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"Whey-ty" problem: disposing of Greek yogurt whey has economic and environmental implications

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I listened to a report on this topic on NPR today. They said that Greek yogurt whey has less protein than the whey produced by making cheese or other dairy products, but is more acid and has a lot of sugar. Almost all the GY produced in the US comes from two plants in the same general area in upstate New York. The GY whey is not suitable for use in other food products, or animal feed. If dumped into the river system it would feed bacteria that would result in water contamination and fish die-off. Fortunately, the Fage plant is near a treatment plant that can turn the whey into biodiesel, but the demand for GY has led to production of more whey than the plant can process. Whey from the Chobani plant is trucked away and eventually combined with manure to become fertilizer. However, there's a limit to the amount of this type of fertilizer that farmers can use without contaminating run-off. So at present, whey has to be trucked greater and greater distances to facilities that can process it for either fuel or fertilizer. This is raising GY production costs and may possibly impact GY availability in the future.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012...

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  1. Why isn't the whey suitable for secondary food products???

    2 Replies
    1. re: EWSflash

      "They said that Greek yogurt whey has less protein than the whey produced by making cheese or other dairy products, but is more acid and has a lot of sugar."

      do you have some 'food product' where that would useful?

      1. re: paulj

        Yogurt whey makes a great starter culture for fermenting pickles, sauerkraut, hot sauce, etc. I have two jars of hot sauce that have a wonderful tangy flavor from a GY whey starter.

    2. So....my mixing it back into the yogurt is bad...?

      1. I'm also surprised there isn't a secondary food usage for it - I use it for breadmaking myself. Perhaps Chobani/Fage should team up with a bread company?

        3 Replies
        1. re: biondanonima

          You use the 'whey' from yogurt in bread making? And the acidity doesn't hurt the yeast?

          1. re: paulj

            Actually yeast works better in a slightly acid environment.

            1. re: paulj

              Nope, the yeast seems to love the whey. The finished product has a depth of flavor that water just can't match - a little tangy, but not nearly so much as sourdough.

          2. So, before global warming does us in, we'll drown in tsunamis of whey. Seriously, I wonder what they do with all that useless whey in Greece, where they've been eating this kind of yoghurt for a long time? Do they have a big "environmental whey problem" there?

            10 Replies
            1. re: Wawsanham

              If made at home, a quart or two of this whey can safely go down the drain, though Greek farmers might have use for it. But the article is about factories that produce truckloads of the stuff. Simply dumping it down the drain, or out into the river is not an option. The issue isn't that it can't be disposed, but that it costs the yogurt maker money to do so. They'd much prefer to sell it.

              The problem, according to the article, is that for every gallon of yogurt, they produce 3 gallons of this acidic whey.

              1. re: paulj

                I wonder why it isn't being made into a probiotic drink like this?
                http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.co...

                1. re: JMF

                  That's kinda what I was wondering. I can see why they'd prefer to sell it, but I don't think they're trying hard enough to find an alternative use for it.

                2. re: paulj

                  As someone who has made yogurt from scratch from my own dairy animals and drained it to thicken, 3 gallons of whey per gallon of yogurt is not consistent with my personal experience.

                  1. re: rasputina

                    Actually, the article does not say 3 gallons of whey per gallon of yogurt; it says three pounds of whey per pound of yogurt. Since yogurt is denser than whey, this actually means that for a gallon of yogurt, they are producing even more than 3 gallons of whey. It does sound like a lot, but we don't know the details of their production process. Who knows, maybe they add some other liquid to the milk before the culturing process (this could help explain why the resulting "whey + additives" is apparently unsuitable for so many things). But I think that they also just extract more whey out of their yogurt than people who make strained yogurt at home. We're not talking about a cheesecloth bundle dripping in the fridge overnight, but giant centrifuges.

                    1. re: DeppityDawg

                      yogurt is denser than whey? Yogurt is thicker, but I can't picture much of a difference in density. Butter, which only has 20% water, is less dense than water.

                      1. re: paulj

                        What do you think the density of yogurt is? And the density of yogurt whey? (I don't have the numbers, actually, but you do agree that 3:1 by volume is different from 3:1 by weight/mass, right? And that someone's "personal experience" making yogurt at home might be different from an industrial yogurt maker's situation?)

                        1. re: DeppityDawg

                          If the density is the same, then a volume ratio is the same as weight one. The article used pounds, I, sloppily, used gallons. But my gut sense is that yogurt, even in the dryer Greek style, has nearly the same density as water.

                          Whole milk has a specific gravity (density relative to water) of 1.03, slightly denser. Skim milk a bit more 1.033 (since the lighter cream has been removed). Yogurt should be the same, unless they add some dry milk powder (which is common), which will increase density a bit. The whey has fewer milk solids, so may be closer to water in density; so the remaining yogurt may have density of 1.05 (5% more than water).

                      2. re: DeppityDawg

                        That's incorrect. Whey weighs about the same as water. A gallon of water weighs a little over eight pounds. So three pounds of whey is approximately 1.5 quarts.

                    2. re: paulj

                      What about the Fage factories in Greece which produce truckloads of the stuff (more, I'm guessing, that the ones in the US)?

                      If you read the actual article, what he's saying is that basically the problem is not the whey, but the fact that the whey is geographically concentrated. There are things they are doing with it, including generating electricity, but there's not enough local demand for the amount being produced locally. So the point that should be taken from the article is not that Greek yogurt whey is a problem, it's that concentrating a huge amount of the country's Greek yogurt production in one small area is a problem, which is true of almost any agricultural product.

                  2. I am somewhat surprised that these companies have not commercialized whey as a probiotic or natural fermenting agent for the pickling set. I am sure there are companies out there who would love to form partnerships to utilize the whey in baked products, fertilizers, fermented beverages, etc. The demand exists if someone is willing to satisfy it.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: JungMann

                      The article says they produce 3 gallons of this acidic whey for every gallon of yogurt. It also says that it isn't suitable for the usual whey uses (such as in baked products). It also talks about shipping it to farmers - and paying the farmer.

                      Has anyone taken regular yogurt, drained it well, and made good use of all of the resulting whey?

                      A blogger on uses for Greek yogurt whey
                      http://www.salad-in-a-jar.com/recipes...

                      1. re: paulj

                        I've drained plenty of yogurt. Personally I do not like the whey "starter" for lacid acid ferments. I dump it down the drain and let me tell you it is not even 1:1 yogurt to whey let alone 1:3 so I suspect that article is incorrect. Even their claim of using protein solids and thickers doesn't explain this ratio.

                        1. re: rasputina

                          Even a 1:1 ratio is a lot of whey if your primary product is the yogurt.

                          1. re: rasputina

                            I disagree - I make my own yogurt frequently and I like it thick, so I strain it well. From a gallon of milk, I usually end up with 2.5 quarts of whey and just over a quart of thick yogurt. 3:1 whey to yogurt may be a bit of an exaggeration, but 2:1 sounds just about right to me.

                            As for finding uses for the whey, I do use it for breadmaking, but we don't eat a ton of bread so I generally end up dumping at least some whey. There are plenty of other uses for it, from fermenting pickles and things to watering plants to pet food.

                      2. It may be a problem of scale. The program implies that vast amounts of the whey are produced and I believe it. Ten years ago Greek yogurt was virtually unheard of by the American public.
                        Now every supermarket has several brands of it, crowding out the Dannon and other regular yogurts, and frozen Greek yogurt has real estate in the ice cream cases. How much of a market, comparatively, is there for home pickle-making ingredients? As for probiotics, probably most people who are purposely consuming them are choosing yogurt as the vehicle, rather than drinking them.