What is a Modified Milk Ingredient?

Milk. Close your eyes and think about the last advertisement for milk you saw on TV.

Are you picturing:

Babybel Cheese Package

  • Happy cows smiling at the camera?
  • Pastoral scenes?
  • Phrases like “pure” and “wholesome”?

Dairy companies know that consumers yearn for “the rural countryside, a space implied to be healthier, both morally and hygienically”. We want to be reassured our milk is just like it used to be; fresh from the cow. We know it’s not (and in fact it’s illegal to sell in such a state), but thanks to some clever marketing, people connect milk with basic nutrition and natural goodness.

“Milk has long been synonymous with wholesome, fundamental nutrition, and for good reason: unlike most of our foods, it is actually designed to be a food”
– Harold McGee, in On Food and Cooking

In Canada, how milk is collected, pasteurized, and fortified is spelled out by strict laws. One might think these controls would spill over to other dairy products, but with the exception of butter, it’s simply not the case.

Pull out the dairy products from your fridge and you’re likely to find cream “cheese”, cheddar, and ice cream made with “modified milk ingredients”.  And I’m not just talking about those obviously processed cheese slices.

cracker barrel old cheddar croppedcracker barrel ingredients close up

As you might have guessed, modified milk ingredients are, by definition, not natural. (Plain ‘ole “milk ingredients” seem to be fine though.)  They’re chemically tampered-with components of milk that have been taken out of their natural matrix.


“modified milk ingredients: any of the following in liquid, concentrated, dry, frozen or reconstituted form, namely, calcium-reduced skim milk (obtained by the ion-exchange process), casein, caseinates, cultured milk products, milk serum proteins, ultrafiltered milk, whey, whey butter, whey cream and any other component of milk the chemical state of which has been altered from that in which it is found in milk.” – Food & Drug Regulations

Eat less cheese?

I was working at a grocery store about 15 years ago when the price of milk shot up. The price of cheese bars seemed to double overnight and as a cashier, I was on the receiving end of complaints from enraged customers.

Over time, the prices and the customers mellowed (also, the cheese bars got smaller). But with prices rising, have cheese recipes changed to keep prices down? According to this McGill University blog post, the answer is yes – because in Canada, there are limits to how much fluid milk can be imported, whereas imported milk ingredients are taxed less.

So, disgruntled consumers, are you eating less cheese than you were before prices rose?

Nope. While milk consumption has decreased from a 1995 high at 90 litres per person per year to 77 litres now, we’ve compensated by eating MORE cheese – about 2 kg more per year.

Current cheese consumption: 12 kg per person per year

Consumption before the recession (2008): 12.6 kg

Consumption in 1993: 10.7 kg

Do you think it’s those “Stop cooking with cheese!” commercials?

Whether it’s because of lower tariffs or some other reason, it’s getting more difficult to find dairy products made with milk instead of milk ingredients.

You know how I hate bread made with all sorts of weird additives. Call me old-fashioned, but I also believe cheese should be simple: milk, bacteria, an acid, enzymes (rennnet), salt.

Cream Cheese Label - Philadelphia

How do you find cheese made with real milk?

I’m not going to be popular with these recommendations, but these are the three shortcuts I’ve found that make it easier to find cheese made with real milk.

Look for:

  • Organic cheese
  • Higher end (more expensive) cheeses
  • Cheeses tied to traditional cultures

Le Fin Renard Cheese

By seeking out cheese made with  milk rather than modified milk ingredients, you will be feeding your body something that is actually wholesome, not just advertised that way.

Yes, you will spend more. But do you really need to eat a toddler’s weight in cheese every year?

It’s time to focus on quality, not quantity.


References and further reading:


  1. Hi Jill,

    Great article, thank you. I am 100% with you on what should be in cheese, however please keep in mind that not all rennet is created equal.


  2. Hi Bora,
    Hmmm, I haven’t checked much into rennet other than whether it’s vegetarian (microbially derived) or traditional (from cow stomachs). Could you elaborate on what you mean?

  3. jordan renaud says:

    The damned modified milk ingredients make the cheese smell terrible! Even when first opening the package. And after a couple days in the fridge the opened cheese stinks like used Kotex pads!
    This stuff is BAD in every possible way. Even ice cream with this shit in it tastes “off’.
    Pipe the whey and other crap down the sewer where it belongs….like it used to be.

  4. I would rather spend more for my body than using this money to pay the doctors to fix the problems that these “modified milk ingredients” can cause to my body!

  5. Just opened an Armstrong Extra Old White Cheddar. Weird texture, like a cross between Mozza and Cheddar. Tastes like process cheese, now I know why…. the label says “modified milk ingredients” Thanks for the info- I am switching to any other cheese that is unadulterated.

  6. Great article thank you. I noticed lately that these modified ingredient items are also not satisfying as a result I kept eating more. Although it is initially harder on the pocket I am trying where I can to buy the more expensive brands with pure ingredients. I notice wth the regular bar cheeses in the grocery store the cheddar flavour is severely diminished and again the satiety factor. I figure if I can spend 1.75 to buy a coffee. I can save the cost of 2 or three coffees and buy a really good quality cheese and oh my gosh the difference is as they say between chalk and cheese ( pun intended)

    Similarly with ice cream I splurged and bought Kawartha Lakes icecream the other day. versus the lol ice desserts now filling up the ice cream freezers and wow what a difference. Again one scoop leaves me happy and filled.

  7. Robin Goodhand says:

    I became aware of the “modified milk” story when a friend of mine told me about it. She sells group benefits (health, dental etc) to groups of employees and one of her clients is a dairy co-op in eastern Canada. She said her clients told her all about how the modified milk ingredient are imported into Canada and that producers can make cheese, for example, with less real milk as a result. The cheese (at least cheddar, Colby, etc and other hard cheeses) have a different , more rubbery texture and don’t melt as well. For residents of eastern Canada, buy local like ADL (PEI), Sussex (NB) (now owned by Agropur), or Farmers (NS). There are no modified milk ingredients in these cheeses. For cream cheese, buy ARLA from Denmark. It is not that bad in price and is absolutely delicious. When in doubt read the labels. There used to be two or three ice creams out there that were good (Bryers, President’s Choice Cream First etc), but now they ALL contain milk ingredients except Häagen-Dazs. Make your own ice cream. You do not need an ice cream maker or anything, just a mixing bowl, an egg beater, a double boiler and a freezer. For that matter, if you cannot find Arla cream cheese, make your own too, it is easy and there are lots of youtube videos you can check ( eg Gemma’s Bold Baking Basics).


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