Long before whey turns into a powerful protein-packed powder, it’s a small but very important piece of what makes up cow milk. Cow milk is generally 3.3 percent protein and comprised of two different types of protein: whey and casein. Whey is about .6 percent of the milk, while casein accounts for roughly 2.7 percent.
Even though whey makes up less than 1 percent of cow milk’s constituents, it has a major impact on nutrition. Food scientists employ sophisticated techniques to remove whey from cow’s milk so that it can be used to create protein-fortified powders, bars, drinks, infant formulas and more. The process is complex and an essential component of cheese production. This is how whey goes from a miniscule component of milk to the nutritious protein powder you know and love.
Step one: Milk is transported in a refrigerated tank to a cheese-making facility.
Step two: The milk is pasteurized and then re-cooled. At this point, the fluid is comprised of 80 percent casein and 20 percent whey.
Step three: Whey, in its original liquid form, is separated from the curds using special enzymes. From there, the casein is matured into various types of cheese.
Step four: Using sophisticated equipment, food scientists filter the liquid whey to remove fat, lactose, minerals and water.
Step five: This step can vary depending on the type of whey protein powder desired. The whey is either micro-filtrated to become whey protein concentrate or ultra-filtrated to make whey protein isolate. Some whey protein isolates contain zero grams of fat, lactose and carbohydrates after the ultra-filtration process. However, whey protein concentrate can yield all three of those components after a less exhaustive filtration procedure.
Step six: The liquid whey protein is spray dried into a powder.
Step seven: The powder is packaged for sale as a whey protein supplement or sent to food companies for the development of protein-rich products such as bars.
Step eight: People purchase whey protein powder or whey-protein-fortified products, consume them and reap the supplement’s many dietary benefits.
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