Question: Until I read in your column that sweet acidophilus milk is of no value to individuals with lactose intolerance, I had never even heard of it. Later I noticed it in my supermarket and wondered what it is. Can you tell me?
Answer: Sweet acidophilus milk is basically a low-fat, pasteurized milk to which lactic acidophilus organisms are added. Like any organism used to sour milk, lactic acidophilus does it by converting the milk sugar, or lactose, into lactic acid. The resulting milk has a tart, unpleasantly sour taste.
Several years ago, Dr. Marvin Speck at North Carolina State University at Raleigh discovered that by growing the microorganisms outside the milk and then adding them, he could produce milk heavily stocked with these bacteria, which tasted sweet as long as it was kept cool. Thus was born sweet acidophilus milk.
Why would anyone want to consume this vast supply of microorganisms? The idea dates back to Elie Metchnikoff, the Russian Nobel Prize winner who suggested in 1908 that milk fermented with lactobacilli is beneficial to health, and that the longevity of Bulgarian peasants could be explained by their consumption of large amounts of lactic acid-rich, fermented dairy foods.