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

greygarious Nov 21, 2012 02:11 PM

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.


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  1. EWSflash Nov 21, 2012 04:05 PM

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

    2 Replies
    1. re: EWSflash
      paulj Nov 21, 2012 05:42 PM

      "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
        JMF Nov 22, 2012 08:37 AM

        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. Michelly Nov 21, 2012 06:39 PM

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

      1. biondanonima Nov 21, 2012 08:39 PM

        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
          paulj Nov 21, 2012 08:56 PM

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

          1. re: paulj
            JMF Nov 22, 2012 08:36 AM

            Actually yeast works better in a slightly acid environment.

            1. re: paulj
              biondanonima Nov 23, 2012 06:18 PM

              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. w
            Wawsanham Nov 22, 2012 07:12 AM

            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
              paulj Nov 22, 2012 07:29 AM

              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
                JMF Nov 22, 2012 08:40 AM

                I wonder why it isn't being made into a probiotic drink like this?

                1. re: JMF
                  EWSflash Nov 22, 2012 09:27 PM

                  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
                  rasputina Nov 23, 2012 09:30 AM

                  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
                    DeppityDawg Nov 23, 2012 09:52 AM

                    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
                      paulj Nov 23, 2012 10:22 AM

                      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
                        DeppityDawg Nov 23, 2012 04:59 PM

                        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
                          paulj Nov 23, 2012 05:26 PM

                          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
                        JMF Nov 24, 2012 05:24 AM

                        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
                      Ruth Lafler Nov 23, 2012 11:49 AM

                      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. JungMann Nov 23, 2012 07:08 AM

                    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
                      paulj Nov 23, 2012 09:07 AM

                      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

                      1. re: paulj
                        rasputina Nov 23, 2012 09:30 AM

                        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
                          paulj Nov 23, 2012 09:42 AM

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

                          1. re: rasputina
                            biondanonima Nov 23, 2012 06:26 PM

                            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. greygarious Nov 23, 2012 08:36 AM

                        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.

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