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New Study Suggests Light Can Influence the Taste of Milk

Guy Montag / Flickr

Just the words milk and cookies conjure up delicious childhood memories, but if you’re old enough to remember when milk was delivered directly to your door you may have noticed that the milk you drink today doesn’t taste as good as it used to. Scientists at Virginia Tech have found out why.

Everyone knows milk has a shelf life, but we’re not talking about spoiled milk here. This is about the fact that the taste of fresh milk has actually changed. Susan Duncan professor of food science and technology says it’s because of exposure to certain kinds of light in the dairy case.

“That traditional florescent lighting is highly detrimental to the flavor.”

Duncan ran a study where people who tasted milk that had been stored under florescent light described its taste as “paint-y” or having a hint of cardboard. Some tasted burnt feathers or called it “plastic-y”. When test subjects tasted milk that had been stored under LED light, they did not taste those strange notes. Duncan points out, there’s nothing dangerous about the “different” tasting milk. But it could be a factor in why milk consumption has dropped to nearly half of what it was 50 years ago.  She hopes the study will encourage retailers to transition to LED light in their dairy cases and producers to start using containers that block light.

“If all those combinations come together consumers are again, going to know what fresh tasting milk tastes like.”

In the meantime, you may want to do what she does, reach into the back of the display case for the milk that’s been there the shortest time and is farthest from the light. 

Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.