As the old adage goes, you should never cry over spilt milk. But perhaps you should cry if more than 16 million people of voting age – in the most powerful country on Earth – think that chocolate milk comes from brown cows.

That's what researchers at the Innovation Center for US Dairy have just discovered in a survey to mark World Milk Day, which fell on 30 May, as reported by

The organisation sampled 1,000 American adults, asking them questions about dairy products, to see how savvy people were about the cold white stuff they pour in their coffees and over their breakfast cereals.

An amazing 7% of respondents thought that chocolate milk came from brown cows.

When this figure is extrapolated to account for the entire US adult population it means that 16.4m American adults think that brown cows have magic udders.

Perhaps more shockingly, 48% of respondents did not know where chocolate milk came from at all. It is, of course, ordinary milk flavoured with cocoa. And we didn't have to look that up. Obviously.

Other findings, perhaps less worryingly, included:

  • 37% of people drink milk straight from the container.
  • 29% use their children as an excuse to buy chocolate milk for themselves.
  • 5% of US adults do not drink milk.

"At the end of the day, it's an exposure issue," said Cecily Upton, from the nonprofit FoodCorps, which campaigns for nutritional awareness.

"Right now, we're conditioned to think that if you need food, you go to the store. Nothing in our educational framework teaches kids where food comes from before that point," she told the Washington Post.

A 1990s study by the US Department for Agriculture found that 20% of American adults did not know hamburgers contained beef.

1954 milkman
A milkman in simpler times Getty