The influence of glycerol and sorbitol on the thermal stability and heat-induced gelation of β-lactoglobulin (β-lg) in aqueous solutions was investigated. The thermal stability of β-lg was characterized by measuring the thermal denaturation temperature (Tm) using differential scanning calorimetry, while its gelation properties were characterized by measuring the gelation temperature (Tgel) and final gel rigidity (G∗) using dynamic shear rheology. All experiments were carried out using aqueous solutions containing 10% (w/w) β-lg, glycerol (0–70% w/w) or sorbitol (0–55% w/w), and 5 mM phosphate buffer (pH 7.0). No salt was added to these solutions so that there was a relatively strong electrostatic repulsion between the protein molecules, which usually prevents gelation. When the cosolvent concentration was increased from 0% to 50%, Tm increased from 74 to 86 °C for sorbitol, but only from 74 to 76 °C for glycerol, which indicated that sorbitol was much more effective at stabilizing the native state of the globular protein than glycerol. Protein solutions containing sorbitol (0–55%) did not form a gel after heating, but those containing glycerol formed gels when the cosolvent concentration exceeded about 10%, with G∗ increasing with increasing glycerol concentration. We attribute these effects to differences in the preferential interactions of polyols and water with the surfaces of native and heat-denatured proteins, and their influence on the protein–protein collision frequency.
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