Skip to content

Milk Critic


What does Heumilch mean?


The other day while shopping at my local Billa (an Austrian supermarket chain), I picked up a carton of something called "Heumilch." I was curious just what this stuff was; I knew that "Milch" means milk, but just what does the prefix "Heu" mean? This stuff was in the milk section, and so I figured it was something related to milk, but I wasn't sure what. Might it be buttermilk? Kefir? Or some other variation thereof? I was curious enough that I ended up buying it and drinking the carton before going online to look up just what Heumilch actually is.

It turns out that it really was just milk. The German word "Heu" means "hay," and so Heumilch literally means "hay milk." Essentially Heumilch means milk from animals that have been fed only with fresh natural fodder like hay, as opposed to the unnatural fodder (things which cows are not built to eat) that factory farms often feed their livestock with. "Heumilch" is a sort of offshoot of the "organic" food craze, except that unlike the word "organic," which has no meaning in a food context (because all food is organic--it's made of biological matter), Heumilch actually has a meaning: It's milk from animals that were fed hay.

I often find it fascinating to see just how a language's vocabulary reflects the culture it developed in. I recently learned, for example, that the reconstructed Proto-Slavic language, which all modern-day Slavic languages are descended from, has limited or no terminology to refer to physical features of mountains or oceans, including shorelines and salt-water fish; however, it has an extensive vocabulary to deal with features of inland rivers and lakes, as well as of forests. This reflects the geography of the region in which Proto-Slavic historically developed, a region which, in modern-day geographic terms, stretches from the eastern part of Poland through Belarus and Ukraine into western Russia: A region with no mountains or ocean coasts but plenty of rivers and forests. This is an example of physical geography influencing a language.

"Heumilch," on the other hand, is a word that reflects not geography, but rather cultural values. The fact that the German language would actually coin its own word to refer to milk from grass-fed animals suggests that naturally-cultivated produce is of high cultural importance to Germans. I think it's fantastic that in a world where many other major world languages were busy coining their own words for fashion styles and luxury items, German instead coined words relating to farming and food produce. Europe's biggest economy is still a place very much in love with its farms, a nation that has great respect for the people who work hard every day to bring us the produce we consume, and the land where that produce comes from. A culture that feels like home to me is a culture which understands that "the good life" is exemplified not by "wine, women, and song," but by a day's work well done, a healthy, nourishing meal, and an evening spent at home with family and friends--a culture that still seeks to live by the concept of "Gemütlichkeit" that it gifted to the world. It sure feels good to be a German.

lateblt, 2014-06-14 23:29:00

Thanks to this random blogger for providing this explanation!