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My wife and I recently moved to Belgium. We were absolutely shocked by the fact that UHT (long life) milk and cream dominate supermarket shelves compared to pasteurized - by a factor of at least 10 to 1. The UHT products are sold in cardboard containers and taste poor compared to the refrigerated fresh stuff.

Considering Belgium is well known for it's rich tradition of dairy products, this struck us as rather odd.

I asked around and was told that France was also going UHT.

Anyone know how this came about? I can see how UHT makes sense when there is a poor distribution network, but surely it isn't by choice???

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the stats for various countries are at: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultra-high-temperature_processing –  Tea Drinker Aug 3 '10 at 0:11
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Keep in mind, pasteurized milk also has an "off" taste compared to fresh, unpasteurized milk. But it's safe to ship and can be sold long after and a long distance from its point of origin. Lots of money to be made trading convenience and a promise of safety for quality... –  Shog9 Aug 3 '10 at 3:01
    
Okay, next time I'm in the supermarket, I'm going to stop someone and ask them. I'll post back what I learn. In the meantime - check this out. I just found it while Googling "UHT adoption rate". "Sensational Discovery Shows UHT Milk Causes Brain Disease" :/ wledge.net/health-fitness/… –  octonion Aug 3 '10 at 17:52
    
Interestingly, you could ask the same question in the other direction about bread. In the UK, you can buy bread which lasts for weeks, whereas (mostly) on the continent bread is only good for a couple of days (and nice for fewer). –  Benjol Dec 7 '10 at 9:31
    
Funny I am not sure what you guys are talking about. We only have pasteurized milk in Canada, that I know of. Unless you are talking about milk in tetra pack style boxes. That stuff is only for camps, somewhere without reliable refrigeration. I'm sure when I tasted it I thought powdered milk was better. –  Renshia Dec 21 '10 at 6:42

4 Answers 4

My guess is that the Belgians (like the French) rarely eat milk cold and uncooked in the way that the British do. The Belgians will have their milk in hot chocolate, or cakes etc, whereas the Brits will have it cold in cereal (again, in France at least, cereal is eaten with warm milk).

I have found that the UHT milk in French supermarkets tastes a lot better than the UHT milk in British supermarkets.

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That's an interesting theory. I had no idea about the warm milk on cereal thing. You're right, the UHT milk is better than when I was growing up in the UK in the 70's. At that time UHT was pretty bad. –  octonion Aug 3 '10 at 17:41
    
I have quite a lot of experience of the two cultures - I'm British and my wife is French, and we live in Calais, about as near as you can get to the UK without a boat! My father-in-law will never have a croissant without warm milk to dunk it in! –  Rich Aug 4 '10 at 20:41
    
It's the same to eggs sold in the US and Japan. In Japan, a pack of eggs lasts just around a week because people often eat them raw. –  puri May 11 '11 at 18:37
    
@puri and how long do eggs last in the US? –  Rich May 12 '11 at 7:29
    
around 2 weeks in the US. –  puri May 13 '11 at 3:02

My guess would be the convenience of storage for markets. Less refrigerated space is going to cost less in electrical expense. Consumers can also stock up without having as much dedicated space in refrigerators. European refrigerators in particular tend to be on the small side.

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this can't be it. Refrigerator size (also electricity costs, transport culture, distribution network etc) in the UK are comparable to France & Belgium but fresh pasteurized milk is massively favoured over UHT in the UK. –  Tea Drinker Aug 2 '10 at 23:57
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As I said, it was just a guess on my part. Has anyone asked the grocery stores why the switch? –  Darin Sehnert Aug 3 '10 at 0:36
    
Gotta love the certainty one has in what "can't be it" when one doesn't know what it is. –  hobodave Aug 3 '10 at 0:41
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@cinque: I used to do exactly the same. I'm not a milk drinker so it would often go to waste keeping it on hand for baking/cooking. I now mainly rely on heavy cream and just thin it down with water if I need milk in a recipe. Guess I stopped by the shelf-stable milk because the price went up in the store I started shopping in after moving a few years back. –  Darin Sehnert Aug 3 '10 at 2:41
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I'm not so sure it's a space in the fridge problem - well not on the consumer end. I grew up in the UK and we had a tiny fridge, but we always had fresh milk. Also my estimates were off. I made a quick trip to the store today and the ratio is more like 200 to 1 not 10 to 1. –  octonion Aug 3 '10 at 17:50

I think it's convenience topping taste. To be honest, I've got used to UHT now, and the convenience of never having to worry about milk going off (and not having to return to the shop every other day to buy more) is undeniable.

(I'm actually surprised by the percentage for Switzerland on that Wikipedia page, I don't think I've ever been offered pasteurised milk by anyone here - maybe it's all the milk going into cheese-making?)

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I do not know about other European countries but in my country the shelf life for pasteurized milk is a mere 4 days. It was even less when I was a kid (like 2 days). So, it is very costly for producers and retailers to sell pasteurized milk as opposed to UHT.

I think this stems from the fact that milk consumption is not widespread and the industry does not invest in techniques and other means of improving shelf life (hygiene, cold-chain) when they can sell UHT instead.

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Out of interest, what country are you in? –  Bluebelle Nov 25 '10 at 17:08

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