July/August 2012: Discovering Fresh Whey


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On a recent Saturday morning on Martha’s Vineyard, I sat with my nephew Doug Kenney at the Grey Barn farm stand as we waited for more eggs to be gathered.  We had driven the five miles to Grey Barn Farm, owned by Molly and Eric Glascow, to buy “real” eggs from their barnyard hens.  I often make this trip to get eggs from chickens that roam freely, foraging for foods that chickens love best—grubs, worms, insects, and grain.  Chickens that forage in this traditional way are well-nourished.  They lay eggs with deep-orange yolks and a perfect balance of omega-3/omega-6 essential fatty acids.

 

While Molly gathered eggs for us, we questioned Eric about his farming experience and some of the business management issues faced by Island farmers.  One quandary is how to meet the huge summer demand for eggs, milk, and meat posed by Island vacationers and local restaurants, and then down-shift to synchronize to the meager demand of the sparse winter population.   Another is how to use the surplus whey from his dairy cows when he cannot “run any more volume through his pigs.”

 

As a year-round resident who buys locally grown food in every season, I could not do much to help with this first problem.  But, my heart skipped a beat on the second:  Because I use whey for making bread, soaking beans and grains, and as an addition to soups and stews, I thought I might be able to help create demand for his surplus supply of whey.  Not only did I want to be a regular customer if Molly and Eric would begin bottling and selling their fresh whey, but I also wanted to help others learn to use whey in the kitchen because of its high-protein, enzyme, and nutritional profile and because of the way that it can facilitate cooking.  Whey is not a whole food, but finding uses for whey supports sustainability.

 

Ironically, for years, I have bought yogurt from organic dairies like Hawthorne Valley and Mermaid Farm (on Martha’s Vineyard) to make my own whey for cooking, while I give to friends the “surplus” by-product, a soft cream cheese.  To find a potential source of fresh whey seemed too good to be true.

 

[Before proceeding, let me distinguish between fresh acid whey, which is the subject of this newsletter, the liquid by-product of acid-type cheese making, and whey powders.   If you do buy whey in powdered form, make sure that it is from grass-fed cows, not heated above 118 degrees, and from a reliable source.   Commercial powdered whey is usually made from factory farm milk; milk that is then damaged by high-temperature processing, something that denatures the proteins and increases the nitrates and other carcinogens.  These powders often also contain chemical additives, sweeteners, and toxic metal residues. Because whey, whether fresh or powdered, does contain lactose, people who are lactose intolerant will want to avoid both fresh whey and whey protein powders.  Read food labels since whey powder is often added to snack foods.  Whey powder is such a concentrated protein that it can negatively affect health. ]


 

Whey and the Environment

 

Finding ways to use whey in the kitchen supports sustainability:  Domestic cheese production has more than doubled in the last 35 years; and, because every pound of cheese leaves behind nine pounds of whey,1 whey has become a greater environmental issue.  It can be harmful to ecosystems if dumped into rivers and streams.  And, if it is spread on the same land area over time, a subsoil layer of fat can build up to prevent plants from growing.2  Thankfully, the food industry and medicine are finding more and more uses for whey as a high-protein additive to foods and nutritional supplements.  Whey is not a whole food, but if we eat cheese, we can do our own part to consume whole milk in its separate parts…cheese and whey…by exploring adaptive ways to bring whey into our own home kitchen.

 

Whey and Health

 

Whey protein (technically called lactalbumin) is a complete protein, containing all nine essential (those that the body is not able to make on its own) amino acids.  Whey protein scores the highest of all foods with respect to “biological value,” a measure of how well amino acids are absorbed and

 

Biological Value (BV) of Some Foods

Food

BV

Whey Protein

104

Human Milk

101

Chicken Egg

100

Cow’s Milk

95

Cheese

89

Fish

80

Beef

79

Chicken

77

Whole Wheat

68

White Flour

43

utilized by the body.3  Whey is also the highest natural source of branched-chain amino acids—isoleucine, leucine, and valine—and a major source of glutamine.  Both branched-chain amino acids and glutamine play a vital role in proper cell function, muscle growth, and protein utilization.  Glutamine also feeds white blood cells throughout the body and the cells that line the intestines (a key center of immune health).  Whey is used by medicine to inhibit tumor growth; repair both exercise-related and radiation-/chemotherapy-related tissue damage; improve muscle strength, while preventing muscles from atrophying after accident or illness; and to help the body to recover from trauma and surgery.

