How to Make Goat Milk Taste Better
Why does goat milk taste bad? There could be many factors to goat milk flavor.
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Does your goat’s milk taste, well, like goat milk? Fear not. Here is how to make goat milk taste better.
Goat milk offers some amazing benefits over cow’s milk: easier digestion, better nutrient absorption, fewer allergens, and an excellent source of probiotics. But let’s face it, sometimes it’s too strongly flavored for enjoyment.
So why does goat milk taste bad? The characteristic “goaty” flavor springs from the presence of the enzyme caproic acid, strengthening taste as milk ages. Along with caprylic acid and capric acid, these three fatty acids account for 15% of the fat in a goat’s milk. By comparison, cow’s milk contains 7%.
Many things affect the taste of goat milk — diet, health, presence of a buck, cleanliness, environment, even a genetic component. To make goat milk taste better, address these factors.
Many people insist their goat milk should taste like cow milk, and that’s all there is to it. It’s important to remember that goat milk isn’t cow milk, and we celebrate its differences. That said, there are times the goaty flavor is overwhelming. Here are some tips to make goat milk taste better.
If your goat’s milk tastes too strong, the first thing to consider is the animal’s health.
Commercial dairies have a harder time handling health issues for individual animals. Mastitis (infection in the udder) or other low-grade infections can cause a chemical change in the milk. Poor sanitation and trauma to the udder are more common in crowded conditions. In home dairies, it’s easier to recognize and promptly treat mastitis or other infections, making the issue temporary.
Other conditions that can affect milk taste include stress, temperature extremes (very hot or very cold weather), poor diet, parasite load, medication, and poor sanitation. Keeping a goat’s living quarters as clean and sanitary as possible will positively affect her health and the taste and quality of her milk.
If your goat’s milk suddenly tastes salty, you may be witnessing the early stages of mastitis. If the udder is red, warm, hard, or abnormally swollen, or if you see ropey “squiggles” in the milk, these are signs of an infection in the mammary tissue. Mastitis is not something you can ignore, hoping it will go away. Address it before it worsens.
Mastitis most often happens with a lactating doe who does not have kids on her since frequent milking (nursing) is the most effective way to nip early mastitis in the bud. If the doe has no kids on her, make sure you milk the doe dry at least twice a day, if not more. A vaccine for mastitis caused by Staphylococcus aureus is now available for goats.
Other factors that may make milk taste salty include copper deficiency and the drying-up process (when milk sometimes changes as the doe goes dry).
The taste of a goat’s milk can be directly related to what she eats. Certain seasonal plants can adversely impact the milk flavor. Milk may also have seasonal differences (spring/summer/fall) depending on what forage is available. If your animal’s milk suddenly takes on a less-than-ideal quality, it’s time to scour the pasture and see what’s blooming (ragweed and wormwood seem to be infamous culprits). If your goat has a controlled diet, try some experimentation by increasing or decreasing various components to see if it’s possible to identify what’s affecting the taste of the milk.
Is There a Buck?
The strong, musky odor of bucks — especially during mating season — is well known. Many caprine breeders believe the year-round presence of a buck may impact the taste of a doe’s milk, even if they’re separated. Though not scientifically proven, it’s a factor to consider, especially since it’s been reported anecdotally too often to disregard. If you keep a buck, milk as far away from him as possible, cover the milk container right after milking, and reconsider letting your lactating nannies anywhere near him.
A common cause of goaty flavor is how the milk is handled and processed. For example, destabilizing the fats by handling the milk too roughly can cause bitterness.
Since caproic acid strengthens the goaty flavor of milk as it ages, freshly chilled milk is best for drinking or making dairy products. Chill immediately after filtering; the longer milk is kept warm, the faster lactic acid and bacteria will affect the flavor. Sometimes this altered flavor is preferred in various cheeses or fermented beverages, but if you’re after non-flavored milk for fresh drinking, chill (or freeze) the milk as quickly as possible.
Don’t Forget Cleanliness.
Along with proper milk handling, don’t forget to keep your tools (buckets, jars, utensils) as sanitary as possible, so you don’t inadvertently transfer bacteria. Wash the animal’s udder before milking, and keep her pen clean.
Unfortunately, milk is an ideal medium for bacterial growth, so take care at all stages to reduce the chances of contamination by outside sources (dirt, etc.) and reduce the growth of bacteria found naturally in milk. Goat milk can taste bad simply because of poor sanitation practices.
Most store-bought goat milk is pasteurized, which often increases the goaty taste. Pasteurization’s heating process kills bacteria, enzymes, and nutrients, which alters the flavor.
Additionally, the extra handling time from goat to store may compromise its freshness. Commercial goat dairies may also use medications (including antibiotics and steroids) that can affect the flavor. In short, pasteurized store-bought milk is a different product than fresh raw milk.
Stage of Lactation
A goat does not give identical quality and quantity of milk every day and every year. The number of pregnancies a doe has had and the doe’s stage of lactation will affect quality and quantity. Think of a lactation cycle like a bell curve — butterfat content peaks a couple of weeks after kidding, then starts a prolonged flattening as the kids grow older. As milk production advances after kidding, fat and protein levels decrease with increasing milk yield. When production declines in mid-to-late lactation, fat and protein concentrations increase. All of these factors can have an impact on taste.
While you can milk every breed of goat, some breeds are preferred as dairy animals — for a good reason. Milk from these breeds has comparatively high butterfat content, which correlates to better flavor. The most popular dairy breeds are Alpine, Saanen, La Mancha, and Nubians. Nubians have the highest butterfat content, followed by La Manchas, Saanens, and Alpines.
What About Genetics?
Some individual goats have goatier-flavored milk than others naturally, and this genetic component can get passed to offspring. Two does in good health and kept in similar conditions can have very different-flavored milk simply because they’re different animals. If your goat’s milk tastes bad, examine some of the above factors and see what works to improve the flavor. If nothing changes, then it may be you have a “goaty” goat. Keep her milk for alternate uses, and use another animal’s milk for fresh drinking.
Originally published in the November/December 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.