Enzymes are a group of proteins that have the ability to catalyze chemical reactions and the speed of such reactions. The action of enzymes is very specific. Milk contains both indigenous and exogenous enzymes. Exogenous enzymes mainly consist of heat-stable enzymes produced by psychrotrophic bacteria: lipases, and proteinases. There are many indigenous enzymes that have been isolated from milk. The most significant group are the hydrolases:

  • lipoprotein lipase
  • plasmin
  • alkaline phosphatase

Lipoprotein lipase (LPL): A lipase enzyme splits fats into glycerol and free fatty acids. This enzyme is found mainly in the plasma in association with casein micelles. The milkfat is protected from its action by the FGM. If the FGM has been damaged, or if certain cofactors (blood serum lipoproteins) are present, the LPL is able to attack the lipoproteins of the FGM. Lipolysis may be caused in this way.

Plasmin: Plasmin is a proteolytic enzyme; it splits proteins. Plasmin attacks both ß -casein and alpha(s2)-casein. It is very heat stable and responsible for the development of bitterness in pasteurized milk and UHT processed milk. It may also play a role in the ripening and flavour development of certain cheeses, such as Swiss cheese.

Alkaline phosphatase: Phosphatase enzymes are able to split specific phosporic acid esters into phosphoric acid and the related alcohols. Unlike most milk enzymes, it has a pH and temperature optima differing from physiological values; pH of 9.8. The enzyme is destroyed by minimum pasteurization temperatures, therefore, a phosphatase test can be done to ensure proper pasteurization.