Aug. 10 2020 10:00 AM

Innovative products illuminate a bright future for dairy.

American consumers and American dairy farmers love cheese, but we likely don’t often remember the by-product that comes from making that cheese. From every pound of cheese made, 9 pounds of liquid sweet whey are produced. Sour, or acid, whey is created in the process of making Greek yogurt, sour cream, cottage cheese, and cream cheese.

The majority of the milk’s solids go toward those dairy products, of course, so that excess whey is left with just a small amount of simple proteins and lactose diluted in water. The burden of dealing with this leftover material can be a major challenge for dairy processors.

Many are able to ultrafilter, dry, and concentrate the solids into whey powder and other products for animal or human use and consumption. Without the right equipment, though, this dry-down process isn’t feasible. That problem is what encourages a few of the innovative companies that recently completed the Dairy Farmers of America Accelerator program.

The Accelerator program provides resources and mentors to help up-and-coming dairy food and agricultural technology companies build their business. Among this year’s group were nine dairy-centric companies that are developing everything from an antibiotic-free mastitis treatment to handheld pizza cones. But what surprised me the most was that three of the entrepreneurs were tackling the problem of whey waste — and all three came up with different solutions.

Whey powders are often used as a protein source in fitness circles, and now liquid whey is gaining the same recognition as a nutritious food. Superfrau, for example, is an electrolyte drink made from up-cycled whey. Founder Melissa Martinelli describes it as part of the “functional beverage” category, which is expanding as consumers search for drinks with the same nutrition values they want in their foods.

A different type of drink derived from whey is Wheyward Spirit. This West Coast-based company ferments lactose from whey waste into ethanol, which is then distilled, filtered, and proofed into a premium spirit similar to vodka. Like the functional beverage arena, whey-based alcohols are a growing industry.

Whey can also be used for more than a beverage. Capro-X is a New York company that uses microbes to turn whey from Greek yogurt production into bio-oils and clean water. Treatment sites are installed at the processing plants so manufacturers don’t have to haul the whey and are able to use the reclaimed water onsite. The bio-oils, such as palm oil, are processed for customers to purchase.

These companies represent just a small portion of the innovative ideas focused on using every segment of the milk production process to add value to our communities and environment. Milk has long been held up as a nutritional staple, and now we continue to learn more about how else we can harness the powers of our product.

Katelyn Allen

Katelyn Allen joined the Hoard’s Dairyman team as the Publications Editor in August 2019. She manages the development, editing, and marketing of the variety of resources offered through the Hoard’s Dairyman Bookstore. Katelyn is a 2019 graduate of Virginia Tech, where she majored in dairy science and minored in communication. Katelyn grew up on her family’s registered Holstein dairy, Glen-Toctin Farm, in Jefferson, Md.