 

As a sign of Nature’s gold seal endorsement of whey’s importance for human growth and vitality, whey accounts for 80% of the protein in human breast milk.  This is not the case for cow’s milk, where whey makes up for only 20% of the protein content.  Casein, the milk protein that is high in calcium and phosphorus and curdles to form cheese, accounts for the other 80% protein component of cow’s milk.   Cow’s milk appears to be formulated to quickly build calves into cows.  Nature seems to have designed breast milk with a more sophisticated eye to immune health, cellular function, and survival.

 

Whey contains enzymes, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron-bonding proteins, vitamins A, C, B1, B2, B3, B5, B12, folic acid and biotin.  Fresh whey is about 95% water, 4% lactose, 1% protein, 1% ash, and less than 1% fat.4 Given the high water content of fresh whey, it is easy to see that whey powder (unless the lactose is removed in processing) is largely lactose, which is a form of sugar.  Food companies often use commercial whey powder to help sweeten “sugar-free” products.  

 

Fresh whey is rich in enzymes, protein, vitamins, minerals and has negligible carbohydrates, so it can be added to juices, smoothies, and other drinks as a digestive tonic, to add nutrition, and to reduce the blood sugar impact of high-glycemic fruit drinks.  Fresh whey also supports healthy bones, teeth, hair, and skin.  [Because whey powder such a concentrated source of isolated protein, devoid of the water, enzymes and other nutrients of fresh whey, it too much whey protein powder can weaken bones.]

 

Finally, because fresh whey is loaded with healthy bacteria associated with good gut health and the immune system—Lactobacillus acidophilus, casei, rhamnosus, bugaricus, and others—that support the immune system and good gut health, there are potential benefits to using fresh whey that we may not yet appreciate.  Science is just beginning to explore the vast number of good bacteria in and on the body that support health and fight disease.5 Perhaps traditional cultures that drank whey and used it in the kitchen had a sense, not only of the need to recycle whey for environmental reasons, but also of its role in good health.   We know that from the time of Hippocrates, whey has been used as a prevention and cure of many health problems; that it was the focus of popular European whey spas of the 19th century; and that it is still used in health beverages sold in Europe today.6

 

Whey in the Kitchen

 

Whey can be used as a partial substitute in many recipes that call for water.  Fresh whey contains lactic acid, which helps breakdown foods to make them easier to assimilate and works as a preservative to extend the shelf life of foods. Whey added to soups, stews, and marinades adds a richer flavor, while it enhances protein and general nutrition.  It also works to tenderize meats when added to marinades, and a small amount can improve the texture of bakery products.  Whey can also be consumed as a stand-alone drink, served either hot or cold.  Using it in smoothies and fruit and vegetable drinks that are not heated preserves its enzymes, which are heat-sensitive and are lost in cooking.

 

Since I cannot yet buy whey in volume and must make my own from yogurt, I use it sparingly.  So, of all the possible uses in the kitchen, I most often use whey as a soaking agent for beans and grains to reduce phytic acid, an enzyme inhibitor and nutrient blocker.  Adding a tablespoon or two of whey to the soaking water of beans and grains can reduce cooking time and improve digestibility.

 

Whey in the preparation of whole grains, beans, and legumes to degrade phytic acid.  Most of the phosphorus of plant foods is stored in the outer husk of grains, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds in the form of phytic acid.  Phytic acid, which protects the seed from germination, inhibits the normal intestinal absorption of major minerals—calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, manganese, and copper—as well as digestive enzymes such as pepsin and amylase.  Soaking grains, beans, nuts, and seeds in water degrades phytic acid, making the minerals in these foods easier to assimilate while it frees enzymes for digestion.  Adding to the soaking water a tablespoon or two of whey accelerates this process.  Whey added to the soaking liquid of grains also adds to nutrition if as a practice you cook grains in the soaking water.   [The soaking water from beans should be discarded and replaced with fresh water for cooking.]

 

Because, like whey, sourdough contains lactic acid, we might think of sourdough as a proxy for what lactic acid can do to diminish phytic acid in grains and other seed-type foods.  Counter-top soaking for a period of 12-24 hours can dramatically reduce phytic acid, as illustrated below.

 

 

 

Soaking grains in water and whey, or any acid for that matter, degrades phytic acid (a good thing), while it also makes grains more digestible (both good and bad).  When grains are digested and assimilated rapidly, they can cause blood sugar to spike, a factor that with time is linked to insulin resistance, diabetes, and obesity.   Eaten alone, acid-soaked whole grains can cause even greater spikes in blood sugar than refined grains!  But this is easily resolved by adding a protein or a fat like butter easily dampens this blood sugar effect.  Adding a pat of butter to grains that have been soaked in whey not only dramatically reduces the blood sugar spike, but it also helps the body absorb the minerals in the grain, since the body requires fat to assimilate minerals.

 

Whey in baking.  When used in bread dough, whey adds nutrition, renders a crispy browned crust, and retards spoilage. Whey can be substituted for up to one-third of the water called for in a recipe.  Adding some whey improves the rise of bread dough, especially in winter.  While I have not tried it myself, whey can also be substituted for water when mixing batter for pancakes, muffins, and scones.   Remember that substituting whey for water can affect the leavening.  If a recipe calls for baking soda, no adjustment is needed; however, if a recipe includes baking powder, add ½ teaspoon of baking soda as a neutralizer for every one cup of whey that you use.

 

Whey in fermenting.  Experts in the field like Sally Fallon and Nancy Lee Bailey use whey when fermenting vegetables to make sauerkraut, pickles, and other ferments.  As Bailey suggests, “whey can be used in non-dairy fermentations, such as vegetable fermentations like sauerkraut, to enhance the growth and conversion of the active bacteria, assuring more potential success with your fermentations.”

 

But not everyone agrees that whey should be used to ferment.  Sandor Katz as well as Kelsy of The Liberated Kitchen use only salt in fermenting fruits and vegetables.  Their logic is that milk bacteria thrive on lactose, and since milk bacteria are not the same type of bacteria that reside in the soil and thrive on plants, bacteria from cultured milk play no logical role in the fermentation of vegetables.

 

I appreciate both views.  If you ferment, you can see which method gives you a better product.  There are several advantages to adding whey—it enhances the nutritional value of a ferment; it accelerates fermentation and acts as a preservative, so you may need less salt when fermenting; and it adds an extra complement of healthy bacteria to support the good bacteria/microbial environment in the body.

 

Whey in place of water in smoothies, soups, stews,casseroles, and gravy stocks.  As mentioned earlier, whey can be consumed as a stand-alone drink, served hot or cold, but using it in cold drinks is preferred.  The reason is that heating whey destroys the good bacteria and enzymes, so some of the better kitchen applications are choices that do not involve heat.  In the warm summer months, blender-made smoothies and cooling summer soups are a perfect way to use whey.  Whey goes particularly well with citrus fruits and apple cider, as well as juiced fruits/berries, carrots, celery, and tomatoes.  Experiment with a high-powered blender and your own favorites on a hot summer day.  As noted earlier, since fresh whey has no carbohydrates to speak of, its low-glycemic effect can help blunt the blood sugar impact of fruit drinks.

 

You can also use whey in soups, stews, casseroles and gravies for a richer, fuller flavor, while adding protein, vitamins, and minerals.  Heating, of course, will destroy the healthy bacteria and enzymes.

 

How to Make Whey Using Yogurt

 

Try to use a good traditional (not thick Greek style) yogurt made from the milk of grass-fed cows.  Mermaid Farm and Hawthorne Valley are examples that I am able to purchase on Martha’s Vineyard.  Line a colander or large strainer with strong cheese cloth, placing the strainer over a bowl just large enough to hold the strainer.  Stir the yogurt and gently pour it into the cheese cloth.  Allow the yogurt to sit for about 8 hours, which will produce about one pint of whey and 2 cups of soft cheese.  The cheese can be spread on bread or used to make cheese cake.  Whey keeps about six months in the refrigerator; the soft cheese, for about a week.

 

Glossary

 

Whey is the watery residual left in cheese making when milk curdles, forming curds of cheese.  Whey is high in easy-to-assimilate proteins, as well as lactose, enzymes, and minerals.  Whey contains Lactobacilli, the primary bacteria that transform lactose into lactic acid.

 

Lactic acid is the major acid created in fermentation.  The bacteria in milk digest lactose, breaking it down to lactic acid.  As lactic acid builds up, it works to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.

 

Phytic Acid (phytate) is a nutrient/enzyme inhibitor.   Phytic acid is concentrated in the bran portion of grains where it binds phosphorus.  Phytic acid in the form of phytate blocks the body’s ability to absorb calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc, as well as the digestive enzymes pepsin and amylase.

