What Is Skim Milk? Here’s the Skinny

We’ve all had it at one hotel or another. That watery whitish-blueish liquid that makes you wonder, “Is this actual milk or water dyed white?” Today we are answering the age-old questions “What is skim milk?” “How is skim milk?” and, what the hay, “Why skim milk?”

What is skim milk?

So what is skim milk and why does it get a fancy abstract name while 2% and whole-fat milk get boring descriptive names? Also why “skim”? Do they literally skim the fat off the top? Is “skim” actually short for “skimp” because they “skimped” on the milkfat? Are there tiny Whoville-sized boatmen skimming across the top of the milk in seafaring skim-milk-skippin’ skiffs yelling “We are here!”? Turns out Occam’s razor applies in the dairy aisle too—the answer is simply that the milkfat has been “skimmed” out of the milk leaving it virtually fat-free, between 0.0% and 0.5% milkfat. That may leave you wondering how they make 2% milk. According to one dairy farm, “The dairy processor skims the fat off the top of the vat, and adds it back in, after calculating the weight of fat needed,” and any extra fat is converted into butter or cream. As for the notion that skim milk is just watered-down milk, this is actually false. While skim milk may taste more watery, you get all the same nutrients as whole milk, just with fewer calories, less fat, and less creamy taste and mouthfeel.

So how did skim milk become a thing?

Turns out skim milk has a long and storied history that I couldn’t possibly cover in this short explainer, so here’s the SparkNotes version: In 1930, cheese factories and creameries were a new-ish thing and didn’t know how to properly get rid of their waste, so they would just dump it out in the countryside where the factories were. “Untreated whey, skim milk, and other byproducts” were dumped into surrounding rivers and streams making the area around said factories smell like rotting milk (dairy-air, if you will). Now, this was all well and good until people got cars and started visiting rural areas as tourists, and were appalled at the smell and the wastefulness involved in the dairy-making process (this was the Great Depression, after all). So after many years of trial and error, dairies began to use the skim milk (in powdered form) as a provision for the WWII war effort and then later marketed it as a weight loss inducing/healthier form of milk. And now here we are. If you want to read more about skim milk here’s a great resource you can skim. Also, here’s the rest of this book about milk’s history over the last century. Fascinating stuff.

So why use skim milk?

I’ll be honest, I’m of the opinion that with cereal, any milk will do since you can’t taste it anyway. I’d give skim milk a chance if I wasn’t busy trying random alternative and lactose-free milks, but if you’re cutting back on fat and calories and still want dairy milk, skim milk is a great option.

About the Author

Jessica Block

Jessica Block is a freelance contributor to Sporked, a comedian, a baker, a food writer, and a firm believer that Trader Joe's may just be the happiest place on earth. She loves spicy snacks, Oreos, baking bread, teeny tiny avocados, and trying new foods whenever she can. Also, if you give her a bag of Takis she will be your best friend.

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