If cows ate strawberries, would their milk taste like strawberries?

10 January 2017

Question

Neil asks: If cows ate strawberries, would they produce strawberry milk?

Answer

Chris Smith put Neil's question to Maud Borensztein from Cambridge University...

Chris - Now I like that idea very much but is that a myth or could it happen?

Maude - I do also like this idea but I would prefer chocolate if I would have the choice. But you won’t 'strawberry-ify' your milk but what we know now that a change in what you give to your cow could slightly influence the taste of the milk. So there are two studies that have already been published and it seems that when they add strong flavour to the food there’s a slight tell that have been found in the milk. And this is something that is found also, for example, in France with the cheese. For the gruyere or the beaufort we have two kind of cheese, we have the summer one and the winter one, and it seems to be because of what the cow will eat. During the summer they will eat grass and flowers, when during the winter they will mostly eat hay and it will slightly change the taste of the cheese.

Chris - Stuart…

Stuart - I heard something as well that if you fed certain animals say poison ivy or something that they could develop in their milk some kind of antidote or some kind of resistance that would be produced by the milk afterwards that you could use the animal almost to kind of create a...

Maude - I know that what is important with the milk that you can give to the baby.

Chris - Oh yes, you’re talking about antibodies, in like colostrum and things because that can change the microbes that live in your gut. I wondered when you were talking about breastfeeding whether you were going to explore this whole idea about what the mum eats affects what the baby grows up wanting to eat or has a particular predilection to want. You’re nodding James - is this something you’ve seen?

James - I’ve certainly heard it said that what the mother eats can make breast milk more or less palatable to the baby. Now as to whether it affects the babies or child’s food choices later in life. Is this the Mandela effect Chris?

Chris - Aha. I have seen studies that have looked at what goes into the mother’s mouth and then what ends up in her blood, and there are certain proteins which you can then trace. People have done tracing studies and they can show them coming through in the breast milk and so there is a suggestion that certain food stuffs do influence the composition of breast milk and that can include strongly flavoured chemicals, particularly garlics and onions, allium family type things and that may have an impact on what the baby likes. Kyle?

Kyle - I’m certainly no expert on this but I have two small children who I did breast feed. So I read a lot of literature and certainly it’s given that you will have these differences that come through in the milk from what you eat. But I think there’s a lot of real new research about the gut and, again, I study the brain so it’s a bit outside of my field, but there’s some fascinating stuff that I’ve read about the effects on the gut biology and the fact that we are just learning more about the biota that’s there. So we know that cesarean sections, for example, is changing the gut biology of the babies born by cesarean. So I would be curious if the breast milk, the breastfeeding is changing that too. I don’t know of any research on that.

Chris - Kyle; thank you very much.

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