protein, vitamins, minerals, and of course, its delicious flavor—without too much fat or sodium.

It’s also important to remember that, like humans, some dogs can’t digest dairy products. To make it easy to gauge any potential reaction, start by feeding your dog only very small amounts of cottage cheese. The ASPCA’s dog nutrition guidelines recommend that treats (which includes cottage cheese) account for five percent or less of a dog’s daily food intake. Make sure you’re staying well under that five percent amount, especially if you give your dog other treats.

Hopefully, this FAQ helps you feel a little more informed about milk and dairy products, and makes it easier for you to incorporate them in your daily life. If you have any more burning questions about milk, we’re always here for you—feel free to contact us any time.