Thanks to new processing technologies and research attesting
to its health benefits, whey’s future looks bright.
by Kathie Canning
Once deemed a bothersome
— and costly — byproduct of cheese manufacturing, whey finally
is enjoying some well-deserved respect. In reality, few other food
ingredients can match it in terms of functionality and health benefits.
Despite all this progress, as much as 30 percent of
whey still is disposed of. However, new whey-processing technologies and a
growing portfolio of applications for the dairy ingredient promise to
further shrink that percentage in the years to come.
A Tale of Technology
In general, whey refers to the translucent liquid that
separates from the curd during the milk-coagulation step in cheese
manufacture. The two major categories of whey in the United States are
sweet whey and acid whey.
Sweet whey results from the manufacture of hard
cheeses such as cheddar and mozzarella and has a pH greater than 5.6. Acid
whey, on the other hand, is produced during cottage cheese and ricotta
manufacturing processes and has a higher mineral content and a pH of less
than 5.1. It generally requires special treatment to mitigate its rather
bitter, metallic taste.
To create a product suitable for use in food, beverage
and other applications, water is removed from both whey forms. Sometimes
minerals or lactose also are removed.
In the United States, most whey powders are based on
sweet whey, which boasts a bland flavor that works well in many food
applications. Today’s whey ingredients range from simple sweet whey
powders to high-end whey proteins and go into numerous products ranging
from dairy foods to nutritional supplements to processed meats.
What a change from 30-some years ago, when most whey
was either spread on fields or fed to livestock. In addition, a much larger
portion of the whey destined for beneficial reuse has shifted from the
livestock feed sector to the human food sector, notes K.J. Burrington, whey
applications program coordinator for the Wisconsin Center for Dairy
Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Almost 80 percent of the whey [reused] in 2002 was used
for food, and the rest for feed,” she says. “It’s gone from
something like a 60/40 split to an 80/20 split just in the last seven years.”
Processing technologies can take much of the credit for whey’s elevation
“Whey was first converted to whey powder with
approximately 12 percent protein,” says Sean Walsh, whey technology
director for Monroe, Wis.-based Glanbia Nutritionals Inc. “As
evaporating and drying technologies improved, more whey was processed, and
higher protein levels were achieved.”
Crossflow-membrane-based separation technology
introduced during the 1970s created “multiple new product
opportunities,” says Steve Dott, vice president of the Lomira,
Wis.-based Grande Custom Ingredients Group of Grande Cheese Co. Dott
specifically credits ultrafiltration membrane technology as the force
behind today’s commercial whey protein industry, “as it made
separating and concentrating whey proteins possible and
Ion-exchange and microfiltration technologies have
since “allowed manufacturers to increase the biological value of whey
protein” cost-effectively, says Doug Clairday, national sales manager
for St. Paul, Minn.-based Protient Inc. The technologies have enabled
manufacturers to re-invest in process technology and plant efficiency, he
says, while delivering superior-quality whey ingredients at a lower
Processing technology advances, for example, made it
possible to separate the protein from the lactose component to produce the
first whey protein concentrate (WPC).
“WPC 34 [34 percent protein] was the standard for
a number of years, until further developments in technology made it
possible to achieve WPC 80 [80 percent protein],” says Walsh.
“The next development, whey protein isolate [WPI], reached a 90
percent protein content.”
The shear number of separation technologies available
today also has encouraged the customization of whey proteins for specific
“Crossflow membranes ranging in pore size from
microfiltration, ultrafiltration [and] nanofiltration to reverse osmosis
allow concentration by removal of water [and] salts and separation of
peptides and proteins by size,” says Jill Rippe, director of
R&D/technical sales support for La Crosse, Wis.-based Main Street
Ingredients. “Ion-exchange columns allow a high level of
demineralization of whey by selective removal of salts. So not only do you
have concentration of proteins, you also can have selective concentration
to create different composition profiles.”
By controlling pH and heat and mineral balance,
manufacturers can enhance whey’s water-binding abilities, says Rippe.
