Milk protein concentrates

Milk protein concentrates (MPCs) are complete dairy proteins that contain casein and whey proteins. MPCs are produced from milk by a series of processes, including ultrafiltration, evaporation and drying. They are available in concentrations ranging from 40% to 89%. Higher protein MPCs provide protein enhancement and a clean dairy flavor without adding significant levels of lactose to food and beverage formulations. MPCs also contribute valuable minerals like calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. They’re desirable for protein and calcium fortification of nutritional beverages, frozen desserts, cultured products and more, according to the U.S. Dairy Export Council.


Whey protein

Whey protein, in particular, has excellent nutritional and functional properties. It has the highest biological value of any protein and is a good source of branched-chain amino acids, including leucine, which research suggests helps minimize muscle-wasting under conditions of increased protein breakdown, such as weight loss and sarcopenia.

Whey protein is comprised of several protein fractions, each having unique characteristics and biological functions. Whey protein concentrate (WPC) is manufactured by drying the material resulting from the removal of sufficient non-protein constituents from pasteurized whey. The result is a product that contains 25% or more protein. Whey protein isolate (WPI) is manufactured by drying pasteurized liquid whey and removing non-protein constituents by a variety of separation techniques, resulting in a product that contains 90% or more protein.

Whey protein can be isolated from milk or from the whey byproduct of cheese-making. According to Dairy Management Inc., whey protein derived directly from milk has a bland flavor and aroma, high solubility, excellent foaming characteristics, low turbidity, and lends itself to applications such as beverages and products that require a substantial amount protein-enhancement. Whey protein isolated from cheese whey imparts a slight dairy flavor that enables other flavors to develop to their full potential and lends itself to applications such as cereals, snack bars and baked goods.

There are three general areas of opportunity for milk protein ingredients, explained Glanbia’s Ward:

  • The functional area where proteins are used at low inclusion rates to add viscosity, texture, taste and provide a clean label;
  • The functional/nutritional area where proteins offer certain functions such as food  structure and texture and also provide significant nutritional value due to high-quality protein in applications such as nutritional bars, beverages and fresh dairy; and
  • The nutritional/bioactive area that focuses on the health benefits that bioactive proteins provide.

In terms of product development, Paddon-Jones suggested the dairy industry leverage existing high-quality protein foods such as Greek yogurt.

“If manufacturers come out with protein-enhanced products, that’s a positive thing — but only if the protein is added to nutritious foods and beverages. Adding it to candy and other ‘junk food’ is not responsible.”

Paddon-Jones believes the biggest opportunity for dairy’s high-quality protein profile is to target populations at risk of losing muscle: those over 40 years of age and those who experience injury, illness and limited physical activity.

“Research has shown dramatic improvement in these compromised populations when supplemented with leucine-rich foods such as whey,” said Paddon-Jones. “The dairy industry could piggyback on the 3-Every-Day message,” added Paddon-Jones. “It’s the same message for protein: High-quality protein three times a day.” 

See the related article: "An overview of current research about milk protein and health."