 

Sourdough is a natural leavening agent created when wild bacteria and yeasts circulating in warm air begin to feed on flour when it is mixed with water.  Sourdough acts to preserve baked goods, while it also reduces phytic acid and enhances the nutritional quality and assimilation of baked products.

 

 

Reading Resources

  • Nancy Lee Bentley, Truly Cultured;  Sandor Katz, Wild Fermentation; Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions.
  • Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions, Washinton, D.C., New Trends Publishing, Inc., 2001, p. 29.
  • H. R. Freund and M. Hanani, “The Metabolic Role of Branched-Chain Amino Acids,” Nutrition 2002; 18
  • (3): 287-288.
  • Jay R. Hoffman, “Protein—Which is Best?” Journal of Sports Science and Medicine; 3(3): 118-30.
  • J. V. DeMarco Neu and N. Li, “Glutamine:  Clinical Applications and Mechanisms of Action,” Current
  • Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care 2005; 5 (1): 69-75.
  • E. Annie Proulx and Lew Nichols, The Complete Dairy Foods Cookbook.
  • Joseph E. Pizzorno Jr. and Michael T. Murray, Textbook of Natural Medicine, pp. 681-84.
  • N. Rukma Reddy and Shridha K. Sathe, Food Phytates.
  • http://theliberatedkitchenpdx.com/basics/why-i-dont-use-whey-as-a-vegetable-fermentation-starter/
  • http://library.thinkquest.org/CRo215162/dairy.html   

 

 

Recipes—Using Whey in the Kitchen

 

The first recipes below are taken from The Complete Dairy Foods Cookbook by Annie Proulx and Lew Nichols.  Afterward, I have included smoothie recipes that incorporate whey.  These are perfect for a hot summer day when fresh fruits and vegetables are plentiful.  I have adapted the smoothie recipes from www.smoothiesweb.com and they are marked with an asterisk.  May these recipes give you ideas for incorporating whey into your own favorite recipes.

 

 

Cold Cucumber Cream Soup (serves 4)

  • 3 large firm cucumbers
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons whole wheat flour
  • 3 cups whey
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ onion, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup light cream

1. Peel, seed and slice the cucumbers

2. Melt the butter in a saucepan, then cook the cucumbers over low heat, 10 minutes.

3. Blend in the flour; then gradually add the whey, stirring constantly.

4. In a separate saucepan, scald the milk with the onion slices, then strain the milk into the cucumber mixture, stirring constantly.  Simmer 10 minutes.

5. Puree the soup in a blender; cup by cup, and stir in the cream.  Chill several hours in the refrigerator before serving.

 

 

Snow Pea Yogurt Soup (serves four)

  • 1 pound snow peas
  • 1 cup chopped watercress, tightly packed (set aside a few sprigs for garnish)
  • 2 cups whey
  • 1 tablespoon chopped shallots
  • 2 cups yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives

1. Cook the snow peas in a steamer over boiling water until just tender.  Set aside.

2. In a heavy pan, put the watercress, whey and shallots and simmer 15 minutes.

3. Puree the watercress stock in a blender until smooth, then return to the pan.  Add the snow peas and heat slowly.  Do not boil.

4. Mix 2 or 3 tablespoons into the yogurt, then stir the yogurt into the soup.  Serve at once, garnishing each bowl with the chopped chives and a spring of watercress.

 

 

Buttermilk Carrot Soup (serves 4 to 6)

  • 2 pounds carrots, sliced
  • 2 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 4 cups whey
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup chopped shallots
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped almonds
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger root
  • 1 teaspoon grated horseradish

1. Simmer the carrots and potatoes in the whey until tender.

2. Melt the butter in a skillet and sauté the shallots, garlic and almonds for 5 minutes.

3. In a blender, puree the shallot-garlic mixture, cup by cup with the carrot-potato mixture.  Return to the saucepan where the carrots and potatoes were simmered.

4. Blend in the buttermilk and heat thoroughly until hot.  Stir in the horseradish and ginger root.  Serve at once.

 

 

Yogurt Gazpacho (serves four)

  • 2 large tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 sweet pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 1 Spanish onion, peeled and sliced paper-thin
  • 1 cup peeled, seeded cucumber
  • ½ cup chopped mixed herbs:  such as marjoram, parsley, tarragon, thyme, savory, chives, basil, oregano
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 3 cups whey
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 1 cup stale whole grain bread cubes, ½ inch by ½ inch
  • 2 tablespoons butter

1. Place all the vegetables, herbs and garlic in a large wooden bowl and chop them very fine.  (A blender pulps the ingredients too severely.)

