Taiwan’s flavored milk industry is popping off with fun and delicious flavors that I never
knew I needed.
Me at a night market trying watermelon and papaya milk.
(Photo Credit: Hana Bredstein)
I am a dairy lover, from cheese, ice cream, to a plain glass of milk — I love it all. Before
coming I knew that a higher percent of East Asians are lactose intolerant, with some studies estimating over ⅔ are lactose, and that plant based milks like soy milk (豆浆) are very popular in Taiwan so I began preparing myself for the possibility that I wouldn’t be able to find my favorite dairy products here.
I was so wrong, from Papaya (木瓜牛乳) to Peanut (花生牛乳), Taiwan has more flavors
of milk than I could have ever dreamed of. I might have expected this from India, or as I like to call it the land flowing with sweetened condensed milk, but not from Taiwan so I was happily surprised when I saw shelves and shelves of flavored milk at my convenience store. I had previously had blueberry milk, which I absolutely loved, so I was excited to sample new flavors of fruit milk.
The milk shelf at my closest convenience store.
You can easily find cartons of fruit or other flavored milks at any convenience store, but
there are also stands at night markets, or 夜市, that specialize in fruit milk where you can watch as the vendors expertly blend fresh fruit and milk together. Fruit milk is so popular, especially on hot summer days, that there is even a chain of restaurants called Taipei Milk King where you can find all of the common flavors as well as different seasonal flavors, such as Japanese Yam Milk (山药牛乳) and Avocado Milk (鳄梨牛乳).
So far I have tasted papaya, apple and watermelon fruit milks and several of their malted
milks, but my favorite is definitely papaya. Besides from saying it actually does taste like
papaya, the flavor is hard to pin down. It is sweet, delicately fruity with light floral notes and is surprisingly refreshing. While the papaya milk from a convenience store and from a night market are both delectable, the one found in a carton is sweeter and strained, which appeals to my childlike sensibilities, while papaya milk from a night market is fresher and a bit thicker.
A fruit milk vendor at the Raohe night market.
After enjoying so many different flavors of milk, I was curious about the history of
Taiwan’s fruit milks. It is believed that a night market vendor came up with papaya milk in the 1970s and that it became popular with lots of small beverage shops making it, but now Taiwan’s beverage industry is dominated by bubble tea, which was also invented in Taiwan.
Me enjoying different flavors of milk from my convenience store.
(Photo Credit: Caroline Colbert)
Papaya milk is an example of how culinarily diverse Taiwan is because in order for it to
be invented there had to be a dairy industry in the same place that tropical fruits were growing, which is rare because dairy cows thrive in colder climates. This happened in Taiwan because when the Japanese colonized Taiwan, they started dairy farms. In fact each chapter of Taiwan’s history has left its mark on Taiwan’s gastronomic landscape. To learn more about the influences on Taiwanese food and how this topic intersects with history and politics I highly recommend you read this article.
Papaya milk deserves a place on any list of must try Taiwanese foods, so if you find
yourself in Taiwan make sure to grab a glass or two, or more I won’t judge.