I recently noticed an Instagram post under the hashtag #foodfacts, which I use for my CulinaryLore posts on Instagram. The image claimed that chocolate milk is actually made from expired white milk that is sent back to the processing facilities, boiled down and re-pasteurized, then mixed with artificial synthetic chocolate flavoring, sugar (GMO). In other words, chocolate milk is a way to get another month of shelf-life out of white milk while adding a lot of bad stuff.
I had never heard this particular claim but a quick search revealed that it has been around since at least 2000. Is there any truth in the claim?
It is true that some expired milk is returned to the dairy. Often, milk on grocery store shelves that is past its sell-by date is saved for the milk company to pick up while delivering fresh milk. Depending on the local dairies, some stores may actually empty the containers of old milk and only return the containers to the dairy. The question is, what happens to the milk that is returned to the dairy?
The simple answered is that expired milk is disposed of and not used for anything, including cheese, sour cream, or yogurt. As for the rumor that chocolate milk is made from sour milk, it is untrue. No amount of boiling and added flavoring could remove the sour taste from milk gone bad. There is one thing that is true of most chocolate milk: It’s delicious. Such a treat could never be made from anything but fresh milk.
It is not only the dark color, added flavoring, and sugar that makes some people suspicious of chocolate milk, but the thickness. Chocolate milk has a creamier mouthfeel than regular milk, even though it typically contains less fat, and it has a thicker consistency. This creamy thickness is achieved through the addition of carrageenan, a seaweed-derived product that helps many food products, including ice creams, achieve a more creamy and thick consistency. It won’t hurt you and there is nothing evil going on here. Move on. In fact, chocolate milk, besides the added sugar, delivers the same nutrition as regular milk, including all the calcium.
The FDA maintains strict standards of identity for all dairy products, including milk. Although natural and artificial flavorings are allowed to be added to milk, all milk intended for consumption must be fresh milk. Chocolate milk, in other words, is bound by the same rules as white milk. It is illegal to use anything but fresh milk in chocolate milk.
Artificial Chocolate Flavor in Chocolate Milk?
Although you will often see artificial flavor listed among the ingredients in chocolate milk, the Instagram post I mentioned seems to be claiming that chocolate milk contains synthetic chocolate flavor.
Under 21 CFR 131.110, milk flavorings, termed “characterizing flavoring ingredients” can be added to milk. Among these are fruit and fruit juices and natural and artificial food flavorings. However, the label of a nonstandardized food product cannot be called “chocolate” unless it uses, as its source for chocolate flavor, an ingredient which complies with the standards of identity for cacao products, or if it is flavored with cocoa, but is a product which consumers have long expected to contain cocoa as its “chocolate” flavoring agent, and which consumers do not expect to contain whole chocolate. Most chocolate milk contains cocoa as its primary source of chocolate flavor. If chocolate milk contained a synthetic chocolate flavoring agent, the manufacturer would not be able to label it chocolate milk and some other designation would have to be used, such as chocolate-flavored milk drink.
Questions have been raised about products containing “cocoa” being allowed to be called “chocolate.” The Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs of the FDA has advised that such products can continue to be labeled as chocolate because consumers have long recognized that the products are made with cocoa rather than chocolate. For example, chocolate pudding made from cocoa instead of chocolate can still be labeled chocolate pudding as most consumers would still recognize this as chocolate pudding, and have no qualms about the chocolate flavoring being cocoa instead of chocolate. Chocolate milk would fall under this category. A chocolate bar, on the other hand, would not, because consumers expect chocolate bars to contain chocolate.
Cow’s Blood in Chocolate Milk
Even scarier is the claim that chocolate milk is made from cow’s milk that was rejected for containing too much cow’s blood. This rumor seems to be at least as old as the sour milk one, such as these examples collected by Snopes:
When cows are milked, sometimes there is a great deal of blood that comes out along with the milk. This tainted milk is non-salable, except to the makers of pre-packaged chocolate milk, since the cocoa hides the blood. And chocolate milk makers get the milk at quite a bargain.
A co-worker recently told me that she had heard Nescafe Blend 43 instant coffee was somehow made with cow’s blood. The rumour applied only to this blend of Nescafe. I checked the ingredients list, and it reads simply, “coffee beans”.
I was drinking a chocolate “Milk Chug” made by Creamland when my friend asks “Is that Creamland chocolate milk?” I said yes and he responded “I am not sure if this is true, well, of course its not, but I heard it from my brother”. He goes on to say that Creamland’s chocolate milk has cow blood in it. Here is the reasoning:
To save money from wasted milk when a cow’s utter begins to bleed, instead of throwing the bloody milk away, they add chocolate to it to disguise the taste and color. This way, no milk goes to waste … efficiency.
The same thing goes for this myth as for the sour milk myth. There is no allowance for blood, according to FDA standards, in any milk product.