Commercially available forms of these enhanced proteins have applications
in a number of processed food applications, she adds, such as frozen
desserts, confections, sauces and cheeses.
Whey to Wellness
Whey proteins bring a number of functional properties
to dairy products, baked goods and confections, processed meats, sauces and
soups, and many other foods and beverages. They serve as excellent
emulsifiers, whipping agents and water-binders, and also aid in gelation,
thickening and browning.
In addition, they allow for a clean label, says Laurie
Davis, director of analytical research and application sciences for Davisco
Foods International Inc., Eden Prairie, Minn. Moreover, she stresses, their
bland flavor allow them to be incorporated easily into “virtually any
In the functionality arena, whey ingredients continue
to face stiff competition from other, often less costly ingredients.
However, a growing body of research linking whey proteins with myriad
health benefits suggests a rosy future for these versatile ingredients both
in and out of the nutritional supplement sector.
Wellness issues have increased consumer and processor
interest in protein overall as an ingredient, says Burrington. Whey
proteins offer the nutritional benefits of protein, yet are easy to use in
terms of functionality and flavor.
“Whey protein is one of the most bioavailable, highest-quality
protein sources, and its usage is increasing significantly,” says Kelly
Czerwonka, marketing manager for Glanbia Nutritionals. “It has always
been strong in the sports nutrition products, but it continues to expand in
other categories as more health benefits are discovered.”
The sports and body-building segments long have reaped health benefits specifically
from WPI and WPC 80 ingredients, says Rippe.
“With the ability to achieve fat and
carbohydrate levels below 1 percent, these proteins allow flexible design
of nutritional beverages, bars and unique formulated foods with very high
protein and selected fat or carbohydrate profiles,” she says.
“This allows whey protein to be used in everything from
low-carbohydrate, lowfat, low-glycemic and weight-management products to
muscle-mass-building, high-caloric products.”
The ingredients soon could enjoy more widespread use
in the mainstream food and beverage sector once consumers learn about
whey’s many unique health benefits and whey proteins become even more
customized to specific consumer needs.
“Consumer demand for functional foods is growing
rapidly,” says Clairday, “so it is important that mainstream
food companies learn more about the health benefits of whey products in
functional foods before waiting for ‘trickle-down’ impacts. For
example, consumers have accepted mainstream food terms such as ‘good
for you’ or ‘heart healthy’ to describe products that are
above being just really good tasting. With the advances in science and
technology, it is only natural that consumers transfer to a marketplace
with a multitude of value-added products.”
According to Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), Rosemont,
Ill., whey protein is “of high biological value compared to most
other proteins.” It consists of several different proteins,
including beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, immunoglobulins, bovine
serum albumin, lactoferrin, glycomacropeptide (GMP) and more. Moreover, new
technologies allow the isolation of a variety of biologically active
amino acids, peptides and fractions.
Several of these whey proteins have been shown to
inhibit the activity of some foodborne pathogens and other microorganisms,
says DMI. Some also exhibit antiviral activity against human
immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and stimulate the immune response to various
Certain whey proteins also may slash the risk of
cancer by increasing the cellular levels of glutathione, says DMI. In
addition, whey contains bioactive components that may lower blood pressure,
inhibit platelet aggression and reduce blood cholesterol levels, positively
impacting overall cardiovascular health.
Whey protein’s GMP has been found to stimulate
cholecystokinin (CCK), a hormone that essentially tells the brain the
stomach is full, says Rippe.
“The GMP in whey is a byproduct of cheese
enzymes acting on casein protein during the coagulation of milk,” she
says. “Typically, GMP is about 10 to 20 percent of the total proteins
in liquid whey. Specific processing by microfiltration, ion exchange and
ultrafiltration can concentrate GMP in whey protein to 70 to 80
Breaking with Tradition
Technology advances related to whey ingredients also stand to
boost demand in several non-traditional areas.
