The Difference Between Pasteurized and Ultra-pasteurized Milk


A reader asked me recently if the pasteurized milk in her grocery store would work for making yogurt. The directions said not to use ultra-pasteurized, is that the same thing?

The short answer is no, pasteurized and ultra-pasteurized are not the same thing. And the “regular” pasteurized your grocery store most-likely carries will work for yogurt.

This is a really good question, though, because there are a lot of different labels floating around for milk: pasteurized, ultra-pasteurized, organic, homogenized, raw. What do they all mean? Are they marketing fluff or do they make a difference? Can you taste the difference? did a blind taste test to find out, and included a glossary describing what the terms all mean. What did they find?

  • Organic tastes better than non-organic.
  • Non-homogenized milks were smoother, creamier, and overall more delicious than homogenized.
  • Ultra-pasteurized should probably be avoided, because the milk can taste “cooked.” That’s fine if you’re making rice pudding, but otherwise, we prefer fresher-tasting milk.
  • Raw milks are the most flavorful, but you have to be ready for them: If you prefer a neutral beverage that tastes almost like ice water, raw milk’s tangy, barnyardy, grassy notes may be off-putting.

So if you have any questions about what the different labels mean, go check out the article.


  1. Thanks so much for addressing my question Drew. I appreciate the information!

  2. I was curious if these same rules apply everywhere, not just in the USA. We have Milks here that are deemed ‘More Digestable’ like Zymil, and Milk that comes in BOXES. Like… UNREFRIGERATED. Thanks to a company called TetraPAK, they can do that even with Heavy Cream and Real Whipped Eggs, not the dehydrated/rehydrated kind. I haven’t seen a viariety of Milk here deemed ‘Organic’, but maybe I’m not going into the right stores.

  3. Kate, all the terminology is going to be completely different. You know, for instance, that the terms “virgin” and “extra virgin” for olive oil have no legal definition in the U.S.? Which means they can slap those labels on pretty much anything.

    The boxed, non-refrigerated milk is probably ultra-pasteurized. There’s a great rule of thumb I first heard applied to bleached white flour: Anything with a long shelf life has had so much nutrition removed that even bugs won’t touch it.

  4. I wonder where they sourced their raw milk? There are mucho variations among raw milk tastes as well.

  5. Thanks for the update, Drew!

    I was wondering the same thing as Michael… our milk has never been barnyard-y nor has any (cow or goat) milk from any of my farming buddies. Raw milk has tons of benefits as well as being great tasting.

    But regardless of where you get it – any glass of milk goes with your spectacular brownies! Wow! I made a batch of your “How to Make Perfect Brownies”… they were excellent. And easier than just opening a mix.. I’m completely sold and am spreading the word! They were really chocolaty – and I just had the normal Hershey’s cocoa and Nestle chocolate chips. Can’t wait until I have even better chocolate!

    Keep up the great work!

  6. Drew,

    Thanks for sharing. I asked around to ask people if they knew the difference, and none of them had a clue. A friend of mine who grew up in Wisconsin, claims that California is not the real dairy state, even he had no clue what the difference was. I showed him, with your help!

  7. Oh no, please don’t get me in the middle of a Wisconsin vs. California “We’re the real milk state!” brou-ha-ha.

  8. Milkman says:

    Ultra-pasteurized milk CAN be used to make yogurt. In fact, you can skip the scalding step if you pour it from a fresh box because it’s already sterile. The yogurt tastes the same as ‘regular milk’ yogurt to me (you have to scald regular milk to sterilize it before making yogurt, so it loses its ‘uncooked’ advantage anyway).

  9. I am living in Belgium. I have noticed here in the grocery stores they only carry 28% + cottage cheese. I am craving very low-fat or no-fat cottage cheese, which was abundant to buy in Canada. I’ve tried making cottage cheese but with no success. I am now thinking it is the milk in the stores here. It is all on the shelves and has had some type of High Temperature process done to it. Is there any way I can make cottage cheese out of this milk or can you suggest an alternative? Soy milk maybe if not ‘on the shelf also’. I do see a ‘organic’ section in the grocery stores, but I am not certain if milks from that will work either. Can you please help?

  10. Deanna, I’m kind of stuck on the idea of craving a low-fat or no-fat cheese. That seems completely backwards to me. But hey, if that’s what you’re into …

    I’m not sure what’s typical in Belgium, but in the U.S. most milk is pasteurized — brought up to a high temperature to kill all active cultures in it — and homogenized — mechanically blended so that the cream and fat won’t separate from the rest of the milk.

    The problem with pasteurization, if you’re trying to make cheese or yogurt, is that in addition to potentially bad cultures, raw milk is also loaded with active cultures that are good for you. These are the cultures you want to depend on when making your yogurt or cheese. If your milk doesn’t have them, you’ll need to add them yourself.

    Homogenization might be a bigger problem when it comes to making cheese, because separating the fat and solids from the water is exactly what cheese-making is.

    I’m betting Belgium hasn’t yet caught up to the U.S. program of arresting people for buying and selling raw milk — not kidding about that, we’re actually that stupid. If you can find raw milk, start with that.

  11. I live in Pittsburgh PA. Where can pasturized cream be found hereabouts? I’ve searched for pasturized cream for a while; I’ve only found ultra-pasturized cream. Can it be obtained from organizations such as United Dairy Farmers and or similar co-ops? Pasturized cream is on the list of ingredients for a large number of recipes, i.e. creme fraiche, sauces, etc. The obvious thought is that it does no good to write recipes using ingredients that a consumer can’t find. Frustrating…


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