Organic milk can be more expensive, but it may be worth the price compared to regular milk. Here’s how organic and regular milk differ in production, nutrition, and taste.
You’re standing at the dairy case, deep in thought.
The store-brand gallon of regular milk is about $4. Next to it, there’s a half-gallon of ✨organic✨ milk for the same price, looking svelte with a happily grazing cow on a sunny day pictured on the carton.
But which is the better choice? Is organic milk so much better for you that it commands a 100 percent higher price, or is it better to save a few bucks and go with the regular stuff? If you decide to shell out more money for organic milk, are you making the best choice, or are you just another sucker for greenwashing?
In this article, we’re spilling the
tea milk on organic vs. regular milk to help you figure out which is the right one for you.
First of all, what exactly is organic milk? Is there such a thing as an organically-grown cow?
Organic milk differs from the regular milk on your grocery store shelf in four key ways:
- Organic milk comes from cows that have never been treated with antibiotics.
- Organic milk cows do not receive supplemental hormones.
- Organic milk cows must receive at least 30 percent of nutrition from pasture during grazing season.
- Organic milk cows are fed organic feed and graze the organically managed pasture.
Because of the differences in both production and processing, there are differences in the nutritional profile of organic vs. conventional milk.
|Organic whole milk, 1 cup (240 ml)
|Conventional whole milk, 1 cup (240 ml)
|8 grams (g)
|300 milligrams (mg)
|300 international units (IU)
It’s important to note that organic and regular milk often contain added vitamin A and vitamin D — so the slight differences in these amounts don’t reflect an actual difference between organic and regular milk.
But do these nutritional differences make organic milk better? Honestly, organic milk may be a slightly more nutritious choice if you’re a big milk drinker or have kids who drink a lot of milk. Kids may significantly benefit from the extra boost of omega-3 fats to help their developing brains.
But, conventional milk is still an excellent option for milk drinkers as it’s also packed with nutrition. It’s also a great way to optimize nutrition on a budget.
PSA: If you don’t use a lot of milk to begin with, then choosing organic versus conventional isn’t likely to have a huge impact on your health.
Like us, cows naturally produce hormones. One is the bovine growth hormone (bST), equivalent to our human growth hormone. These hormones are present in milk to some degree, as well.
However, conventional dairy cows are often supplemented with a synthetic version of this hormone (rbST) to promote faster growth and more milk production. This leads to higher levels of bST in conventional cow’s milk.
However, this practice of hormone supplementation — synthetic or otherwise — is strictly forbidden in organic milk production.
So, while organic milk will contain some bST, you can rest assured that the stuff it does have is au naturale and not a result of added hormones.
The research adds up, too: research shows that both regular and organic milk contains detectable levels of bovine growth hormone, but the stories are much higher in regular milk.
Just keep in mind that we need more studies to fully understand the effects of bST on human health.
Organic milk is just as safe as conventional milk, if not safer.
It goes through a process of ultra-pasteurization — meaning it’s heated to higher temps than conventional milk. This kills bacteria in the milk and extends the shelf-life significantly.
That’s not to say that you can play fast and loose with food safety if you’re using organic milk, though. Make sure it gets returned to the fridge promptly, so it doesn’t languish in the food safety danger zone of 40-140°F.
Most organic milk has a longer shelf life than conventional milk, lasting up to 2 months rather than about two weeks.
This is because of the ultra-pasteurization, AKA ultra-high temperature (UHT) treatment, which superheats the milk and reduces susceptibility to bacterial growth.
But *spoiler alert* — not all organic milk is UHT-treated. Be sure to check the label, and don’t assume that it has a longer shelf life just because it’s organic.
In our experience, organic milk has a slightly different texture and mildly sweeter flavor than regular milk.
This is primarily because of the way the milk is pasteurized. UHT treatment cooks the milk, so the natural sugars and proteins get toasted — leading to a sweeter taste and a creamier texture.
If you’re used to the taste of regular milk, you may not like the taste or mouthfeel of organic milk at first. Likewise, some organic milk drinkers say that conventional milk tastes watered down in comparison.
Organic milk comes only from organically-fed cows that get at least 30 percent of their nutrition from pasture and haven’t received antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones. None of these same things can be said for conventional milk, though. Additionally, most organic milk is pasteurized at ultra-high temps — leading to a longer shelf-life and a slightly different, sweeter taste.
If you (or your kids) drink a lot of milk and can afford its higher price point, choosing organic milk may be worth it for its longer shelf life, better nutritional profile, and more sustainable and ethical production. But TBH, conventional milk is still a great option, especially if you factor in cost and availability.