One such advance recently culminated in the
development of a crunchy whey protein ingredient that can serve as a
healthful addition to foods such as cereal bars, frozen desserts and yogurt
toppings. The ingredient also shows promise as a meat extender and meat
The WPCrisp™ product is the result of a
collaboration among Grande Custom Ingredients Group, Utah University and
DMI. Researchers created the patented textured whey protein by extruding a
whey protein/edible polysaccharide (e.g., cornstarch) combination through a
twin-screw extruder, says DMI.
Grande Custom Ingredients has an exclusive license
from Utah State University to manufacturer the new product, says Dott. It
currently is offered in four standard sizes at 50 percent whey protein, but
also can be customized to the needs of individual food manufacturers.
Another promising area for beneficial reuse is in
edible whey protein films and coatings. John M. Krochta, Ph.D., a professor
in the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of
California, Davis (UC Davis), has been performing quite a bit of research
in this area, with funding provided through the California Dairy Research
Foundation and DMI.
“Whey proteins are unique in that they are
capable of forming transparent, flexible, colorless, glossy, bland films or
coatings from aqueous solution,” says Krochta. “Depending on
the conditions of formation, the films/coatings can be water-soluble or
The water-insoluble coatings, says Krochta, are
stronger and stretchier and make better barriers to oxygen and aromas. They
also are more resistant to moisture.
“We believe that the combination of properties
for whey protein films and coatings makes them superior to other materials
for protecting foods from oxygen, aroma loss, oil migration, physical shock
and vibration,” says Krochta, “and for providing good food
appearance [such as] gloss. We have also shown that bioactive agents such
as antimicrobial and antioxidant compounds can be incorporated into
whey-protein films and coatings for additional protection of
Thus far, Krochta and his research team have used
whey-based formulations to coat peanuts, chocolates and cheese, as well as
Commercially available peanuts have thus far not been
coated for oxidation protection, Krochta says, largely because an
acceptable water-based oxygen-barrier coating did not exist. However,
his research team has shown that a whey-based coating could double —
or even triple — the nuts’ shelf life.
“We are presently working on increasing the
coverage and adhesion of whey protein coatings on peanuts using pilot-scale
coating equipment,” says Krochta. “Several confectionery
companies are interested in our technology for increasing the shelf life or
their projects that contain peanuts.”
Whey-based coatings also could one day stand in for
the confectioner’s glaze that coats a number of today’s
“Several chocolate products are coated with
shellac in an ethanol solvent to provide a glossy appearance and to make
them less tacky,” says Krochta. “The ethanol solvent creates
worker-safety and environmental problems upon evaporation. We are presently
working on improving the gloss and reducing gloss fade of aqueous
whey-protein-based coatings for chocolate. Again, several confectionary
companies are interested in our technology.”
In addition, researchers have realized
“encouraging results” from the addition of the anti-mold agents
potassium sorbate and natamycin into whey-protein coatings for cheese, says
Krochta. Because these agents are incorporated into a whey-protein coating,
they are held at the surface of the cheese to inhibit surface mold growth
instead of diffusing into the cheese interior. This research will be
extended into the protection of ready-to-eat food products such as smoked
salmon, lunchmeats and cheese for a variety of pathogenic organisms of
concern, he adds.
Finally, the researchers have found whey-protein-based
coatings to be “excellent oxygen and grease barriers” for
paper, says Krochta. This research is “especially important,”
he notes, because the major manufacturer of fluoridated compound
grease-barrier coatings recently dropped its products because of food
safety and environmental concerns. Krochta and his team are working with a
major paper company to assist it in whey-coating-related pilot studies.
Although research at UC Davis thus far has focused on
the formation of whey-protein films for use as coatings, Krochta hopes
to take the technology a step further — using an extruder to turn
whey protein powder into stand-alone films for use as food wraps or for
heat-sealing into food pouches.
“We have recently shown that it is possible to
apply the correct combination of heat and pressure to whey protein powder
in a compression molding process to form transparent, flexible films, just
as from a whey protein solution on a casting surface,” he says.
“These encouraging results have led to ongoing research on forming
such films in the same type of extruder used for making synthetic plastic
Although 100 percent utilization of leftover whey
might never become a reality, new processing technologies and a growing
array of value-added applications certainly will help. However,
cheese-makers, whey suppliers and potential end-users of whey still must
overcome a few obstacles.
