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Omega-3 Fatty Acids Added to Milk Without Affecting Taste

Susan Duncan (Virginia Tech)

Susan Duncan (Virginia Tech)

Food scientists at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg discovered they could add beneficial omega-3 fatty acids to milk in quantities that promote heart health, without affecting the milk’s taste or shelf life. The team led by Virginia Tech professor Susan Duncan (pictured left) published their findings in this month’s issue of the Journal of Dairy Science; paid subscription required.

Evidence indicates omega-3 fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) acids, can lower damaging fats like triglycerides in the blood stream leading to lower risks of heart problems, as well as control inflammation in some people. Fish, such as tuna, salmon, sturgeon, and trout are considered high in omega-3 fatty acids, with the American Heart Association recommending two servings, of 3.5 ounces each, a week of these kinds of fish.

Fish, however, is not everyone’s favorite food. In this study, Duncan and colleagues evaluated the ability of milk, a more common part of diets in the U.S., to deliver omega-3 fatty acids. The researchers added fish oils with EPA and DHA, combined with butter oils, in four different ratios to skim milk to produce milk fortified with omega-3s. While adding omega-3s to milk may be technically feasible, consumers would likely reject the fortified milk if they found the aroma and taste appreciably different from regular milk.

“We were concerned the fish oil would undergo a chemical process called oxidation,” says Duncan, “which would shorten the milk’s shelf life, or the milk would acquire a cardboard or paint flavor by reacting with the fish oil.” The Virginia Tech team asked 25 volunteers to evaluate in institutionally approved study conditions one-ounce cups of standard two-percent milk against samples of the fortified skim milk containing 78 parts butter oil to 22 parts fish oil.

The testers did not notice any difference in aroma between the omega-3 fortified skim milk and commercially pasteurized milk. The aroma-free formulation delivered 432 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids per cup, approaching the 500 milligrams per day for healthy people suggested in a number of studies.

“It appears we have a product that is stable, with no chemical taste or smell issues,” says Duncan. If consumers agree, Duncan says the next step would be to follow groups of volunteers in a study of the food’s ability to improve health outcomes.

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2 comments to Omega-3 Fatty Acids Added to Milk Without Affecting Taste

  • Beth

    As someone who is deathly allergic to fish this scares me. It is one thing if you know the milk you purchased is for you, but when milk is a staple in cooking it alarms me. If adding fish oil to milk takes off I will need to always have an epi pen on hand or decline the majority of food products – baking, creams, sauces etc.

  • Thanks Beth for your comment and for visiting Science Business. I would think clear labeling must go along with adding anything to milk for the very reasons you spell out. – AK