McCarthy KS, Lopetcharat K, Drake MA. - - J Dairy Sci 2017; 100(3): 1702–11

Milk fat threshold determination and the effect of milk fat content on consumer preference for fluid milk

Milk consumption in the United States has been in decline since the 1960s. Milk fat plays a critical role in sensory properties of fluid milk. The first objective of this study was to determine the change in percent milk fat needed to produce a detectable or just noticeable difference (JND) to consumers in skim, 1%, 2%, and whole milks. The second objective was to evaluate how milk fat affected consumer preferences for fluid milk. Threshold tests were conducted to determine the JND for each reference milk (skim, 1%, 2%, and whole milk), with a minimum of 60 consumers for each JND. The JND was determined for milks by visual appearance without tasting and tasting without visual cues. Serving temperature effect (4, 8, or 15°C) on tasting JND values were also investigated. The established JND values were then used to conduct ascending forced-choice preference tests with milks. Consumers were assigned to 3 groups based on self-reported milk consumption: skim milk drinkers (n = 59), low-fat milk drinkers (consumed 1% or 2% milk, n = 64), and whole milk drinkers (n = 49). Follow-up interviews were conducted where consumers were asked to taste and explain their preference between milks that showed the most polarization within each consumer segment. Descriptive sensory analysis was performed on the milks used in the follow-up interviews to quantify sensory differences. Visual-only JND were lower than tasting-only JND values. Preference testing revealed 3 distinct preference curves among the consumer segments. Skim milk drinkers preferred skim milk and up to 2% milk fat, but disliked milk higher in fat due to it being “too thick,” “too heavy,” “flavor and texture like cream,” “too fatty,” and “looks like half and half.” Low-fat milk drinkers preferred 2% milk up to 3.25% (whole milk), but then disliked higher milk fat content. Whole milk drinkers preferred whichever milk was higher in milk fat regardless of how high the fat content was, distinct from skim and low-fat milk drinkers. The findings of this study provide insights on sensory characteristics of milk fat in fluid milk and consumer sensory perception of these properties. These results also provide insights on how the industry might adjust milk fat references for adjusting milk sensory properties to increase milk preference and remain within the standards of identity of milk.

Key words: milk fat; just noticeable difference; milk