First of all, food sectors currently underutilizing
whey proteins should consider the benefits the ingredients potentially
could bring to their products.
Although approximately half of all whey processed into
an ingredient eventually ends up in a dairy application, the goal tends to
be functionality, not for value-added fortification, says Burrington.
“The dairy sector is using whey protein, but
could be using it in more products,” says Davisco’s Davis.
“Adding dairy protein to dairy products makes the most
Rippe says underutilization of the ingredient by the dairy sector
could be a remnant from the days when whey was viewed as a byproduct inferior
to dairy solids.
Standards of identity also hamper dairy processors’ ability to fortify
dairy products with whey protein, says Rippe.
“Fluid milk, when fortified with whey, must be
called a ‘drink’ even if the dairy protein content is
equivalent or higher,” she says. “Ice cream cannot go over 25
percent replacement of milk solids with whey or it must be called a
‘frozen dessert’ — again, even if the dairy protein
content is equivalent or higher.”
However, notes Rippe, whey protein concentrates and
isolates offer a ready option to replace some of the carbohydrates in
reduced-carb dairy formulations — a plus even if the resulting
product must be called something else. She points to a
“maverick” frozen novelty called the Cold Fusion Protein Bar,
which is made from WPI and contains 10 grams of protein per serving. Its
manufacturers claim it “tastes like ice cream, works like an energy
The dairy industry should “celebrate the virtues of whey
fortification and allow identification of these as dairy products,” adds
Consumer education also will be key to increasing whey usage within the dairy
industry, says Burrington.
“If you had, for instance, a yogurt and could say ‘now
with more added whey proteins,’ consumers would have to be familiar with
those benefits,” she says. “Right now, I don’t think they
Cost remains an issue for some more traditional whey applications, notes Burrington.
“I think what’s happened over the years is
the competition has kind of driven dairy out of certain categories because
there are other ingredients that have somehow filled their functionality
for less cost,” she says. “Meat is definitely one of those
Whey also has “lost a lot of ground in soups and sauces,”
says Burrington. “People tend to gravitate toward starches and things
for those kinds of applications — you can do it very cheaply with a starch.
I’m not sure if we’ll get that back or not, but I keep thinking
that if people are concerned about carbohydrates, maybe it’s one way to
get around it. Whey makes a sauce that’s less starchy — it uses
protein to get the same kind of functionality.”
Protein’s rising status could help whey win back some of these functional
applications, says Burrington.
Finally, for many cheese plants, the cost to process
whey byproducts and transport them continues to make beneficial reuse
“There is still some whey that is land-spread or
fed to animals as a liquid without further processing,” says Dott.
“Generally, this is whey from small plants without the economics to
process, or the whey is unsuitable for processing due to the cheese
To improve the economics, says Burrington, some of the
smaller plants might want to invest in a reverse osmosis system to process
the liquid whey.
“In this case, they would just be taking away and removing
the water from it so that if they did ship it to somebody, they would have a
lot less water and it would be less costly,” she says. “And most
reverse-osmosis systems for their size are not going to be that costly —
you’re talking about a few thousand dollars instead of hundreds of thousands
for some other equipment.”
What if whey’s escalating popularity one day creates a market where demand
That’s not necessarily a problem, says Rippe.
“Traditionally, whey availability has been
dependent on cheese-making,” she says. “This is no longer
necessary. Whey protein can be separated directly from milk by
microfiltration processing, creating whey protein and micellar casein. This
whey protein contains no residuals from cheese-making such as cultures,
enzymes, GMP, color or lactic acid and should be optimum in nutritional
value and [impart] most of the functionalities of traditional whey.”
Finding the Whey
A number of suppliers offer whey proteins for the
dairy sector and other food and beverage segments. Suppliers
contributing to this article include:
• Davisco Foods International
), which offers the BiPro® whey protein isolate,
BioZate® bioactive peptide systems, and BioPure™ purified whey
protein fractions for a variety of food and beverage applications. The
BioZate 1 product has been shown to lower blood pressure and positively
impact cardiovascular disease risk factors.
