Working Whey In

Whey ingredients work wonders in processed meats, boosting flavor, improving texture, and performing numerous other tasks to enhance overall quality. Moreover, processing advances promise to extend whey’s use into new applications within the meat sector.
Whey 101
In general, whey refers to the translucent liquid that separates from the curd during the milk-coagulation step in the cheese-making process. The two major categories of whey in the United States are sweet whey and acid whey.
Sweet whey results from the manufacture of hard cheeses such as cheddar and mozzarella and has a pH greater than 5.6. In contrast, acid whey is produced during cottage cheese and ricotta cheese manufacturing processing and has a higher mineral content and a pH of less than 5.1. It usually requires special treatment to tame its rather bitter, metallic taste.
To create a product suitable for use in food applications, water is removed from both whey forms. Sometimes minerals and/or lactose also are removed.
Most whey powders produced in this country are based on sweet whey, which has a bland flavor that suits many food and beverage applications. Today’s whey ingredients range from simple sweet whey powders to higher-end whey protein concentrates and whey protein isolates (WPCs and WPIs, which consist of between 29 and 89 percent protein and 90 percent or more protein, respectively).
 “Advances in the utilization of whey proteins in meat products are often due to process improvements rather than new breakthrough technologies,” notes Michelle Koehler, a food scientist with Lomira, WI-based Grande Custom Ingredients Group. “For example, as the functional benefits of higher protein levels, heat treatments, and hydrolysis have been identified, more practical applications can be tried and understood.”
Technology improvements now even allow customization of whey proteins for specific functional benefits and/or nutritional profiles.
For example, says Laurie Davis, director of analytical research and application sciences for Eden Prairie, MN-based Davisco Foods International Inc., “whey protein technologies such as ion-exchange processing allow for the isolation of functional whey protein ingredients such as pure whey protein isolate with very little fat, lactose, or ash.”
A flair for functionality
Today’s numerous commercially available whey products provide a natural-ingredient means for meat processors to reap a number of functionality benefits.
First, they serve as efficient emulsifiers in processed meat applications, says Sharon Gerdes, technical support consultant for Rosemont, IL-based Dairy Management Inc. (DMI).
“They’re able to emulsify fat and oil because they have a fairly high concentration of phospholipids,” she says. “So that would be very useful in any type of sausage or ground meat application.”
Although almost any type of whey powder could partially or totally replace chemicals, meat and non-meat proteins, and other ingredients traditionally used to aid emulsification, some formulations are better suited than others to specific applications.
“For a typical application for a ground beef patty, you might use sweet whey [powder] or whey protein concentrate 34 percent,” says Gerdes. “For a Polish-style sausage, you could use a whey protein concentrate 34 percent or an 80 [percent].”
Processors opting for a sweet whey powder are not going to achieve quite as high levels of emulsification, notes Gerdes, and are going to end up with a greater browning effect.
The 34 percent WPC (WPC 34) products tend to be very cost-effective for meat applications, she adds, while the WPC 80 ingredients provide higher levels of emulsification.
Second, whey ingredients aid in gelation.
“Whey proteins, and specifically whey protein isolates, form gels during heat processing which provide body and structure to meat products,” says Davis. “The added structure can improve sliceability.”
Preheated WPC and WPI ingredients can be substituted for common low-temperature gelling agents used in value-added meat products, says Doug Clairday, national sales manager for St. Paul, MN-based Protient Inc. These commonly used ingredients include starches and gums and non-meat proteins.
The gel that forms also serves as an effective fat replacer, says Gerdes.
“Anytime you are looking to produce reduced-fat beef patties, sausage, [or] hot dogs, you could use whey protein,” she notes. “Not only does it form the gel that sort of replaces the fat, but it also helps to retain moisture because the whey protein is binding that moisture through the gelation process.”
A third functionality whey ingredients bring to processed meats is the ability to bind water and, therefore, improve cooking yield.
‘”Whey protein binds and traps water,” says Gerdes. “This provides body and texture and contributes to improved sliceability.”
Fourth, whey ingredients work well with other flavors and can help improve the overall appearance of certain meats.
Commonly used ingredients such as caseinates and soy proteins bring their own inherent flavors into the finished product, notes Koehler, but whey proteins have a very mild flavor.
“WPC 80 and WPI 90 have little or no flavor of their own,” says Clairday, “so they are compatible with cooked meat flavors and spice blends. Additionally, there is a Maillard non-enzymatic browning reaction that adds color and visual appeal.”
Whey ingredients work well with spices, adds Gerdes, because processors need not mask their flavor. However, whey proteins do tend to add some opacity to mixes, which means some red meats might require a bit of color correction. But in white meats, particularly mechanically deboned products, this could be viewed as a positive attribute, she adds.
A fifth functional benefit of whey is enhanced freeze-thaw stability.
