Christmas feature

Reindeer milk - not on Santa's list this year

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Milk

In a year that has seen camel, sheep and donkey milk grab the
headlines in turn, Mrs Rudolph and her chums neednt fear that
theyre next to get the "other milk" treatment.

It is hard to imagine large scale milking of these animals, not only since the process is labour intensive but also because the output is poor. According to the FAO, reindeer milk yields are extremely low. Couple this to the fact that it apparently takes two people to milk the beasts - one to do the milking and the other to hold the horns it is no wonder that the milk has never gone mainstream.

However, in an article published in the scientific journal, Anthropologischer Anzeiger​ (1997, Vol. 55, pp. 281-287), lead author A. Kozloz from the ArctAn-C Innovative Laboratory in Moscow states: "Intensive reindeer breeding, necessary for producing considerable amounts of milk, was developed by the Saami comparatively recently, some 300-400 years ago."

According to Dr. Kozloz, the milk of the reindeer is only consumed in small amounts, mostly as flavouring or in sour-milk products.

The milk does have a distinctive nutritional profile, with a fat content of 22 per cent, a whopping six times as much as cow's milk. Donkey milk contains less than one per cent fat.

Additionally, reindeer milk is poor in lactose, containing only about 2.4 per cent - equivalent to about a one-third the lactose content of human milk (7 per cent) and half that of cow's milk (4-5 per cent), according to Fundamentals of Dairy Chemistry​ (B. Webb, A. Johnson, AVI Publishing, 1965).

But if drinking a glass of the stuff sounds a little too adventurous, an more appetising alternative may be Finnish and Lap speciality Juustoleipa, which literally means "cheese bread".

The cheese is reported to be produced by draining and pressing the reindeer curds into a flat, wooden dish and "toasted" in front of an open fire. The result is said to look more like toast that cheese, hence the name.

Reindeer dairy looks certain to remain niche, but Mrs. Rudolph may have to look out because she may well find herself on the menu.

The Saami are reported to eat the majority of reindeer meat, consuming almost 90 per cent of Finland's total 2.3 million kilos of reindeer meat consumed every year.

Apparently it is 'very different' to beef and other meats, but difficult to explain when a part of your traditional cuisine, with a lot of the taste coming from slow cooking over an open fire, and the salting and drying of the meat.

2006 has been a year of increasing interest in alternative sources of milk. Indeed, has run several reports on the potential of camel, sheep and donkey milk. The latter was anecdotally reported to be the secret behind the long-life of the world's oldest women, who managed to witness an impressive 116 Christmases, starting in 1890.

It's debatable that she would have enjoyed such success if she'd had to wrestle with antlers everyday.

Related topics Science Dairy-based ingredients

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