How I Tracked Down the Delicious Israeli Pudding of My Childhood
Milky is iconic for those who grew up in Israel in the 80s, but proved to be a feat to find stateside.
When it comes to pudding, there’s usually not much to get excited about. The homemade stuff is a bit fussy. “Snack packs” taste of mediocrity and sadness. And shelf-stable pudding in the US can’t even come close to the Milky, Israel’s beloved, purple-packaged pudding.
As a child in Israel in the 80s, it was my favorite snack: a chocolate pudding capped with a generous dollop of deliciously thick, vanilla-flavored whipped cream. As an adult, I’ve worried that my obsession with the beloved pudding was born not out of its quality, but out of nostalgia for my childhood treat. But after tasting it again, I realized I was right all along.
While the pudding itself is thick, chocolaty, and creamy, the whipped topping is almost as full-bodied and substantial as the pudding itself. This is key to Milky’s magic. The ingredients are standard issue: pasteurized milk, sugar, modified starch, cocoa, stabilizers, and a few things I can’t pronounce. But when combined, the dessert is greater than the sum of its parts. Its combination of silky textures and rich flavors is incomparable, and once you try it, you’ll bid adieu to Swiss Miss, Jell-O, and even the fancy organic stuff you got at the co-op.
Milky was a staple of my youth, but when my family immigrated to the US in the mid-80s, I thought my days of savoring the most successful dairy product on the Israeli market were over. As a cheap imitation, I’d take a plastic spoon to my sugar-bomb Frappuccinos, diving into the whipped cream first. Needless to say, it’s not the same.
After visiting family in Israel, I missed this unmatchable pudding so much that I did some online research and contacted the Strauss Group, which owns Milky. A representative from Strauss Group told me over email that the Milky brand “accounts for around 40 percent of the dairy dessert market in Israel—the biggest market segment in the category.” But to get your paws on this delicious treat, you need to plan in advance. I’ve found that the best way to ensure procurement of the pudding is to email the company directly to hopefully (fingers crossed!) find a store near you.
Strauss’ customer service team directed me towards a US distributor, who told me that a specific kosher market in town had ordered some a few months prior. I checked in with them and discovered that they only receive it once every two weeks, so I called the day of their shipment to get some held for me, and rushed to the store that very day. Although Milky shipments are flown from Israel to New York and California semi-monthly, they only have a shelf life of about 21 days. That’s not enough time to distribute them across the country, so they are available only in the New York metropolitan area and a few cities in California and Florida, as well as select stores in places like Chicago, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and Phoenix. In many areas, the secret’s out, so Milkys fly off the shelves.
Of course, there are other places in the world where Milky remains quite easy to find. Before Milky was introduced to the Israeli market in 1979, Danone’s near-identical chocolate pudding creation, Dany Sahne (“Dany with cream”), was sold in Germany at a lower cost than its counterpart in the Holy Land. And more recently, in 2014, a Facebook page encouraging Israelis to immigrate to Berlin due to the lower cost of living cited the disparity in grocery prices, including the Milky, which cost four to five times as much in Israel as it did in Berlin. The ensuing controversy was widely covered by international media, which called the debate the “Milky Protest.”
These days, the Milky equivalent in Germany sells for 1.79 Euros for a pack of four, which is about 50 cents per cup. In Israel, you can get an eight-pack at the discount store for 21.40 shekels, just under $6 at press time, or a single Milky for anywhere from three to eight shekels (around 85 cents to $2.25).
Meanwhile, in Phoenix, I paid $9.99 for a pack of four, but was frankly thrilled to be reunited with my beloved pudding without having to leave the country.
Milky seems to have evolved since I was a child. I only remember the original chocolate flavor, but there are other flavors now, including vanilla, hazelnut, strawberry, and Milky Upside Down (which is vanilla pudding with chocolate cream). There’s a Milky Lite variation and a Milky with extra whipped cream, and even a Milky topped with dragées, which are bite-sized candies with hard outer shells. Unfortunately, the Strauss Group only allows the import of Milky Chocolate, Mini Milky Chocolate, and Milky Top (with chocolate shavings). The only one I’ve ever gotten my hands on is the original, but even that isn’t easy.
Still, the beloved dessert of my Israeli childhood is worth the hassle. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.