“When properly managed, superior freeze-thaw stability can be achieved,” notes Gerdes. “Whey proteins can optimize finished product quality such as firmness and texture. This is due to the inhibition of the ice crystal growth.”
Finally, whey proteins show promise as meat extenders — and even meat replacements. One new technology in particular aims to move whey into this area in the near future.
Researchers at Utah State University, in a collaboration with DMI and Grande Custom Ingredients Group, recently developed an extruded whey protein product that could one day replace some of the textured vegetable proteins widely used today as meat extenders and meat replacements. Grande Custom Ingredients has an exclusive license from Utah State to manufacture the new WPCrispTM product line, which DMI says is produced by extruding a whey protein/edible polysaccharide (e.g., cornstarch) combination through a twin-screw extruder.
Although the company’s WPCrisp product line is now geared to “crunchy” applications such as cereal bars, frozen desserts, and yogurt toppings, the product also is being honed for future use in the meat/meat replacement sector, says Steve Dott, vice president of Grande Custom Ingredients.
WPC and WPI are “ideally suited for application as a meat extender because they are readily available, inexpensive, and a complete protein source with a high consumer acceptance,” notes Clairday. “Textured whey protein used as a meat extender has demonstrated key functional benefits, including mild flavor, ease of hydration, and texture retention.”
Protient markets the patent-pending Whey Protein Crisp 50, a textured whey protein that currently is geared toward meal replacement and protein bars, snack mixes, cereals and nutritional supplements.
A healthful proposition
If whey’s myriad functional benefits aren’t enough to convince processors to give the ingredients a try, perhaps whey’s health benefits will sway the skeptics.
Whey protein is of high biological value compared to other proteins, stresses the National Dairy Council.
“It has a high content of sulfur- containing amino acids important for the biosynthesis of glutathione, a tripeptide with antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, and immune-stimulating properties; and is the highest natural source of branched-chain amino acids which may stimulate muscle protein synthesis,” says the council. “As a result of new technologies, a variety of biologically active amino acids, peptides, and fractions can be isolated from whey protein.”
As meat extenders and replacements, therefore, whey ingredients stand to bring numerous health benefits to products.
Even in the small quantities used to attain specific functionalities, they offer the meat sector a nutrient-packed, “label-friendly” ingredient – one that more and more consumers are associating with a healthful lifestyle.
“Consumer demand is increasingly putting pressure on food manufacturers to list the nutritional contents in processed meats, and those companies must make products that comply,” says Clairday. “Whey proteins offer high sources of dairy minerals such as calcium and phosphorus.”
Not only are they a healthful ingredient, but also a tool in the creation of healthful lower-fat, lower-carbohydrate products, says Gerdes.
“You can replace fat with starches and other types of products,” she says, “but [whey proteins] allow you to extend with a higher-quality protein and [achieve] a lower-carbohydrate product. That’s where the WPC 80’s typically would come into play.”
A few years back, notes Gerdes, when low-fat products were all the rage, Ohio State University did some market testing using whey as a fat replacer in meat patties and sausages.
“They actually found that the products were really very superior in terms of flavor and acceptability,” she says.
Working with whey
Bringing whey into the product mix requires a bit of research and planning, however.
For example, processors must be aware of the regulatory issues involved with whey protein use, says Davis. Allowable usage levels depend on the specific ingredient, finished product, and other factors.
For some processors, notes Koehler, dairy ingredients, and therefore whey, might not be an option if allergen issues are a concern.
In addition, commercially available whey products can differ greatly from one another in terms of functionality and protein composition.
“Whey proteins have different degrees of protein content,” notes Clairday, “and prices vary depending on the protein percentage and the inclusion rate in a processed meat application.”
The usage rate itself, Clairday continues, depends on the meat application’s composition and the whey ingredient’s specific functionality. Therefore, it is important that processors understand the functionality required in the finished meat application before selecting the type of whey protein to be used.
Whey ingredient suppliers certainly can help lend their expertise in ingredient selection and ingredient application. For example, Grande Custom Ingredients provides in-house research to help its customers optimize formulations, and Davisco Foods provides both application and formulation assistance. Protient says it is “passionate about the research, innovation, development, and supply of superior protein isolates, hydrolysates, and extruded proteins.”
DMI also can help, notes Gerdes, offering application labs in which processors can do some bench-top work or receive formulation suggestions.
“We also have a monograph on whey protein and lactose products in processed meats, and that gives specific formulations,” she says. “We have some research reports on the work that was done with low-fat sausages and hot dogs and some formulas on those products,” she adds.
For more information, visit DMI’s Web site at NP
Ingredient suppliers participating in this article include: • Davisco Foods International Inc., phone (800) 757-7611, or visit • Grande Custom Ingredients Group, phone (800) 772-3210, or visit • Protient Inc., phone (651) 638-2600, or visit