Yak Cheese: Exotic, but Healthy?
Cheese From Grass-Fed Yaks May Have Better Fatty Acid Profile Than Cheese From Grain-Fed Cows, Study Shows
WebMD News Archive
March 14, 2008 -- Yak cheese may have certain nutritional advantages over
conventional cheddar cheese, a new study shows.
Researchers in Canada and Nepal compared the fatty acid profiles of two
types of cheese:
- Yak cheese made from milk of yaks grazing on grasses in Nepal's
- Cheddar cheese made from milk of Canadian dairy cows fed grain mix
The yak cheese was three times higher in omega-3 fatty acids than the
cheddar cheese. Omega-3 fatty acids have been studied for various health
benefits, including heart
health. In particular, yak cheese was rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a
type of omega-3 fatty acid also found in flaxseeds and other plants.
The yak cheese was also richer in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has
been shown to have "a range of positive health benefits" against cancer, body fat gain, type 2
diabetes, and other conditions, according to the researchers, who included
Professor Brian McBride, PhD, MSc, BSc, of Canada's University of Guelph.
"The results suggest that cheese from yak, grazed on Himalayan alpine
pastures, may have a more healthful fatty acid composition compared to cheese
manufactured from dairy cattle fed grain-based diets," the study
McBride's team didn't compare cheese from grass-fed cows to yak cheese. But
the findings aren't just about what the yaks and cows ate, according to
"The yak cheese profile reflects a combination of the effect of their
unique diet and their endogenous microflora [natural bacteria] within their
rumen," McBride tells WebMD via email. The yak's rumen is the
"fermentative component of their stomach," McBride explains.
The study wasn't an exhaustive comparison of all the nutrients in yak cheese
and cheddar cheese -- just fatty acids. The researchers aren't promising health
benefits from yak cheese, and they're not calling cheddar cheese unhealthy.
How did the yak cheese taste and smell?
"The cheese flavor and smell was similar to a medium cheddar
cheese," McBride says.
Cheddar cheese is widely available. Yak cheese is sold in some gourmet food
stores, according to the American Chemical Society, which published McBride's
study in its Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
One of McBride's colleagues works in Katmandu, Nepal, for the nonprofit Asia
Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bioresources.