From the first sip, there is a recognizable similarity in the flavor profile between cow and carabao’s milk, with the carabao’s milk being slightly creamier. While cow’s milk is still the go-to for everyday dairy intake, carabao milk has kept a firm place by making it a sought-after dairy ingredient. Just last March, the Inquirer reported that of 5 million kilograms of milk produced in the country, 63% came from cows, 36% came from carabaos, and 1% came from goats.
Interestingly, it has better nutritional benefits over cow’s milk—it is lower in cholesterol and higher in calcium and energy according to studies by The Philippine Carabao Centre. Because of this, it’s described as “the most complete food”, and is even used in local government health programs to prevent malnutrition. Even if you don’t drink carabao milk, there’s a high chance you have had more than you thought, from food such as ice cream, pastillas de leche, kesong puti, and even mozarella cheese. Local ice cream brand Arce Dairy boasts that the secret to their ice cream success is in the use of carabao milk to meet the required butter fat content to call themselves a “dairy ice cream”.
Even with these benefits, supply and support for the carabao remains limited. Among the challenges faced in raising carabao today, the biggest one is a decline in demand for them as more farmers favor hand tractors and other machinery. The farmer and his carabao are a recognizable pair in many classic Philippine paintings and postcards, but in reality, the use of the carabao is subject to the season and readiness of the crops. Over time, this beast of burden has been seen as the burden for farmers, as it has proven to be more costly in keeping over time. While carabao milk has been proven an excellent alternative source of income with the animal, there are few opportunities for more farmers to get the resources they need to develop carabao milk as their enterprise.
There is a glimmer of hope however, as carabao milk has its major investors and suppliers who found ways to make it more than pasalubong from the outskirts of Metro Manila. If you’re looking to support local and get healthier, here are a few major sources for carabao milk and carabao milk-based products: