What is Whey Protein?
Whey is a protein in milk and a byproduct of the cheese making process. In baked goods, it offers advantages such as a clean taste, added texture and increased protein and shelf life. It is an easily-digestible complete protein, consisting of all essential amino acids.1 Whey powder is common in protein shakes and bars or in baked goods. However, it can also be used as an emulsifier, egg replacement or to reduce fat in products.
The three types of whey powder are:
- Whey protein concentrate, the most commonly used type.
- Whey protein isolate, which has the highest percentage of protein.
- Whey protein hydrolysate, which has a bitter taste and is used for infant formulas and medical products.
Whey was discovered accidentally around 6,000 B.C. when it naturally separated from sour goat’s milk. Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, prescribed whey in 446 BC to help boost his patients’ immune systems. It was 1,000 years later in Italy when it was developed into a liquid form. Still, its main use was as a health tonic. During the mid 1700s, a mountain village in Switzerland announced cases of whey healing the sick. Soon whey health spas were opened around Switzerland, Austria and Germany, catering to aristocrats and royalty.
Modern research has strived to develop and maintain the health benefits of whey. Due to the chemical production process of making whey powder, some of these benefits are lost. However, it has been discovered whey can help with weight loss and burning fat.2
Whey is one of two major proteins found in milk. It is a byproduct of the cheese making process when enzymes are added to the milk, causing it to separate into curds and whey – the liquid portion. Whey is then pasteurized and dried into powder for commercial use.
There are two methods for commercial production of whey powder. One is microfiltration, in which filters strain the whey. The other uses an ion exchange, where the protein is placed in an ion exchange tower and undergoes a chemical purification process from hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide. This is the cheaper and most common method of the two, but it does cause damage to some of the whey amino acids.3
When used in baking, whey ingredients can emulsify, thicken, brown, and foam products. Whey powder also increases solubility, gelation, water binding and nutritional fortification. However, the effect depends on the type and level of whey protein concentrate (WPC), ranging from 11% to over 90% which is whey protein isolate (WPI).
WPC 11 to 14.5%, or sweet whey, is used for color enhancement and a calcium source. WPC 34 enhances color, browning and protein fortification. It is often found in crackers or biscotti. WPC 34 or 80 is best for egg replacement in baked goods and has a high level of protein. The highest level, WPI, adds high protein with few to zero fat and carbohydrates.4
Whey has strong water-binding properties to fight off staleness, a welcome addition when using whole wheat flour. With gums, it also adds fiber without creating a gummy texture common in whole wheat products.5 They can be used in helping replace gluten levels, because its structure and gas-trapping properties mimic gluten. It also can help reduce fat and carbohydrates while increasing the nutritional benefits of the product.6
Whey protein concentrate is deemed GRAS by the FDA. It must be labeled when used and have at least 25 percent protein, 1 to 10 percent fat content, 2 to 15 percent ash content, 1 to 6 percent moisture content and no more than 60 percent lactose content.
Whey protein isolate does not have a GRAS ruling from the FDA, but the agency has issued a non-object letter to industry regulation and production.
- Ha, Ewan, and Michael B. Zemel. “Functional Properties of Whey, Whey Components, and Essential Amino Acids: Mechanisms Underlying Health Benefits for Active People (review).” The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry 14.5 (2003): 251-58. Web.
- Saey, Tina Hesman. “Feel the Burn: Turning on Brown Fat in Humans May Boost Weight Loss.” Science News 181.12 (2012): 20-21. Web.
- Fuente, M.a De La, Y. Hemar, M. Tamehana, P.a Munro, and H. Singh. “Process-induced Changes in Whey Proteins during the Manufacture of Whey Protein Concentrates.” International Dairy Journal 12.4 (2002): 361-69. Web.
- Stoliar, Marda, and Kimberlee J. Burrington. U.S. Whey Ingredients in Bakery Products. Publication. Arlington: U.S. Dairy Export Council, 2009. Print.
- Shon, Jinhan, Young Yun, Malshick Shin, Koo Bok Chin, and Jong-Bang Eun. “Effects of Milk Proteins and Gums on Quality of Bread Made from Frozen Dough.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture J. Sci. Food Agric. 89.8 (2009): 1407-415. Web.
- Borczak, Barbara, Elżbieta Sikora, Marek Sikora, and Duška Ćurić. “Glycaemic Response to Frozen Stored Wholemeal-flour Rolls Enriched with Fresh Sourdough and Whey Proteins.” Starch – Stärke 65.11-12 (2013): 969-75. Web.