Whey protein can be incorporated into dough formulations help boost the protein content and improve the nutrition profile.

Whether used in a smoothie, snack bar, yogurt, baked good, beverage or any number of other products, whey protein continues to play a vital role in the ingredient profile of many of today’s product innovations. In today’s tough economy, the consumer is demanding more value from their food and beverage purchases. According to a Mintel report, the vast majority of U.S. consumers read nutrition labels before making a purchase.1 Using whey protein in food and beverage products will continue to be a popular way for manufacturers to provide that extra value to the consumer.

Whey protein, a natural dairy protein, can help boost the nutrient value of many products. It offers flavor and functional properties to help food and beverage manufacturers improve texture, emulsify and stabilize, or extend the shelflife of their products.

“Whey protein has been showing up in a variety of mainstream categories,” said Sharon Gerdes, technical consultant for the U.S. Ingredients Program (USIP), part of the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), managed by Dairy Management Inc.™ (DMI). “Today, people in local coffee shops are asking for whey protein in their coffee or berry smoothie, and they are looking for it in snack bars, yogurt, cereal, baked goods, frozen novelties and even ice cream. As research continues to reveal the numerous benefits of whey protein, this will continue to drive product innovations.”

Consumers Looking for Protein
A recent Mintel consumer survey found that consumers list “eating a lot of protein” as among the top five elements of healthy eating.2 Consuming more foods with added whey protein is a simple way for consumers to increase protein intake which can help them achieve a higher protein diet and satiety benefits, according to Matt Pikosky, Ph.D., R.D., FACN, vice president of partnerships, DMI.

When part of a higher-protein diet, sufficient amounts of whey protein can provide a satiety benefit which can help consumers concerned with their weight cut back on between-meal, empty-calorie snacking.  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).

Muscle Benefits
Research shows that, compared to most other protein sources, whey protein has more of the branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), leucine, isoleucine and valine, which are beneficial for building lean muscle.3 BCAAs are unique compared to other amino acids because they bypass uptake by the liver and are exclusively taken up and used by skeletal muscle to promote protein synthesis and, to some degree, provide fuel for working muscles.

“Emerging research shows that whey proteins, which are high-quality, dairy-derived proteins, can provide an anabolic advantage over other proteins in promoting muscle protein synthesis, or the making of new muscle,” Pikosky said. “Whey protein’s advantage in this is attributed to the high level of leucine in whey proteins. Of the nine essential amino acids, leucine is the key amino acid, or nutrient signal, that initiates muscle protein synthesis.”

Many adults will experience an age-related loss of muscle mass, commonly referred to as sarcopenia. Scientists have shown that diet and lifestyle changes can prevent, reverse or slow the progression of this muscle loss. However, the key elements hinge on routine resistance exercise and adequate amounts of dietary protein.

Variety of Whey Proteins
Whey proteins come in a variety of forms for different applications, including whey protein concentrate (WPC) and whey protein isolate (WPI). These ingredients are obtained by reducing the amount of non-protein components through selective membrane filtration. Sweet whey is obtained from the production of Cheddar-style and Swiss-style cheese, while acid whey comes from the production of ricotta or cottage cheeses. Other whey ingredients include reduced-lactose whey, reduced-mineral whey, and partially hydrolyzed whey protein concentrates and isolates.

Because they are natural, functional and high in nutrition, whey proteins are the ingredient of choice for many product developers, according to Kimberlee (K.J.) Burrington, coordinator for the Dairy Ingredient Applications Program at the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research (WCDR). Whey proteins are highly soluble and have a very neutral taste, so they do not compete with intended flavors, making them well-suited for clear protein-enhanced beverages.

New Whey Protein Ingredient
While traditional whey proteins are a byproduct of the cheese-making process, a whey protein ingredient derived directly from milk through membrane filtration is a new-generation dairy ingredient with great potential for foods and beverages formulated with high concentrations of protein. Emerging research is revealing various uses for this new ingredient, but promising applications include sports and nutrition bars, beverages, baked goods, snack foods and whipped confections. Whey protein derived directly from milk contains less than 1% fat, even when concentrated up to 80% protein. This accounts for the bland flavor, low turbidity in solution, foaming capability and stability during storage. Whey proteins derived directly from milk serve well as a high-value-added ingredient for products with nutritional targets. Substantial amounts of this whey protein can be added with minimal effect on flavor, aroma or appearance, according to Burrington. Beverages are a particularly promising application, because consumers can be hyper-sensitive to flavor and aroma in beverages.

“Milk-derived whey proteins are part of a new generation of dairy ingredients,” Burrington said. “While there will always be plenty of room for whey protein in food and beverage applications, we think this latest research and development will provide an innovative ingredient to help manufacturers develop protein-enhanced products that taste great.”

For the latest information on whey protein and other dairy ingredients, and to learn more about related research, visit InnovateWithDairy.com or e-mail techsupport@innovatewithdairy.com.


1  “Packaging Trends in Food and Drink – U.S. – March 2009,” Mintel International Group Ltd.
2 “Attitudes Towards Food: Weight and Diet – U.S. – May 2009,” Mintel International Group Ltd.
3 Volpi, E et al. “Essential Amino Acids are Primarily Responsible for the Amino Acid Stimulation of Muscle Protein Anabolism in Healthy Elderly Adults,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2003; 78(5):250-258.

SIDEBAR: Researching Whey
Prepared Foods’ Editors:

* In a study with 22 lean, healthy Australian men in which four types of protein meals were provided, it was found that the "whey protein meal produced a greater insulin response, reduced appetite and decreased ad libitum energy intake at a subsequent meal compared with the other protein meals." The researches noted that there was potential for whey protein to suppress appetite and assist with weight loss in overweight individuals. (Pal, S. and V. Ellis, 2010, “The Acute Effects of Four Protein Meals on Insulin, Glucose, Appetite and Energy Intake in Lean Men,” Br J Nutr. May 11:1-8. [Published electronically ahead of print])

* In a systematic review of 18 studies worldwide, U.S. researchers came to the conclusion that, although exclusive breastfeeding should be encouraged as the primary means to prevent risk of atopic dermatitis (AD) in infants, 100% whey partially hydrolyzed infant formula may potentially reduce the risk of developing AD as compared to intact protein from cow's milk. (Alexander, D.D., et al. 2010, “Partially Hydrolyzed 100% Whey Protein Infant Formula and Atopic Dermatitis Risk Reduction: A Systematic Review of the Literature,” Nutr Rev., 2010. 68:232-45.)

The Whey of Things
New Products Launched with "Whey" among the Product Ingredients


Segment 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
Cakes, pastries & sweet goods 23 105 102 131 91
Dairy-based frozen products 18 91 125 126 133
Savory/Salty snacks 26 81 90 109 88
Prepared meals 25 78 74 90 90
Sweet biscuits/Cookies 34 66 90 95 69
Snack/Cereal/Energy bars 22 61 81 80 47
Seasonal chocolate 20 42 67 41 26
Sandwiches/Wraps 10 37 50 42 40
Meal kits 12 31 52 46 29
Processed cheese 10 30 19 15 19
Total 418 1,126 1,342 1,548 1,229

Source: Mintel GNPD