All the health benefits of raw milk, but pasteurised

Thermal pasteurisation of milk is a necessary step to kill pathogens, but it reduces the nutritional value of milk. Pasteurisation also damages milk proteins, causing them to lose some of their protective properties. However, an innovation from the technology company TOP in Wageningen makes it possible to pasteurise milk without reducing its nutritional value.

“In raw milk, there are healthy proteins and enzymes such as alkaline phosphatase,” says Wouter de Heij, the CEO of TOP. “Alkaline phosphatase has a broad spectrum of health effects. For example, it inhibits inflammation. However, all these effects disappear due to the necessary pasteurisation process. The pasteurisation process not only kills microorganisms in milk but also inactivates alkaline phosphatase.”

Moreover, according to tests, if there is still active phosphatase present in dairy products, the pasteurisation process has not been successful. Recently, TOP patented a new technology that will dramatically change this situation. “With this technology, we can pasteurise milk without damaging the milk proteins and enzymes,” says De Heij. “And we can do the same with all other protein-containing liquids, including plant-based liquids.”

The technology developed by TOP pasteurises not through heat but through a powerful electric field that kills microorganisms. “Pasteurising with an electric field is not new in itself,” says De Heij. “But until recently, it was not possible to do this with raw milk.”

Pasteurisation through electric fields occurs when a liquid is pumped through a pipe. The pipe passes the liquid through the electric field, killing bacteria, fungi, and other pathogens. “If we wanted to pasteurise milk this way, the proteins in the milk would stick to the inside of the pipeline,” De Heij explains. “During pasteurisation through an electric field, the temperature increases only a few degrees, but due to friction forces in the pipe, the milk near the pipe wall becomes significantly warmer. This causes the proteins to stick to the pipe wall, similar to how milk sticks when you cook it in a pan on the stove. As a result, the pipe clogs up quickly.”

TOP’s engineers solved this problem by specifically cooling the milk fraction near the pipe wall and leaving the rest of the milk unaffected. It sounds simple, but the development of this technology took TOP and its partners no less than six years. TOP has now mastered pasteurisation with electric fields to the point where the company can supply equipment that can pasteurise 600 to 2000 liters per hour.

“This technology is also suitable for products other than milk,” says De Heij. “It is suitable for all protein-containing liquids that you can pump through a pipeline, including liquid egg.” In addition, the technology is also suitable for pasteurising plant-based protein drinks – for example, based on a protein isolate from fava beans or soy. “Because this technology keeps the proteins intact, they are more easily digestible and absorbable,” De Heij explains. “Especially when you think about sports and health products, this is undoubtedly interesting.”

Finally, the technology is sustainable. “Pasteurising with electric fields requires less energy than pasteurising with heat,” says De Heij. “Compared to the regular heat-based form of pasteurisation, companies can reduce their carbon footprint by 50 to 80 percent with this technology.”

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