• Glanbia Nutritionals
), which supplies the Provon® whey protein
isolate for beverage fortification, the Thermax® 690 whey protein
isolate for low-acid beverage applications, the BarPro™ partially
hydrolyzed milk protein isolate and BarFlex™ partially hydrolyzed whey
protein isolate (which extend the shelf-life of high-protein nutritional
bars) and other whey ingredients.
• Grande Custom Ingredients Group
), which offers the Grande Bravo line of whey proteins
and the new WPCrisp products. The Bravo line, suitable for a wide range of
food applications, is produced through a proprietary process that uses a
unique filtration technology and heat treatments to boost performance.
• Main Street Ingredients (www.msing.com
markets a complete line of dairy ingredients, including whey, lactose, whey
protein concentrates, whey protein isolates and more. The company stresses
its ability to select or blend whey products for target protein, lactose,
fat and mineral content and to select functionality by processing methods.
• Protient (www.protient.com
), which offers
Whey Protein Concentrate 8000, Whey Protein Isolate 9000, Hydrolyzed Whey
Isolate Prolong 90 and Hydrolyzed Whey Concentrate Proextend 80. The
products feature a lower sodium content and water/physical processing
benefits in terms of flavor and formulations geared toward specific food
Although sweet whey and acid whey account for the bulk
of cheese-making byproducts, salt whey also represents a disposal concern.
Produced during the final whey removal step in cheddar
and other natural cheese-making processes, after salt has been added to the
curd, salt whey can elevate the soil’s chloride levels if it is
land-spread. Current salt removal technology such as nanofiltration,
however, is only marginally cost-effective, according to Lloyd Metzger,
Ph.D., an assistant professor in the University of Minnesota’s
Department of Food Science and Nutrition.
Metzger recently collaborated with DMI, Bongards Creameries
and others to transform this problematic byproduct into an ingredient for process
The project focused on a local Bongards plant that manufacturers natural cheese
and process cheese within the same facility.
“They are spending about $250,000 a year to
dispose of their salt whey,” says Metzger. “It would be a
benefit to them if they could put it back into their process
The whole concept is really about taking a
common-sense approach to problem-solving, notes Metzger. After all,
Bongards’ process-cheese product already requires the addition of
salt and water — why not substitute the salt whey byproduct?
Although the salt whey also contains some additional
components such as lactose and whey proteins, Metzger says, “those
solids are also in process cheese. So it was as simple as adjusting the
formulation to account for those solids.”
The end result was a process cheese with “no sensory and
no texture differences” from the traditional product, says Metzger.
The company currently is waiting for government approval to implement the formulation
changes, notes Metzger.
“There’s a whole standard of identity for
process cheese and what kinds of ingredients you can use,” he says.
“It looks positive at this point, but it’s a fairly slow
Once it gets past the approval hurdle, Bongards stands to save
not only $250,000 a year in disposal costs, but also a chunk of change in whey
solids and salt ingredient costs.
That sounds like a win-win situation. df
Crazy for Caramel
Caramel is the latest flavor craze, and a
company’s kosher-certified caramel sauce and caramel bits can help
manufacturers meet consumer demand. The sauce flows at room temperature and
adds a rich taste and soft, chewy texture to ice cream and other frozen
desserts. Suitable for mixing into puddings and yogurts, 3/8-inch chewy caramel bits are easily
distributed via conveyors and hoppers. Both products have a nine-month
shelf life when stored at recommended temperatures. — Kraft Food
Ingredients Corp., (901) 381-6500, www.kraftfoodingredients.com
A company creates nutrient blends, or premixes,
containing from two to more than 20 fortification ingredients. Working
directly with manufacturers, the company can customize both liquid and
powder nutrient blends that add value and consumer appeal to foods and
beverages. Premixes eliminate on-site mixing and inventory storage while
ensuring product consistency. — DSM Nutritional Products Inc., (800)
Milk with Kid Appeal
The Crazy Scoops line of brightly colored fruit-based
flavors is designed with kids in mind. Offered in banana, grape,
berry-blend and tropical versions, the flavors contain less sugar and fewer
calories than many ready-to-drink flavored milks and have no caffeine,
hydrocolloids or added fat. They can be mixed and matched to create unique
flavor combinations. Once stirred into soymilk or whole, 2 percent, 1
percent or skim milk, the flavors maintain a uniform flavor and color. —
Danisco USA Inc., (913) 764-8100, www.danisco.com
Denali Flavors Inc. and Tootsie Roll Industries Inc.
