An ingredient that helps improve consumer acceptance of a food, whey protein concentrate is used to positively modify organoleptic, visual, hydration, surfactant, structural, textural and rheological properties.

About 80 years ago, the popular cartoon iconPopeye the Sailor Mansparked generations of mothers to feed their families spinach. The key to Popeye’s quickly bulging muscles, after downing a can of the green leafy stuff, was the spinach’s protein, so the story goes. While he was just a cartoon figure, Popeye was on to something. 

Since then, research has shown protein, an essential daily nutrient, plays many important roles, such as repairing the body’s cells; building and repairing muscles; helping build and maintain bones; and helping control many metabolic processes.

Today’s food and beverage manufacturers are powering up the protein content of their products to tap into the increasingly popular health and wellness trend. According to a January 2009 report from Mintel, 60% of survey respondents indicated they are eating healthier than they did in 2007 (“American Lifestyles--U.S.--January 2009,” Mintel International Group Ltd.). For its functional and nutritional benefits, many food and beverage formulators are seeing the value of whey protein as a preferred protein source for product innovations.

Advantages of Whey Protein
Whey protein is a natural, high-quality dairy protein derived from milk and a complete protein that contains all the amino acids the body requires for muscle protein synthesis, said Matt Pikosky, director of research transfer for Dairy Management Inc.TM(DMI). “It also has a high biological value, meaning the protein is easily absorbed and utilized by the body,” Pikosky said.

Whey protein has a biological value of 104, compared to 100 for eggs, 74 for soy protein and 54 for wheat. Whey protein is a natural way to enhance a food or beverage product’s nutritional value and protein content, without adding significant calories.

 The amino acid profile of whey protein demonstrates why it is a great protein source for individuals to include in their diet. Many vegetable protein sources, for example, are not complete proteins, because they do not contain all of the essential amino acids.

Because it is easy to use for many food and beverage applications, manufacturers are formulating whey protein into nutrition bars, smoothies, performance beverages, flavored waters, soda, oatmeal and even coffee drinks.

Whey to Meet Functionality Challenges
Whey proteins can provide improved texture and enhanced flavor and color; emulsify and stabilize; improve flow properties; and enhance dispersability in dry mixes. In addition, they can help extend shelflife and exhibit a range of other properties that increase food product quality.

Whey protein concentrate (WPC) and whey protein isolate (WPI) are obtained by reducing the amount of non-protein components through selective membrane filtration. Sweet whey is the whey obtained from the production of Cheddar-style and Swiss-style cheeses, while acid whey refers to whey that comes from the production of either ricotta or cottage cheeses. Acid whey has a slightly lower pH, which can make it more useful in certain applications with a savory flavor profile, such as snack foods and salad dressings. Other whey ingredients may feature a reduced-lactose or reduced-mineral content.

“Natural, functional and high in nutrition, whey is the ingredient of choice for many product developers, because it can be used for so many applications,” said Kimberlee (K.J.) Burrington, coordinator for the Dairy Ingredient Applications Program at the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, located at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “New applications are continuously being identified, and as a growing number of consumers read food labels on a regular basis, using whey ingredients in products makes more sense than ever before.”

For bread and baked goods manufacturers, whey helps adhere batters to meat, fish or vegetables; seeds to bread products; and glazes to bakery products. Whey also creates stable emulsions and helps distribute fat more evenly in baked goods, meat and seafood products, ice cream mixes and beverages.

WPCs can help modify some or all of the organoleptic, visual, hydration, surfactant, structural, textural and rheological properties of food, resulting in improved consumer acceptance of the food product.

Opportunity with Whey Protein
Currently, many food and beverage manufacturers use whey protein as the protein source of choice for product innovation. According to Mintel, over the last six years, more than 4,100 new food and beverage products containing whey protein ingredients have been introduced to the U.S. retail market (Mintel International Group Ltd. database search, April 2009).

“Food manufacturers have found that using whey protein is an excellent way to meet the increasing consumer demand for products with a health and wellness halo,” said Alan Reed, senior vice president, U.S. Manufacturing and Ingredient Marketing for DMI.

