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Shyamal Banerjee/Mint
Shyamal Banerjee/Mint

Goat’s milk: are you up to it?

Gandhi was a champion but few Indians have taken to goat's milk. That might be changing

Wandering through Food Hall, the Future Group’s world food supermarket in Mumbai’s Palladium Mall, I was quite delighted at the addition to the shops offering specialised food items. The few located in the expat corners of the city are just not enough for the growing number of Indians experimenting with shitake mushrooms, quinoa and guacamole.

But would they experiment with goat’s milk? A smiling lady who said she had come from Bangalore had positioned herself strategically near the entrance and was giving away samples of Nannies Goat Milk.

I spoke to Stephen Kairanna, 42, who owns Nannies Goat Milk, to ask him about the product.

His father Jayakar Kairanna, 71, started Nadur Goat Farm in their village close to Udipi, north of Mangalore. For about a decade, they were only supplying goat’s milk to the village, but once they had a sizeable herd two years ago, they put the milk in half-litre pouches, branded it and began distributing it to retail chains like Nilgiris and Nature’s Basket in Bangalore. They also home-deliver in that city and moved in 2012 to Mumbai, where they supply 230 litres of milk in specialised stores and hypermarkets. Next stop: Pune. Why not Delhi, I ask, for selfish reasons. “It’s too far from Bangalore and we need to control the distribution end closely, but may be we’ll start there too eventually." Kairanna says.

The biggest ambassador of goat’s milk was Mahatma Gandhi. In a memorable scene in Richard Attenborough’s movie on him, Patel and Nehru are exasperated as he whimsically wanders off to tend to a goat in the middle of a serious discussion. Someone else, at the other end of the ideological spectrum from Gandhi’s, also drank goat’s milk--Osama Bin Laden. While hiding in the cold, harsh mountains of Afghanistan, Osama is said to have survived on a diet of goat’s milk and dates.

Why aren’t normal people like us drinking goat’s milk? “There’s a perception that goat’s milk is smelly," Kairanna said. “It can be, if the goat is allowed to graze and if there is proximity to the male goat, which causes the milk to smell. In our farm, we follow the stall feeding system where we feed it grain pellets made in-house. Each goat has a dedicated space of 25 square feet, it is vaccinated and hygiene is maintained. The milk is processed in the dairy plant within the farm, so that there is no smell."

There wasn’t any smell in the sample I took home from Food Hall but may be a slight savoury undertone if one is looking for a difference. The coffee was indistinguishable from that made using regular milk. Perhaps we would all consume more goat’s milk if it was more widely available.

The Central Institute for Research on Goats (CLRG) in Mathura is one of the several research institutes under the central government’s ministry of agriculture. Its mandate is to “improve goat production and product utilisation, impart training, transfer technologies" etc. For example, one of their technologies ready for commercialisation is for the production of a flavoured goat’s milk and whey drink.

R.S.Sharma, principal scientist at CLRG, explains that the reason goat’s milk constitutes a mere 4% of the total milk production in the country is because the yield of a goat farm is very low. A goat yields only half or one litre of milk per day -- even breeds like Jamunapari, the best Indian dairy goat. That’s miniscule given that a good milch cow produces 30 litres a day! Goat’s milk can therefore never be a mass product as a humongous number of goats would be required to match the milk production of a cattle farm. “It is consumed only by some who are aware of its medicinal properties," said Sharma, affirming that there are indeed medicinal properties.

Articles in the Dairy Goat Journal, a bi-monthly magazine, cite many examples of consumers who discovered amazing health benefits of goat milk, most often to do with digestion. While these form anecdotal evidence, it is scientifically proven that goat’s milk has a higher component of Vitamin A and B, minerals and selenium than cow’s milk.

Scientists are apparently not entirely sure why, but lactose-intolerant people have found it easier to drink goat’s milk. They surmise that it is because cow’s milk has big fat globules--the oil droplets which float on top when you heat it. These need to be homogenised, i.e. broken down, to get digested. Goat’s milk has smaller fat globules which make it naturally homogenised and gentler on the stomach. There are many horror stories about the adulteration of milk produced by cooperative farmers for our giant milk federations. In contrast, a goat farm, as of now, is a small-scale, controlled operation where we don’t have to worry that the network has become too big for the company to control purity at the village level, as I do for Amul or Mother Dairy products. However, as goat‘s milk is a niche product, it is much more expensive. Half a litre of Nannies goat milk costs Rs.40, double the mainstream brands.Yet, if availability was easier, it might be worth including goat’s milk into the family diet for its unique health benefits and relative purity.

Vandana Vasudevan is a Delhi-based writer on urban consumer and civic experiences. Your comments are welcome at toughcustomer@livemint.com.

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