formed a co-branding alliance to introduce Tootsie Roll® and Tootsie
Pops® ice cream to dairies and the national market. The Tootsie Roll
ice cream boasts soft, chewy fudge-filled treats in a fudge swirl and
chocolate ice cream base, while the Tootsie Pops version has crunchy cherry
and grape candy bits in a fudge swirl and vanilla cream base. — Denali Flavors Inc., (616) 877-4625,
Cut Carbs, Calories
A dairy beverage targets consumers who are counting
carbohydrates or calories. Created for dairies or beverage manufacturers
that want to expand their product offerings, the beverage boasts a wide
range of available flavors, a net carbohydrate count between 3 and 7 grams
and 80 to 90 calories per serving. — Main Street Ingredients, (800)
TIC Pretested® Dairyblend 366-THK powder acts as a
stabilizer in ready-to-drink milkshakes, direct-draw milkshakes, flavored
milk products, and low-carbohydrate and other dairy-based beverages. The
multi-functional gum system not only allows processors to achieve the
desired viscosity, but also helps prevent separation during distribution
and storage and control ice crystal formation on direct-draw shakes. —
TIC Gums Inc., (410) 273-7300, www.ticgums.com
The Fibersol-2™ product is a spraydried powder
produced by the pyrolysis and controlled enzymatic hydrolysis of
cornstarch. Suitable for use as a prebiotic in cultured day foods, frozen
dairy foods and many other food products, the soluble dietary fiber has no
inherent or added flavor and features a high solubility and a very low
viscosity. It is acid, heat/retort and freeze/thaw stable. — Matsutani America Inc., (217) 875-9819,
Ice Cream Improver
Specially adapted functional dairy proteins serve as a
complete replacement for skim milk powder in a new frozen dessert system.
The proteins combine with the Daritech™ FR 287 product to create a
frozen dessert system that yields both cost savings and product
improvements. Frozen desserts exhibit enhanced extrusion properties,
excellent melt resistance, clean flavor and a mix viscosity equivalent to
ice cream made with skim milk powder. — Degussa Food
Ingredients/Business Line Texturant Systems, (800) 241-9485,
A company now offers a highly bioavailable calcium
that is suitable for fortification of a variety of foods and beverages. The
calcium lactate-gluconate product contains 13 percent calcium, but its
high solubility allows fortification at levels that will meet the RDA for a
serving. The ingredient can be used in products ranging from low-pH juices
to neutral-pH foods, dissolving quickly and easily and remaining stable for
the product’s life. It can be added directly to the water or
preblended with other dry ingredients. The company also offers calcium
gluconate and calcium citrate ingredients. — Jungbunzlauer Inc.,
(800) 828-0062, www.Jungbunzlauer.com
Hold the Sugar
No-sugar-added fruit fillings add a natural fruit
taste and a sense of indulgence to foods without excess sugar. The
technology helps processors create great-tasting, yet lower-carb products. —
Kerry Americas, (800) 334-4788, www.kerryamericas.com
The Cheesy Culturoma™ products add a yummy cheesy
flavor profile to dairy, bakery and snack foods. Available in specific
cheese flavors such as Cheesy Cheddar, Cheesy Jack and Cheesy Parmesan, the
dairy fat-based starter distillates result from natural dairy product
fermentation and steam distillation. The shelf-stable products provide the
rounded dairy top notes and base notes for flavor and mouthfeel. —
DairyChem International Inc., (317) 849-8400, www.dairychem.com