It is easy to look at microwaves as a miracle invention that heats faster and hotter than any oven before it. It is true that they heat faster and hotter, but those exact qualities are why they are not ideal for some heating jobs.
This is usually the obstacle one runs into when trying to use a microwave to heat things such as milk. You might as why that is. Can microwaves not heat up milk? Does something happen to the milk? What’s the deal?
Yes, you can microwave milk. The result will, for the most part, taste like milk heated normally by way of an open flame or the stovetop. There are, however, some invisible downsides to heating milk by microwave. They are not dangerous, and they do not always affect flavor, but they are worth knowing.
Heating Up Normal Milk In The Microwave
Before going any further, it is worth defining what “normal milk” is. Some people will instinctively think this means their favorite (or, if they are cynical, least favorite) kind of milk. That is to say, they will expect normal milk to refer to either 1% or 2% milk. No, “normal milk” means both 1% and 2% milk. And whole milk, in fact.
It also includes almond milk, soy milk, and of course, chocolate milk. What does “normal milk” not include? Specifically, breast milk. Which is odd, because breast milk exists in nature much more commonly than so-called “normal milk”, but very few people exist in a state of nature at this point. So, normal milk is normal.
Anyways, this kind of milk can definitely be heated up in the microwave with basically no downsides. The reason for this is that all milk in America is “pasteurized”. This is a process that ensures that the milk is an inhospitable environment for the kinds of bacteria that can and will regularly colonize milk.
The issue is that the reason normal, pasteurized milk suffers no downsides from microwaving is because pasteurization does not kill bacteria. Well, it does, but its primary purpose is to kill bacteria’s food. This means normal milk lacks a lot of the proteins and enzymes that would make it far healthier.
Even health-minded alternatives like almond milk and soy milk are subject to this (most of the time). Ordinarily, microwave radiation would kill these proteins and enzymes, rendering the milk drinkable and warm, but lacking much of its nutritional value. But since normal milk does not have these, basically nothing happens.
Still, it is safe to drink, and if you are just looking to dilute or flavor your coffee with some milk, a microwave is a good method by which to warm that milk up.
Heating Up Breast Milk
This is a common concern for mothers: What does the microwave do to breast milk? Many mothers will produce more breast milk at any given time than their child or children could possibly drink. As a result, they will often freeze or refrigerate the excess milk for use later.
Babies are notoriously picky eaters, so warming the milk up is usually necessary to get them drinking the bottled breast milk. So, is a microwave safe for warming the breast milk up? Yes and no.
Yes, because it will not make the breast milk dangerous in any chemical way, nor will it make it taste different. But no, because breast milk is chemically different from normal milk. It is a less consistent mixture, meaning that some parts will heat up faster than others.
You can have a bottle of microwaved breast milk that has piping hot spots right next to freezing cold spots, and you won’t know they are there until those spots touch your baby’s tongue. Perhaps even worse, the milk will lose the proteins and enzymes that make it so good for the development of the child due to the microwave.
If you want to heat up frozen breast milk, then avoid the microwave. Instead, heat up a glass or pot of water and defrost the breast milk in that water. It does not matter if the water was microwaved or boiled, as microwave radiation will not carry over through the water outside the microwave oven itself.
This will warm the breast milk evenly while still maintaining its healthy chemical qualities.
Is Microwaved Milk Healthy?
After all that talk about microwaves and pasteurization getting rid of milk’s nutritional value you are probably wondering if that leaves milk with any health benefits at all. Surprisingly, the answer is yes!
Milk is heavy in fat. That sounds bad, as the meaning of the word “fat” has shifted over the years, but in this case, it is a good thing. You see, fat on the human body can be made by many different things, but it is all made for the same purpose. The trouble is fats made by trans fats and sugars are not as useful to the body.
Milk is good because while it deliberately produces fat within your body, it is fat that your body knows how to use. Strangely enough, the adaptation for digesting milk in this way is rather recent, coming about only around 8000 years ago. Perhaps someday humans will be able to digest sugar and trans fats in such a way.
At the moment however, milk is one of the best providers of fat that you can burn for energy easily.