Whey protein has become a popular ingredient in a variety of foods, such as nutrition and energy bars, ready-to-drink beverages, smoothies, dairy-based beverages, beverage mixes, meal replacements, cereal and yogurt. Food and beverage manufacturers are continuing to add healthy ingredients--including high-quality protein sources--to their products, and numerous products containing whey protein can now easily be located on grocery and convenience store shelves.

According to a 2008 survey conducted by NPD Group for DMI, 67% of consumers stated feeling full is important when trying to lose weight, and two-thirds believe that satiety is important in their food and beverage choices (“Satiety and the Consumer,” Dairy Management Inc., July 28, 2008).

“We know that consuming a higher protein diet can help people feel fuller longer, which may help eliminate the desire to reach for unhealthy snacks between meals,” Pikosky said. “Consuming more foods with added whey protein is a simple way for consumers to increase their intake of protein and help achieve a higher protein diet and satiety benefits.” Research continues to uncover the role whey protein plays in satiety to help consumers manage their weight and avoid between-meal snacking, Pikosky said.

Calorie-for-calorie, protein has been shown to lead to greater satiety than carbohydrates or fats, according to an Institute of Medicine report, “Dietary Reference Intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein and amino acids” (Institute of Medicine, Washington D.C., National Academies Press, 2005), which is valuable information to food and beverage formulators wishing to expand market opportunities.

Learning More About Whey
Whey protein has been shown to have a positive effect on muscle recovery after exercise. In a study using eight resistance-trained young men, the Exercise Metabolism Research Group with the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University, Canada (part of the National Research Council in Canada), found that participants who ingested a carbohydrate drink containing 10g of whey protein with 21g of fructose--following resistance exercise—saw a greater rise in muscle protein synthesis, when compared to a group that consumed a beverage containing an equal amount of carbohydrates only (Tang, JE, et al. 2007.Appl Physiol Nutr Metab.32:1132-1138).

In addition to being a high-quality protein source, many whey protein ingredients also deliver a wealth of dairy nutrients, including calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, thiamin, riboflavin, and vitamins B6 and B12. Research is emerging about the potential health benefits of dairy proteins and, particularly, whey proteins. To date, most evidence on whey protein points to its impact on muscle building and body composition. Food and beverage manufacturers can pay heed to this ongoing research, much of it funded by DMI. 

Looking Ahead
Scientists continue to investigate additional health benefits of whey protein. Research is currently examining the potential beneficial role of whey protein on immune function, inflammation and blood pressure.

The scientific evidence supporting whey’s role in a healthy lifestyle continues to emerge, leaving today’s food and beverage formulators with many more reasons to use whey protein in product formulations. Because it addresses application challenges and helps meet targeted product nutrition goals, whey protein allows food and beverage makers to meet the needs of consumers interested in health and wellness solutions. pf

Website Resources: -- Home page of Dairy Management Inc. -- Abstract of human clinical trial and whey protein contributing to fat loss -- Good list of FAQs, with informative answers

SIDEBAR: Soy Profile in Profile

Soybean is becoming the most important vegetable source of proteins, and 74% of consumers perceive soy products as being “healthy.” The increased acceptance of soy proteins is due to soybean’s many qualities, good functional properties in food applications, high nutritional value, availability and low cost. Most common soy ingredients used in food formulation are flour, concentrates and isolates. Soy is a high-quality source of proteins, and its ingredients are formulation-friendly in terms of emulsion, solubility and viscosity. To obtain their optimal nutritive and functional properties, as well as desirable flavor, different treatments are sometimes used during the production of flour, concentrates and isolates. Thousands of tons of soy protein are used worldwide, as a functional ingredient in the food industry, in a variety of applications. Soybean proteins can be modified by physical, chemical and enzymatic treatments to meet different functions in the food system.

