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Can you pick out the dairy imposters?

If you’re old enough to remember the commercial for recording tape, “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” you probably remember that the singer’s voice on tape supposedly shattered glass. Experts say even a person singing live can’t shatter glass.

Key Points

Check the ingredient list to separate dairy foods from non-dairy foods.

Products listing water as the first ingredient are non-dairy foods.

Any product with 51% or more milk products can use the “Real Dairy” seal.

Some imitations are so good you can’t tell them from the original. Then again, some aren’t. Dairy farmers have battled products like margarine, a substitute for butter, for years. Now the whole dairy case is an array of products — “low-fat cottage cheese,” “whipped topping” and the like. How do you find real dairy products?

Read label

Michelle Plummer, a registered dietician with the American Dairy Association, says it starts with reading the label. If the first ingredient is milk, and it contains cream, butter, whey or casein (a milk protein) further down the list, it’s a dairy product. In some cases, milk may be further down the list.

For example, with regular sour cream, cream would be the first ingredient. Yet reduced-fat sour cream contains milk, so it’s still a dairy product. Class I dairy products include fluid milks and flavored milk drinks. They may be whole milk, 2%, 1%, or fat-free or skim, but it’s still milk. By definition, skim milk can’t have more than 0.5% butterfat. However, all fluid-milk products must have at least 8% nonfat milk solids.

Plummer visits schools to promote the nutritional value of milk, cheese and yogurt. She notes that certain dairy products, such as whipped cream, butter and sour cream, are higher in fat. Many lower-fat products are alternatives for those wanting lower-fat options.

Nevertheless, if the product contains milk or a milk product, it’s a dairy product. Even sherbet, sold in the ice cream section of the supermarket, contains milk and is a dairy food.

However, if the first ingredient listed is water, it’s likely not dairy. The popular topping Cool Whip is not a dairy product. Water is the first ingredient.

Real Dairy seal

One complicating factor is although any dairy food that contains 51% or more dairy ingredients qualifies for the “Real Dairy” seal, not all companies use it.

So if you see the Real Dairy seal, you know it’s a dairy food; if you don’t find the seal, it still may be dairy, but the manufacturer chose not to affix it. Products like margarine or imitation cheeses made with vegetable oils would not qualify for the seal.

Milk promotion groups gear up for the state fair

This is the “Year of the Dairy Cow” at the Indiana State Fair, and dairy promotion groups intend to take full advantage of this fact to spread the good news about the nutritional value of their product. Several events are planned, and more are in the works.

Expect to see more model cows and live cows at the state fair. Visit the Indiana State Fair website,, to keep up with planned activities.


This article published in the March, 2012 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.