The Development of Off-Flavors

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
The flavor of good fresh milk can deteriorate in several different ways. Simple contact with oxygen or exposure to strong light will cause the oxidation of phospholipids in the globule membrane and a chain of reactions that slowly generate stale cardboard, metallic, fishy, paint-like aromas. If milk is kept long enough to sour, it also typically develops fruity, vinegary, malty, and more unpleasant notes.
Exposure to sunlight or fluorescent lights also generates a distinctive cabbage-like, burnt odor, which appears to result from a reaction between the vitamin riboflavin and the sulfur-containing amino acid methionine. Clear glass and plastic containers and supermarket lighting cause this problem; opaque cartons prevent it.