The manner in which proteins behave in a food system (i.e., their functionality) depends on the fundamental physical and chemical properties of the proteins under given conditions. Gelling properties and other functional properties of soy protein isolates are influenced by the physico-chemical properties of proteins, which change as a function of process variables (such as protein concentration, heating temperature and time, ionic strength and pH). 

The main functional properties of soy proteins are: hydrating capacity, rehydration, solubility, dispersability, colloidal stability, gelation, emulsification, acid coagulation, foaming and adhesion/cohesion. Additionally, they can be applied as a fat substitute in items such as meat, fish, milk, cereal-based products and infant formulations. One of the most important properties of proteins in food systems is their ability to form gels after heating. Heat gelation contributes to textural properties, shapes the product, holds other food components and retains water in the product. Most functional soy protein ingredients are used to accomplish the following objectives:
*  Bind or immobilize fat and water.
*  Improve sensory or organoleptic properties.
*  Improve shelflife.
*  Regulate viscosity.
*  Modify gel structure.

This information is essential for manufacturing and utilizing soy protein ingredients that will meet the food industry’s functionality requirements. Organoleptic properties include several variables, such as texture, fibrosity, juiciness, taste, flavor and color. From a sensory point of view, taste and color are the most important properties, when using soy protein in food formulations, followed by texture and mouthfeel. During the manufacturing of soy protein isolates, unwanted flavors are removed during the process. Sometimes, for specific applications, a flavor profile can be altered or changed to accommodate specific requirements. Research on flavor and taste continues to be important for future soy protein applications in food, since a small percentage of the flavor can carry through to the finished products (both in a positive and negative sense). The successful application of soy protein ingredients in the food industry requires they be capable of providing one or more key functional attributes at various critical stages in the fabrication, handling, storage, preparation and utilization of a given food product.
-- Mian Riaz, Ph.D., Contributing Editor

SIDEBAR: Protein Diversification

 “Now, Nature’s Plus is once again revolutionizing the protein powder category, with a pioneering new Tri-Part Protein Blend! Featuring rice protein, pea protein, and both non-fermented and fermented soy...” This statement, picked up from the supplement company’s brochure, reflects the industry’s use of an increasingly broad range of proteins. The brochure lists a number of health institutions that it says advises daily requirements for protein be obtained from a variety of dietary sources. It notes specific health benefits associated with each protein, and that soy protein provides antioxidant protection and is a “complete protein,” with all essential amino acids. Additional information includes the fact that rice protein is easily digested and “contains essential and non-essential amino acids,” and pea protein “has an impressive profile, with branched-chain amino acids.”

Indeed, a search of the Mintel GNPD shows the number of new product introductions in North America with “rice protein” increased from 45 in 2006 to 89 in 2007 and 128 in 2008. Similarly, a search for “pea protein” pulled up 23, 22 and 45 new product introductions in the same years, respectively.

Besides soy, less traditional plant materials, such as hemp and chia, tout their “complete protein” content. Chia seed, which is taking a toehold in the food industry as a healthful ingredient, contains some 20% protein. One supplier notes that, compared to other oil seeds, chia contains relatively high levels of lysine.

Once again turning to the Mintel GNPD to quantify new foods and supplements making “high protein” claims (as defined by Mintel), some 291 were found in 2008, an 89% increase over 2005. The apparent renewed attention the food industry is placing on protein is due to a variety of factors. To name just a few, protein is easily and appropriately added to many products, is required on most Nutrition Facts panels and, thus, is included in front-label nutritional icons systems used by many manufacturers. With the stellar rise in gluten-free products, non-gluten proteins have a new role to play in foods.

For example, on this last point, the structure-providing ability of egg proteins has resulted in their incorporation in some six new gluten-free products in 2006, rising to a total of 25 in 2008, according to the Mintel GNPD. (Also search for “Egg Products=Gluten Solutions” at Gluten-free, egg-containing applications range from bagels, muffins and pizza crusts to salad dressing, breaded meats and energy bars.
-- Claudia Dziuk O’Donnell, M.S., M.B.A., Chief Editor