Characterization of Flavour Defects - ADSA

Lipolytic or Hydrolytic rancidity

Rancidity arises from the hydrolysis of milkfat by an enzyme called the lipoprotein lipase (LPL). The flavour is due to the short chain fatty acids produced, particularly butyric acid. LPL can be indigenous or bacterial. It is active at the fat/water interface but is ineffective unless the fat globule membrane is damaged or weakened. This may occur through agitation, and/or foaming, and pumping. For this reason, homogenized milk is subject to rapid lipolysis unless lipase is destroyed by heating first; the enzyme (protein) is denatured at 55-60° C. Therefore, always homogenize milk immediately before or after pasteurization and avoid mixing new and homogenized milk because it leads to rapid rancidity.

Some cows can produce spontaneous lipolysis from reacting to something indigenous to the milk. Late lactation, mastitis, hay and grain ratio diets (more so than fresh forage or silage), and low yielding cows are more susceptible.

Lipolysis can be detected by measuring the acid degree value which determines the presence of free fatty acids. Lipolytic or hydrolytic rancidity is distinct from oxidative rancidity, but frequently in other fat industries, rancid is used to mean oxidative rancidity; in dairy, rancidity means lipolysis.

Characterized: soapy, blue-cheese like aroma, slightly bitter, foul, pronounced aftertaste, does not clear up readily


Milk fat oxidation is catalysed by copper and certain other metals with oxygen and air. This leads to an autooxidation reaction consisting of initiation, propagation, termination.

RH --- R + H initiation - free radical

R + O2 ---- RO2 propagation

RO2 + RH --- ROOH + R

R + R --- R2 termination

R + RO2 --- RO2R

It is usually initiated in the phospholipid of the fat globule membrane. Propagation then occurs in triglycerides, primarily double bonds of unsaturated fatty acids. During propagation, peroxide derivatives of fatty acids accumulate. These undergo further reactions to form carbonyls, of which some, like aldehydes and ketones, have strong flavours. Dry feed, late lactation, added copper or other metals, lack of vit E (tocopherol) or selenium (natural antioxidates) in the diet all lead to spontaneous oxidation. It can be a real problem especially in winter. Exposure to metals during processing can also contribute.

Characterized: metallic, wet cardboard, oily, tallowy, chalky; mouth usually perceives a puckery or astringent feel


Often confused with oxidized, this defect is caused by UV-rays from sunlight or fluorescent lighting catalyzing oxidation in unprotected milk. Photo-oxidation activates riboflavin which is responsible for catalyzing the conversion of methionine to methanal. It is, therefore, a protein reaction rather than a lipid reaction. However, the end product flavour notes are similar but tends to diminish after storage of several days.

Characterized: burnt-protein or burnt-feathers-like, "medicinal"-like flavour


This defect is a function of the time-temperature of heating and especially the presence of any "burn-on" action of heat on certain proteins, particularly whey proteins. Whey proteins are a source of sulfide bonds which form sulfhydryl groups that contribute to the flavour. The defect is most obvious immediately after heating but dissipates within 1 or 2 days.

Characterized: slightly cooked or nutty-like to scorched or caramelized

Transmitted flavours

Cows are particularly bad for transmitting flavours through milk and milk is equally as susceptible to pick-up of off flavours in storage. Feed flavours and green grass can be problems so it is necessary to remove cows from feed 2-4 hrs before milking. Weeds, garlic/onion, and dandelions can tranfer flavours to the milk and even subsequent products such as butter. Barny flavours can be picked up in the milk if there is poor ventilation and the barn is not properly cleared and cows breathe the air. These flavours are volatile so can be driven off through vacuum de-aeration.

Characterization: hay/silage, cowy/barny


There are many flavour defects of dairy products that may be caused by bacteria, yeasts, or moulds. In raw milk the high acid/sour flavour is caused by the growth of lactic acid bacteria which ferment lactose. It is less common today due to change in raw milk microflora. In both raw or processed milk,  fruity  flavours may arise due to psychrotrophs such as Pseudomonas fragi. Bitter or putrid flavours are caused by psychrotrophic bacteria which produce protease. It is the proteolytic action of protease that usually causes spoilage in milk. Malty flavours are caused by S.lactis var. maltigenes and is characterized by a corn flakes type flavour. Although more of a tactile defect, ropy milk is also caused by bacteria, specifically those which produce exopolysaccharides. 

Miscellaneous Defects

  • astringent
  • chalky
  • chemical/medicinal - disease - associated or adulteration
  • flat - adulteration (water)
  • foreign
  • salty - disease associated
  • bitter - adulteration

More information on off-flavours in milk can be found in Clarke et al. 

Milk flavour is graded on a score of one to 10. Some flavour defects, even if only slightly present, can decrease the score drastically. The following are suggested flavour scores for milk with designated intensities of flavour defects. 


Flavour Criticisms



Intensity of Defect




Astringent 8 7 5
Barny 7 5 3
Bitter 7 5 3
Cooked 9 8 6
Cowy 6 4 1
Feed 9 7 5
Flat 9 8 7
Foreign 5 3 0
Garlic/onion 5 3 1
High acid 3 1 0
Bacterial 5 3 0
Lacks Freshness 7 5 3
Malty 7 5 3
Oxidized 7 5 3
Rancid 7 5 3
Salty 8 6 4
Unclean 7 5 3