Got milk? Light it up! Virginia Tech researchers have discovered that the new LED lights installed in milk display cases across the country do more than just reduce energy bills — they also help milk taste better.
“We want to help figure out ways to return to the fresh taste of milk that our grandparents experienced when it came straight from the dairy,” said Susan Duncan, a professor of food science and technology in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Milk consumption has been decreasing for several decades, and Duncan said that the traditional lighting used in retail display cases may be one of the factors for this decline. One of the nutrients in milk — riboflavin — oxidizes when it is exposed to fluorescent lights. This reaction not only causes the taste to change, but can also reduce the nutritional content of milk.
Duncan’s tests show that when milk is stored in the traditional translucent plastic jugs, these reactions can take place in as little as two hours. Opague milk packaging that protects riboflavin and other nutrients from lighting helps to deliver a fresh, sweet, rich taste.
Duncan conducted a series of tests at the Virginia Tech Sensory Evaluation Laboratory that showed the new LED lights leave milk with a more satisfactory taste that consumers prefer over milk that has been exposed to fluorescent lights.
If the traditional HDPE translucent jugs are used, milk is more likely to undergo oxidation and have its flavor changed. But her tests shows that when light-blocking pigments in HDPE or plastic PET containers were used, the flavor wasn’t changed as dramatically and consumers thought the milk tasted fresh.
Though improved packaging costs more than the traditional jugs, Duncan said the cost is worth it to maintain the best flavor of milk.
“The research that is being done around this new lighting gives us momentum to explore other ways that we can preserve the natural taste of milk,” Duncan said.
Duncan’s findings were recently published in the Journal of Dairy Science.