Formulators and dairy processors who want to address weight management, low-carbohydrate/ high-protein diets and overall healthier lifestyles are finding that dairy proteins add both function and nutrition to their products. Bill Haines, v.p., product innovation, Dairy Management Inc.™, recently discussed dairy proteins and their future applications with Tools for Innovation.

Q: What makes dairy proteins unique?

A: Unlike other proteins, dairy proteins are highly functional and extremely versatile. Not only do they stabilize emulsions, they can be modified to have enhanced foaming and thickening properties. In addition, dairy proteins can form gels under specific conditions. Last but not least, dairy proteins have a nice clean flavor.

Q: How have dairy protein ingredients evolved?

A: It wasn't too many years ago that food manufacturers didn't have a lot to choose from. They could get casein, whey or whey protein concentrate at a 34% protein level. With advances in technology, we now can get higher-protein concentrates and isolates and even individual protein fractions from whey and casein. Not only are there more dairy protein offerings now, their functionality can be customized to specific needs. Look at today's low-carbohydrate/high- protein products. Technology makes possible whey protein isolates with 80% protein.

Q: Can you describe some of the technology?

A: Membrane separation allows us to fractionate protein mixtures based on molecular size. The ability to separate out proteins from lactose and water allows for the production of higher-protein concentrates and isolates. Separation technology, however, is more than membrane technology. Ion exchange chromatography allows us to fractionate whey proteins, creating isolates like lactoferrin, glycomacropeptide and alpha-lactalbumin. As this technology advances, it will enable much more precision in the separation process and the ability to go after individual proteins.

Q: What can we expect from separation technology in the future?

A: Advances in membrane material will make separation technologies more affordable, ultimately leading to a wider array of dairy protein ingredients. One example of this is microfiltration, which allows us to separate whey protein prior to cheesemaking.

Q: What other research will affect the future of dairy proteins?

A: The ability to modify the functional characteristics of dairy proteins will definitely pay dividends. For example, work is under way to produce heat-stable whey proteins for use in products such as protein-based beverages. Modification of dairy proteins can occur via hydrolysis, membrane technology or extrinsic processing parameters such as acidity and temperature. Through modification, we can enhance the performance of dairy proteins, thus enhancing their gelation, foaming, emulsification and stability properties. This would allow them to be used in numerous applications and in place of other protein sources.

The emerging role of dairy proteins in providing distinctive health benefits also will be significant. Nutrition research suggests dairy proteins' benefits in areas such as heart health, weight management and immunity. If clinical research confirms these findings, we will see a growing demand for unique dairy proteins.