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Monday, March 03, 2014

Better Tasting Lactose-Free Milk Coming?

"The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades."*

More news about better products maybe possibly hopefully some day coming to a supermarket near you.

To talk about the future, you know I'm going to start with the past and work my way there slowly. Feel free to skip a few paragraphs.

Lactase supplements were invented in 1964 by a Dutch company then known as Gist-Brocades. Happy 50th lactase! I don't know what market they were aiming for, since hardly anybody outside of a tiny community of researchers knew about the existence of lactose intolerance, but with high hopes and no fanfare whatsoever the company put out a product called Maxilact. The first Maxilact was a powder that could be added to fresh milk to break down the lactose into glucose and galactose, both simple sugars that the body can easily digest. America got introduced to lactase in the 1970s, when Alan Kligerman bought the rights and started a company now known as Lactaid. Lactase pills are now so common in every supermarket, pharmacy, and discount store that they don't really need much in the way of advertising. Same with lactose-free milks, which use a liquid solution of lactase to break down the lactose before it reaches your body. They can be found everywhere, too, with most major supermarket chains having their own house brand alongside of regional and national lactose-free milk brands.

Today lactose-free worlds is super-shiny indeed compared to the world of 1978, when I learned I was lactose intolerant. I didn't even hear about Lactaid pills until 1984. Milks arrived later, and they started as 80% or 90% lactose-reduced. True 100% lactose-free milks are newer still.

So what can be greater than 100% lactose-free milk in a dozen different varieties? How does better-tasting 100% lactose-free milk sound?

Milk that's had lactase added to it apparently has a problem, a problem named arylsulfatase. Don't feel bad if you've never heard of it. I never heard of it either and I've been studying the field for 36 years. But there it is in Elsevier's Encyclopedia of Dairy Sciences (Second Edition) from 2011. I'm sure it's a steal at $1136 for the ebook edition but fortunately this particular page is available at Google Books. Here's the science:

[T]he development of off-flavor in lactase-treated UHT (Ultra High Temperature pasteurized) milk is related to the accumulation of ρ-cresol - which when present in minute quantities leads to a severe "medical" or "animal" off-flavor. It was discovered that ther accumulation of ρ-cresol in UHT milk was due to the hydrolysis of sulfanated cresol, which is naturally present in milk, by the enzyme arylsuflanase. Arylsulfanase was introduced in the milk as a side activity in the lactase enzyme preparation, and was found to be present in all commercial neutral lactases. DSM Food-Specialties has recently selected a K. lactis strain [of the yeast used to manufacture lactase] that is devoid of arylsulfanase activity.
Who is DSM Food-Specialties? None other than the current parent company of Maxilact. It's taken a while, but Maxilact just put out a press release announcing that a European patent for this new strain of lactase has been granted.
The patent relates to a lactase enzyme, which is free from arylsulfatase. Arylsulfatase is an impurity found in lactase that converts components naturally present in milk to cause off-flavor in lactose-free dairy products, resulting in a limited shelf life. Adding arylsulfatase-free Maxilact® to a dairy formulation ensures that off-flavor development is no longer an issue and the shelf life can be extended.
Only one tiny detail remains open: This new better-tasting milk doesn't appear to exist commercially right now. Certainly not in America. Maxilact is a major player in the small community of lactase so I'm confident that somebody will start using this. Maybe we'll even see a major ad campaign about lactose-free milk, something that hasn't happened in several years.

The future: you gotta love it.

*Yeah, that was supposed to be ironic but nobody had the patience for irony in the 1980s. Besides misreading Timbuk3's catchy ditty about nuclear destruction, we also managed to hear only the first line in REM's "The One I Love" (This one goes out to the one I love/This one goes out to the one I've left behind/A simple prop to occupy my time) and make a wedding song of Sting's ode to stalkers "Every Breath You Take" ("I'll be watching you"). Seriously, an entire decade in which nobody bothered to listen to all the lyrics in a rock song. What's really ironic is that the older I get the less nostalgia I have.

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