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Enzymes Used in the Dairy Industry

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In the field of biotechnology there are many industrial applications that result in biotech products that we use everyday at home. Some of these are food science applications that utilize enzymes to produce or make improvements in the quality of different foods. In the dairy industry, some enzymes are required for the production of cheeses, yogurt and other dairy products, while others are used in a more specialized fashion to improve texture or flavour. Five of the more common types of enzymes and their role in the dairy industry are described below.

  • Rennet

    Milk contains proteins, specifically caseins, that maintain its liquid form. Proteases are enzymes that are added to milk during cheese production, to hydrolyze caseins, specifically kappa casein, which stabilizes micelle formation preventing coagulation. Rennet and rennin are general terms for any enzyme used to coagulate milk. Technically rennet is also the term for the lining of a calf's fourth stomach. The most common enzyme isolated from rennet is chymosin. Chymosin can also be obtained from several other animal, microbial or vegetable sources, but indigenous microbial chymosin (from fungi or bacteria) is ineffective for making cheddar and other hard cheeses. Limited supplies of calf rennet have prompted genetic engineering of microbial chymosin by cloning calf prochymosin genes into bacteria. Bioengineered chymosin may be involved in production of up to 70% of cheese products. While use of bioengineered enzymes spares the lives of calves, it presents ethics issues for those opposed to eating foods prepared with GEMs.

  • Other Proteases

    Milk contains a number of different types of proteins, in addition to the caseins. Cow milk also contains whey proteins such as lactalbumin and lactoglobulin. The denaturing of these whey proteins, using proteases, results in a creamier yogurt product. Destruction of whey proteins is also essential for cheese production.

    During production of soft cheeses, whey is separated from the milk after curdling, and may be sold as a nutrient supplement for body building, weight loss, and lowing blood pressure, among other things. There have even been reports of dietary whey for cancer therapies, and having a role in the induction of insulin production for those with Type 2 diabetes. Proteases are used to produce hydrolyzed whey protein, which is whey protein broken down into shorter polypeptide sequences. Hydrolyzed whey is less likely to cause allergic reactions and is used to prepare supplements for infant formulas and medical uses.

  • Lactase

    Lactase is a glycoside hydrolase enzyme that cuts lactose into it's constituent sugars, galactose and glucose. Without sufficient production of lactase enzyme in the small intestine, humans become lactose intolerant, resulting in discomfort (cramps, gas and diarrhea) in the digestive tract upon ingestion of milk products. Lactase is used commercially to prepare lactose-free products, particularly milk, for such individuals. It is also used in preparation of ice cream, to make a creamier and sweeter-tasting product. Lactase is usually prepared from Kluyveromyces sp. of yeast and Aspergillus sp. of fungi.

  • Catalase

    The enzyme Catalase has found limited use in one particular area of cheese production. Hydrogen peroxide is a potent oxidizer and toxic to cells. It is used instead of pasteurization, when making certain cheeses such as Swiss, in order to preserve natural milk enzymes that are beneficial to the end product and flavour development of the cheese. These enzymes would be destroyed by the high heat of pasteurization. However, residues of hydrogen peroxide in the milk will inhibit the bacterial cultures that are required for the actual cheese production, so all traces of it must be removed. Catalase enzymes are typically obtained from bovine livers or microbial sources, and are added to convert the hydrogen peroxide to water and molecular oxygen.

  • Lipases

    Lipases are used to break down milk fats and give characteristic flavours to cheeses. Stronger flavoured cheeses, for example, the italian cheese, Romano, are prepared using lipases. The flavour comes from the free fatty acids produced when milk fats are hydrolyzed. Animal lipases are obtained from kid, calf and lamb, while microbial lipase is derived by fermentation with the fungal species Mucor meihei. Although microbial lipases are available for cheese-making, they are less specific in what fats they hydrolyze, while the animal enzymes are more partial to short and medium-length fats. Hydrolysis of the shorter fats is preferred because it results in the desirable taste of many cheeses. Hydrolysis of the longer chain fatty acids can result in either soapiness, or no flavour at all.

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