The objectives of this study were to investigate the moisture-induced protein aggregation of whey protein powders and to elucidate the relationship of protein stability with respect to water content and glass transition. Three whey protein powder types were studied: whey protein isolate (WPI), whey protein hydrolysates (WPH), and beta-lactoglobulin (BLG). The water sorption isotherms were determined at 23 and 45°C, and they fit the Guggenheim–Andersson–DeBoer (GAB) model well. Glass transition was determined by differential scanning calorimeter (DSC). The heat capacity changes of WPI and BLG during glass transition were small (0.1 to 0.2 Jg−1 °C−1), and the glass transition temperature (Tg) could not be detected for all samples. An increase in water content in the range of 7 to 16% caused a decrease in Tg from 119 down to 75°C for WPI, and a decrease from 93 to 47°C for WPH. Protein aggregation after 2 weeks’ storage was measured by the increase in insoluble aggregates and change in soluble protein fractions. For WPI and BLG, no protein aggregation was observed over the range of 0 to 85% RH, whereas for WPH, ∼50% of proteins became insoluble after storage at 23°C and 85% RH or at 45°C and ≥73% RH, caused mainly by the formation of intermolecular disulfide bonds. This suggests that, at increased water content, a decrease in the Tg of whey protein powders results in a dramatic increase in the mobility of protein molecules, leading to protein aggregation in short-term storage.
Whey proteinsHydrolysatesWaterGlass transitionProtein aggregationDisulfide bond