World Milk Day: 8 Iconic Dairy Dishes From Around The World
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Every year since 2001, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has celebrated June 1 as World Milk Day. Established to recognize the importance of milk as a vital food around the world and to celebrate the contributions of the dairy sector, this day highlights the impact of milk and milk-based foods in our lives. Apart from supporting the livelihoods of millions of people around the world, milk production also highlights how much our culinary cultures depend on this critical ingredient. 

Milk has been a significant part of human diets for thousands of years, and its usage in culinary traditions can be traced back to ancient civilizations. In ancient India, milk and milk-based ingredients like ghee formed the very basis of the purest of religious and culinary rituals. The same goes for ancient Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome and Egypt—the oldest civilizations of the world boasted of a focus on the dairy sector and naturally produced many dairy dishes, both sweet and savoury. 

Today, milk and milk-based products continue to be essential ingredients in many culinary traditions around the world. They contribute to the taste, texture, and nutritional value of various dishes, ranging from savory to sweet. If you are wondering what some of these dishes are, then here is a closer look at some of the most iconic milk-based dishes from around the world that are growing in popularity and reach today. 

Video Credit: YouTube/Preppy Kitchen

Kheer, India

Kheer is a traditional Indian rice pudding made with milk, rice, sugar, and various flavorings, including seasonal fruits like mangoes and oranges. Recipes for kheer in the Indian subcontinent have existed since ancient times. The basic process of making kheer involves simmering rice in milk until it thickens and reaches a creamy consistency. Sweeteners like sugar, jaggery and fruits are added to the dish along with aromatics like cardamom, saffron, rose water, and nuts such as almonds, pistachios, or cashews. A compulsory part of festivals across the subcontinent, kheer today also comes in sugar-free and low-fat versions for those with diabetes. 

Tres Leches Cake, Latin America

Tres leches cake, also known as "three milks cake," has a rich history that is closely tied to Latin American culinary traditions. While the exact origin of the cake is debated, it is believed to have originated in Central America or Mexico and has since become popular throughout Latin America and beyond. The sponge cake for Tres Leches is soaked in a mixture of three types of milk—evaporated milk, condensed milk, and whole milk. It is topped with whipped cream and sometimes garnished with fruits or cinnamon. 

Crème Brûlée, France

Crème brûlée, which translates to "burnt cream" in French, is a classic dessert that has a long history in French cuisine. The dessert has a creamy custard base, typically made with eggs, sugar, and cream. Just before serving, a layer of sugar is sprinkled on top of the custard and caramelized using a culinary torch or broiler, creating the signature crisp and caramelized crust. The invention of the dish is often attributed to the famous French chef François Massialot, who served as the chef to several notable figures, including Louis XIV, in the late 17th century. 

Melktert, South Africa 

Melktert, also known as "melktert" or "milk tart," is a classic South African dessert that is loved for its creamy and comforting flavors. "Melktert" translates to "milk tart" in English, highlighting the key ingredient used in this traditional treat. This dessert consists of a sweet pastry crust filled with a smooth and creamy custard made primarily from milk, eggs, sugar, and flour. The custard is flavored with vanilla and often has a hint of cinnamon. The tart is typically baked until the custard sets and the top becomes golden brown. After baking, it is left to cool and is served chilled. Melktert has become a beloved part of South African culinary culture, representing a delicious fusion of Dutch and African influences in the country's cuisine. 

Muhalabieh, Lebanon 

Muhalabieh, also known as Muhallebi or Mahalabia, is a traditional Lebanese dessert that is popular throughout the Middle East. It is a creamy and fragrant milk-based pudding, typically flavored with ingredients like rose water or orange blossom water. A mixture of milk, sugar, cornstarch or rice flour is gently cooked on the stovetop until it thickens to a pudding-like consistency. It is then flavored with rose water or orange blossom water, giving it a delicate floral aroma. Once prepared, muhalabieh is usually chilled in the refrigerator until set. It can be served plain or garnished with crushed pistachios, almonds, ground cinnamon, saffron, cardamom, or garnishes of dried rose petals. 

Dulce de Leche, Argentina  

Dulce de leche is a sweet caramel-like spread made by slowly heating sweetened condensed milk. It is used as a filling for pastries, spread on toast, or enjoyed as a dessert topping. The name "dulce de leche" translates to "sweet milk" in Spanish, accurately describing its main ingredients and flavor profile. The traditional method of making dulce de leche involves slowly cooking sweetened condensed milk, either by simmering it on the stovetop or by baking it in the oven. Its origins can be traced back to the early 19th century when Argentina was still a Spanish colony. 

Lassi, India

Lassi is a popular traditional yogurt-based drink that originated in the Indian subcontinent and is a summer must-have even today. The exact origin of lassi is unclear, but it is believed to have originated in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan, where dairy products like yogurt have been consumed for centuries. Lassi is particularly associated with Punjab and is considered a traditional Punjabi beverage. To make lassi, yoghurt is churned with a sweetener like sugar, aromats like cardamom or rose water, or a fruit like banana or mango to give it a frothy texture and an indulgent feel.  

Boterkoek, Netherlands

Boterkoek, also known as Dutch butter cake, is a traditional Dutch pastry that is rich, buttery, and delicious. It is a sweet and dense cake made primarily from butter, sugar, flour, and eggs. Boterkoek has its roots in the 17th century, during the Dutch Golden Age, when the Netherlands was a major trading power and renowned for its butter production. Dutch butter cake is often enjoyed with a cup of coffee or tea and is a popular treat in the Netherlands. It is typically cut into small squares or wedges and can be served as a dessert or enjoyed as a sweet snack.