Whey is the serum or liquid part of milk that is separated from curd when making cheese. As whey is a secondary product of the cheese making process, whey production is related to the dairy industry.
Whey and whey components are used by the food industry in a wide variety of applications on the basis of their excellent nutritional and functional properties. Whey products are a combination of high-quality proteins, lactose, bio-active components, minerals and vitamins.
The dairy industry provides a broad variety of dairy products containing whey and its ingredients such as yoghurts, milk drinks and ice cream. Whey and its components are also appreciated as a value-added ingredient in many other food products including meat and fish products, bakery, confectionery, snack foods and infant formula. Furthermore, whey is used for many applications in feed.
Currently, whey is increasingly recognized as a functional food with a number of health benefits. Whey and whey components receive growing interest as functional ingredients in dietetic and health foods such as slimming foods, diets for the elderly and clinical foods. Bioactive whey ingredients such as bioactive proteins, which exert an additional health benefit for the consumer, are increasingly used in pharmaceuticals as well as nutraceuticals.
Nowadays, over 25% of the whey production in the European Union is utilized for human consumption and forecasts indicate that human applications of whey and whey products may surpass its utilization as feed in the near future.
The whey industry is constantly developing new applications for whey and whey ingredients to increase the variety of healthy food products available to the consumer. Likewise, strong focus is given on refining activities, e.g. for the production of lactose and whey proteins, by separating whey into different fractions and getting a deeper knowledge on whey components that will allow manufacturing of more sophisticated and higher quality products.