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Whey or milk serum is the liquid by-product obtained after the initial stage of cheese production which involves curdling and straining. It has various culinary uses such as in production of brown cheese, ricotta, processed foods like breads and pastries, or as a nutritional supplement for body building. It is a rich source of protein and useful in muscle building for sportspersons, pregnant women and growing children.

Types of Whey

Whey can be categorized into the following two types-

Sweet Whey: This is the by-product obtained by making cheese from rennet, as in production of Swiss or Cheddar cheese.

Acid Whey: This is whey obtained as a by-product during production of acid type cheeses like cottage cheese.

Ingredients and Preparation

Milk and rennet or acidic substances like vinegar are the basic ingredients required for making whey.

When rennet or an edible acid is added to milk during cheese production, curdling takes place and the liquid that separates from the milk is called whey.

A recipe for a wine whey drink from the 18th century suggests adding half a pint of white wine to a pint of skimmed milk and allowing them to stand for a few minutes, and then adding a pint of boiling water. The milk would curdle, and the curds would collect at the bottom, and the liquid is poured into a separate bowl, to which sugar is added and a lemon slice or balm sprig are used for garnish.

Another old recipe suggests adding cream of tartar to boiling blue milk and then removing form heat and allowing it to stand. The milk curdles and the curd collects at the bottom while the whey is consumed milk warm. Here, blue milk refers to milk characterized by blue fungal spots on its surface, which appear on the milk eighteen to twenty four hours from its being drawn, and enlarge to form a blue colored milk on the surface.

Culinary Uses

Whey can be put to a lot of culinary uses, main ones being as follows-

  • Brown Cheese: This is called Brunost or whey cheese. It is made by boiling milk, whey and cream for many hours so that the liquid evaporates. The milk sugar caramelizes with the heat to give a distinct taste to the solids left behind that are cut into blocks and called whey cheese. If the proportion of whey is increased in relation to milk and cream, a low-fat variant of this cheese is obtained.

  • Ricotta: This is a dairy product, sometimes referred to as a form of cheese, which is made by coagulating the milk proteins left in whey after most of them have been used up in cheese production. Albumin and globulin are the milk proteins typically used for its production.

  • Processed foods: Whey is used as an additive in processed food items like breads, commercial pastry and crackers. This usage can often be seen in Central Spain, where it was used in some traditional bread recipes in place of water for preparing the dough.

  • Whey Drink: Whey has been a popular drink from historical times. It was served in coffee houses and inns.

  • Whey Cream and Whey Butter: Whey can be skimmed to make whey cream which can in turn be used to make whey butter. They differ from regular milk cream and butter in being saltier and tangier, and having a strong cheesy flavor. Whey butter can be used in place of butter for making butter-flavored food items. Both whey butter and cream are cheaper than their regular milk counterparts.

  • Whey Protein: Protein derived from whey is marketed as a nutritional supplement, especially for bodybuilders. It consists of globular proteins that are isolated from the whey. This can be done by simply drying or the lipids and non-protein ingredients may be further removed to increase the protein content. Membrane filtration followed by spray drying is a technique often used to separate protein from the whey. Whey protein may be of concentrate, isolate or hydrolysate form. Research indicates that consumption of whey coupled with resistance training causes better muscle building than in case of no usage of protein supplements. Some studies suggest noticeable effect of the supplement on young adults but not on elderly individuals. Whey protein is claimed to have several health benefits by the alternate medicine community too.

  • Commercial Soft Drinks: Many commercial soft drinks are made with whey. Rivella is one such drink from Switzerland which was created in 1952 by Robert Barth. This milk whey based drink has become one of the most popular drinks of Switzerland. Mysa is another whey drink commercially manufactured and sold in one liter cartons in Iceland. It contains 18kcal energy, 121mg calcium, 0.4g protein, 4.2g carbohydrates and 55mg sodium.

Nutritional Information

Whey is a nutritious liquid and a good source of protein. Whey contains most of the benefits of milk yet much less potential to cause allergies than milk, due to the absence of caseins in it. Protein contained in it provides the building block for muscles, and helps in maintaining lean muscle mass. People active in sports, recovering from long illness, children, teenagers and pregnant women have greater protein needs and benefit from drinking whey. Athletes to benefit form it as they break down higher levels of proteins. Whey is easy to consume and can be taken in many different forms, chosen as per individual preference, such as whey drink, whey protein and so on. It is also known to be helpful in wound healing.

Whey protein as a health supplement is known to help in weight management, body building, improving immunity, promoting bone health and for general wellness. High protein intake has a satiating effect and hence helps in curbing hunger and causing weight loss.


The mention of whey can be found in Joseph Priestley's records during his college years in Daventry Academy (1752-1755). He mentions his going out with a large company for drinking whey.