Milkfat Structure - Fat Globules

More than 95% of the total milk lipid is in the form of a globule ranging in size from 0.1 to 15 um in diameter. These liquid fat droplets are covered by a thin membrane, 8 to 10 nm in thickness, whose properties are completely different from both milkfat and plasma. The native fat globule membrane (FGM) is comprised of apical plasma membrane of the secretory cell which continually envelopes the lipid droplets as they pass into the lumen. The major components of the native FGM, therefore, is protein and phospholipids. The phospholipids are involved in the oxidation of milk. There may be some rearrangement of the membrane after release into the lumen as amphiphilic substances from the plasma adsorb onto the fat globule and parts of the membrane dissolve into either the globule core or the serum. The FGM decreases the lipid-serum interface to very low values, 1 to 2.5 mN/m, preventing the globules from immediate flocculation and coalescence, as well as protecting them from enzymatic action.

It is well known that if raw milk or cream is left to stand, it will separate. Stokes' Law predicts that fat globules will cream due to the differences in densities between the fat and plasma phases of milk. However, in cold raw milk, creaming takes place faster than is predicted from this fact alone. IgM, an immunoglobulin in milk, forms a complex with lipoproteins. This complex, known as cryoglobulinprecipitates onto the fat globules and causes flocculation. This is known as cold agglutination. As fat globules cluster, the speed of rising increases and sweeps up the smaller globules with them. The cream layer forms very rapidly, within 20 to 30 min., in cold milk.

Homogenization of milk prevents this creaming by decreasing the diameter and size distribution of the fat globules, causing the speed of rise to be similar for the majority of globules. As well, homogenization causes the formation of a recombined membrane which is much similar in density to the continuous phase.

Recombined membranes are very different than native FGM. Processing steps such as homogenization, decreases the average diameter of fat globule and significantly increases the surface area. Some of the native FGM will remain adsorbed but there is no longer enough of it to cover all of the newly created surface area. Immediately after disruption of the fat globule, the surface tension raises to a high level of 15 mN/m and amphiphilic molecules in the plasma quickly adsorb to the lipid droplet to lower this value. The adsorbed layers consist mainly of serum proteins and casein micelles.

Homogenized MilkFat Globules

Fat Destabilization

While homogenization is the principal method for achieving stabilization of the fat emulsion in milk, fat destabilization is necessary for structure formation in butterwhipping cream and ice cream. Fat destabilization refers to the process of clustering and clumping (partial coalescence) of the fat globules which leads to the development of a continuous internal fat network or matrix structure in the product. Fat destabilization (sometimes "fat agglomeration") is a general term that describes the summation of several different phenomena. These include:

Coalescence:

an irreversible increase in the size of fat globules and a loss of identity of the coalescing globules;

Flocculation:

a reversible (with minor energy input) agglomeration/clustering of fat globules with no loss of identity of the globules in the floc; the fat globules that flocculate ; they can be easily redispersed if they are held together by weak forces, or they might be harder to redisperse to they share part of their interfacial layers;

Partial coalescence:

an irreversible agglomeration/clustering of fat globules, held together by a combination of fat crystals and liquid fat, and a retention of identity of individual globules as long as the crystal structure is maintained (i.e., temperature dependent, once the crystals melt, the cluster coalesces). They usually come together in a shear field, as in whipping, and it is envisioned that the crystals at the surface of the droplets are responsible for causing colliding globules to stick together, while the liquid fat partially flows between they and acts as the "cement". Partial coalescence dominates structure formation in whipped, aerated dairy emulsions, and it should be emphasized that crystals within the emulsion droplets are responsible for its occurrence.

Partial Coalescence of Fat Globules

A good reference for more information on fat globules can be found in Walstra or Fox and McSweeney, Lipids.