2. Slowly beat in the olive oil, lime juice, whey and yogurt.

3. Chill several hours.

4. Just before serving saute the bread cubes in the butter in a heavy skillet until they are brown and crisp and sizzling hot.  Ladle the cold soup into chilled bowls and top with the hot croutons.

 

 

Moroccan Almond Milk (serves 6)

  • ¾ cup whole blanched almonds
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 3 cups whey
  • 1 ½ cups milk

1. In a blender, combine the almonds, honey and whey.  Blend until smooth, then strain, getting as much liquid as possible.

2. Add the milk and chill thoroughly.  Stir well before serving.

 

 

Sweet Cider Cream (serves four to six)

  • 2 cups freshly pressed sweet cider
  • 2 cups vanilla ice cream
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup cold whey

Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend until thick.

 

 

Breakfast Drink (serves one)

  • 1 medium-sized carrot, grated
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 cup whey
  • 1/3 cup yogurt

Put the carrot, honey and whey into a blender and blend until smooth; then briefly blend in the yogurt.

 

 

Strawberry Smoothie* (serves one)…A Basic Guide for Creating Other Fresh Fruit Smoothies.

  • 1 cup strawberries
  • 1/4 cup whey
  • 4 ice cubes
  • 1 tablespoon honey

1. Add the water and strawberries to the blender first

2. Pour in the honey, blend, and then add the ice cubes.

3. Blend on low and gradually move to high until everything is a red fruity liquid.

4. Then blend for another 30 seconds to aerate.

5. Pour into a glass and enjoy.

 

 

Blueberry Smoothie* (serves one)

  • ½ cup frozen blueberries
  • ½ cup vanilla yogurt
  • ½ cup whey
  • 2-3 tablespoons honey
  • 2-3 ice cubes (optional)

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

 


Peachy Watermelon Smoothie* (serves two)

  • 2-3 cups watermelon, seeded
  • 1 cup vanilla yogurt
  • 1 cup strawberries
  • 1 peach, pitted
  • ½ cup whey

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

 

 

Raspberry Smoothie* (serves two)

  • 1 cup raspberry yogurt
  • ½ cup whey
  • 1 cup frozen raspberries
  • ¾ cup frozen strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons honey (optional)
  • 2 cups ice

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

 

 

Spiced Carrot Smoothie* (serves one)

  • ½ cup apple juice
  • 1 cup cooked, chopped carrots
  • ¼ cup applesauce
  • ½ cup whey
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • ¼ inch piece of gingerroot, peeded
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

Combine apple juice, carrots, applesauce, gingerroot and cinnamon and blend from low to high until creamy.  Season with salt and cayenne pepper to taste.

 

 

Sweet Veggie Smoothie* (serves two)

  • 1 cup organic apple juice
  • 1 cup sliced apples
  • ¼ cup applesauce
  • ½ cup sliced carrots
  • ½ cup cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • ½-1 cups whey
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey (optional)
  • 2 cups ice
  • Dash of cinnamon or nutmeg (optional)

Blend until smooth.

 

 

Berry/Carrot Smoothie* (serves two)

  • ½ cup raspberries
  • ½ cup strawberries
  • ½ cup blueberries
  • 1 cup whey
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 cup organic apple juice
  • 2 cups ice
  • 1 small carrot, sliced

Blend until smooth.

 

 

Tomato Smoothie* (serves two)

  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes
  • ½ cup whey
  • ¼ cup apple juice
  • ½ cup carrots
  • ¼ cup chopped celery
  • Tabasco or hot sauce to taste
  • 2 cups ice

Blend until smooth.

 

* = Adapted from www.smoothieweb.com

  1. Mark Jenner, Ph.D., “Tasty Waste?…No, Whey!” []
  2. Biotechlearn.org []
  3. The chart is based on a whole egg as 100.  The nitrogen from whey that the body is actually able to absorb is 96%; human milk, 95; chicken egg, 94; cow’s milk 90, etc. []
  4. For complete discussion of glutamine, branched-chained amino acids, and whey’s nutritional profile, see Textbook of Natural Medicine by Joseph Pizzorno Jr. and Michael Murray. []
  5. See New York Times,“In Good Health?  Thank Your 100 Trillion Bacteria” by Gina Kolata, June 13, 2012; and, “Tending the Body’s Microbial Garden” by Carl Zimmer, June 19, 2012. []
  6. E. Annie Proulx and Lew Nicholes, The Complete Dairy Foods Cookbook. []