Skip to Content

Does milk have colouring?

Milk is a nutritious beverage that has been consumed by humans for thousands of years. In its natural form, milk has a whitish color due to the presence of casein proteins and calcium. However, some types of milk, such as flavored milks, can contain added coloring. In this article, we’ll explore whether regular cow’s milk contains artificial coloring and what ingredients are sometimes added to alter the color of milk.

The Natural Color of Milk

Fresh milk from cows, goats, sheep, and other mammals has a mostly white appearance. This is due to the way light scatters when passing through the colloidal suspension of proteins, fats, and minerals in milk. The main protein found in cow’s milk is casein, which coagulates to form curds and gives milk its white color.

The exact shade of milk can vary slightly depending on the breed of cattle it came from. Milk from Jersey cows tends to be a richer yellow because it has higher levels of beta-carotene from the cows’ diet. Milk from Holstein Friesian cows is whiter due to lower levels of carotenoids. But in general, the white color of milk is natural and not achieved by adding pigments or dyes.

Nutritional Coloring in Flavored Milk

While regular milk does not contain added colors, some flavored milks do include added pigments or dyes. This is especially common in chocolate milk, strawberry milk, and other flavored varieties. So why are colors added to flavored milks?

One reason is for visual appeal. Consumers expect chocolate milk to be brown, strawberry milk to be pink, etc. Natural flavors alone may not provide enough coloring, so supplemental pigments are added. Additionally, some nutritionists believe that added coloring can improve the nutritional profile of flavored milks.

For example, bright colors from natural sources like turmeric or annatto can make milk more appealing and nutritious for children. The table below shows some common pigments used in flavored milks and their sources:

Pigment Source
Beta-carotene Carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes
Turmeric Turmeric root
Annatto Achiote seeds
Beet powder Beets

Using pigments from edible fruits and vegetables allows manufacturers to enhance the color of flavored milks without compromising nutrition. However, there are concerns that artificial dyes like Red #40 or Blue #1 may also be added, which provide color but no health benefits.

Bleached Milk

In some parts of the world, milk is processed to create a more uniform white color through bleaching. This involves oxidizing the proteins and fats in milk to alter their light absorption properties. Hydrogen peroxide or benzoyl peroxide may be added as bleaching agents.

Bleached milk is more common in North America as a way to standardize the color from different cattle breeds. In Europe, bleached milk is not permitted under regulations from the European Union. Critics argue that bleached milk contains fewer nutrients after processing and the health impacts of consuming oxidized lipids need more research.

Thankfully, many brands of natural milk avoid bleaching and simply use microfiltration to remove lipids in a gentler way. This produces milk with a clean, white appearance while preserving more nutrients. So when buying milk, opting for non-bleached brands can help avoid heavily processed milk. The table below compares differences between raw, bleached, and microfiltered milk:

Type Process Color Nutrients
Raw milk No processing Creamy white All nutrients preserved
Bleached milk Oxidation with peroxide Bright white Some nutrients destroyed
Microfiltered milk Light filtration Clean white Most nutrients preserved

Additives in Shelf-Stable Milk

Milk sold in aseptic cartons that can be stored unrefrigerated without spoiling contains a different set of additives that can also influence color. To make shelf-stable milk, the milk is first ultra-high temperature (UHT) pasteurized to sterilize it. Then emulsifiers, stabilizers, and antioxidants are added to prevent separation and spoilage.

Common additives include:

  • Calcium carbonate – emulsifier
  • Sodium citrate – stabilizer
  • Dipotassium phosphate – emulsifier, stabilizer
  • Carrageenan – thickener, stabilizer
  • Vitamin D3 – nutrient fortification
  • Vitamin A palmitate – nutrient fortification

These have little effect on the color of milk. However, the high heat of UHT pasteurization can slightly alter the shade of white due to chemical changes. Once opened, the milk may gradually oxidize and become more yellow over time. But overall, shelf-stable milk tries to maintain a white color similar to refrigerated milk by limiting oxidation and separation of solids.

Why Milk Turns Yellow

Sometimes milk can take on a yellowish tint, especially as it ages and begins to spoil. This is usually not because something has been added, but rather due to natural chemical changes.

There are a few reasons why milk can turn yellow:

  • Oxidation – lipids react with oxygen, creating yellow byproducts
  • Microbial growth – bacteria produce yellow pigments
  • Riboflavin – this vitamin breaks down and fluoresces yellow
  • Coagulation – proteins clump and refract light differently

Storage conditions like temperature, light exposure, and container material can accelerate these processes. For the whitest milk, it’s best to store it chilled in opaque containers away from air. But a little yellowing is inevitable as milk ages and is not harmful, simply less visually appealing.

Whitening Milk Naturally at Home

If milk has started turning yellow, there are a few tricks you can try to whiten it up again at home. These include:

  • Straining – Pouring milk through a fine filter can remove some yellowed solids.
  • Radiating – Placing milk in the sun bleaches yellow pigments.
  • Diluting – Adding a bit of fresh white milk can lighten the color.
  • Clarifying – Mixing milk with yogurt helps brighten it.

However, these should only be used for slight yellowing. Milk that is severely discolored or spoiled is best discarded. Home whitening techniques may remove some vitamins or still leave behind oxidized fats.


In summary, the white color of milk is natural and not the result of added dyes. Some types of flavored milk do contain added pigments from natural sources to achieve their signature hues. Bleaching and microfiltration can also create an ultra-white appearance in store-bought milk. Aged milk may turn slightly yellow due to natural oxidation and microbial growth, but this is not from artificial coloring being added. So unless it’s a brightly colored flavored milk, you can be assured that the milky white color comes straight from the cow!