Sheep milk company Spring Sheep Dairy is a finalist in four categories of the NZ International Business Awards.
Led by Professor Warren McNabb, of the Riddet Institute, Palmerston North, the project will seek better mechanistic understanding of the various milks produced in New Zealand including cow, goat, sheep and deer.
A particular aim will be to develop new products for babies, very young children and elderly people in New Zealand and, especially, for export.
Other research partners are Massey, Otago and Auckland universities, AgResearch and Plant and Food Research. And it has the backing of Miraka, Fonterra, Synlait, A2 Milk Company, Maui Milk, Spring Sheep Dairy, NIG Nutritionals, Pamu and the Dairy Goat Cooperative.
McNabb says that understanding the mechanistic differences in milk is critical because, while two foods may have similar composition, the nutritional consequences when these are eaten could be quite different. The key point is how the nutrients are structured within the food.
“The idea behind this programme is to look at the way those milks are structured in their raw state as well as when you process them into yogurt, cheese, etc.
“If you understand the structure/nutrition relationship you can really affect the way [the consumer] receives important nutrients from any food. Ultimately the aim is to understand how cow, sheep, goat and deer milk release nutrients.”
McNabb says once it’s understood how these interactions occur, the researcher can then see what can be done from a processing perspective to improve the nutritional value of milk and milk products.
The researchers want to understand how milks are digested and now nutrients are released into the body and what are the consequences for the consumer.
“The industry has a real interest in how to position milk as part of a whole holistic diet. It is not necessarily to find a particular protein in milk with some biological activity and then work out how to link that; it’s more to ask how do you manipulate whole milk into its products to maximise nutritional value? And how do we position milk in our diet because of its intrinsic health properties?”
McNabb says research done in Australia shows that if people had been drinking the recommended 500ml of milk a day, the savings to the health system there would have been huge.
Milk is a complete food containing minerals, trace elements and nutrients not found in another foods, he says. “Milk is one of the animal foods that is concentrated full of nutrients that are important to us.”