The Caseins

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

The casein family includes four different kinds of proteins that gather together into microscopic family units called micelles. Each casein micelle contains a few thousand individual protein molecules, and measures about a ten-thousandth of a millimeter across, about one-fiftieth the size of a fat globule. Around a tenth of the volume of milk is taken up by casein micelles. Much of the calcium in milk is in the micelles, where it acts as a kind of glue holding the protein molecules together. One portion of calcium binds individual protein molecules together into small clusters of 15 to 25. Another portion then helps pull several hundred of the clusters together to form the micelle (which is also held together by the water-avoiding hydrophobic portions of the proteins bonding to each other).