By Noah Kaufman
Updated December 07, 2016

Americans may not drink as much milk as they used to—down some 37 percent since 1970. Actually, we’re drinking more beer than milk (although, perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise). So milk needs all the help it can get right now. One surprising place it might get a boost—light fixtures.

According to a Virginia Tech study published yesterday in the Journal of Dairy Science, switching from more common fluorescent lighting to LED options can make milk in a cooler taste fresher. Professor Susan Duncan from the Virginia Agricultural Experiment pulled both subjective and objective data to reach that conclusion. Test subjects described milk kept under fluorescent lights with words like “cardboard,” “stale” and the always popular “painty.” When the milk was exposed to LED light instead, those negative descriptions decreased. But, more importantly, the negative and positive attributes are apparently based in scientific fact. According to a press release from Virginia Tech, in addition to subject-reported data, Duncan also found that riboflavin, a nutrient in milk, oxidizes when it’s exposed to fluorescent light, but not when it’s exposed to LEDs. That oxidization, which can happen in as few as two hours, changes both the taste and the nutritional content of milk, giving some basis for the reactions.

LEDs, of course, do more than just make milk taste better. Other, non-dairy-related studies have found that they use less energy than fluorescent bulbs and generally have fewer negative environmental impacts.

Duncan seems to think this could be the beginning more milk improvements saying, “The research that is being done around this new lighting gives us momentum to explore other ways we can preserve the natural taste of milk.” Besides LEDs, Duncan thinks improved packaging that shields the product from light could keep milk tasting fresher as well.

Our only question is: Shouldn’t she be doing this with beer instead? More people are drinking it.