In an increasingly diversified global market, milk of minor dairy species has gained interest as a novel and premium source of nutrition. Relative to the major dairy species, much is lacking in our understanding of red deer (Cervus elaphus) milk. In this study, we characterized the compositions (macronutrients, minerals, fatty acids, and proteins) of red deer milk and their variations throughout lactation. We also investigated the structures, physical properties, and gelation (acid- and rennet-induced) properties of deer milk and how they are impacted by typical processing treatments (e.g., homogenization and pasteurization). We identified unique features in the composition of deer milk, including being richer in protein, fat, calcium, zinc, iodine, branched-chain fatty acids, and α-linolenic acid than other ruminant milks. Different deer milk components displayed diverse variation patterns over the lactation cycle, many of which were different from those demonstrated in other ruminant species. Other physicochemical features of deer milk were identified, such as its markedly larger fat globules. Processing treatments were demonstrated to alter the structural and gelation properties of deer milk. Most of the gelation properties of deer milk resembled that of bovine milk more than ovine and caprine milks. This study furthers our understanding of red deer milk and will aid in its processing and applications in novel products.
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