Looking for a ?whey? to satisfy a wide range of consumer diets and palates? Due to its great taste and high versatility, one protein ingredient can help you meet them all. Bill Haines explains
Food and beverage formulators looking for help in meeting consumer interest in healthy eating need look no further than whey protein. That?s because whey proteins are great tasting, versatile and functional performers that also deliver excellent nutritional benefits.
While fascination with all things lower carb may be waning, the trend toward eating more protein appears to be enduring, according to market research sources ACNielsen and Mintel International Group. And for food and beverage manufacturers that seek to boost protein content and reduce calories and/or carbs while still delivering great taste and high performance, whey protein can be the way to satisfy on all fronts.
Sources and fractions
Whey is produced from milk in the process of cheesemaking. A complex blend of protein (principally alpha-lactalbumin and beta-lactoglobulin), lactose, fat, minerals and water, fluid whey represents a nutritional treasure trove whose riches are tapped by a variety of advanced filtration and fractionation techniques.
Whey can be turned into a whole family of valuable ingredients that includes whey protein concentrate (or WPC, in protein concentrations ranging from 25-80 per cent), whey protein isolate (or WPI, which is 90 per cent or more protein), dry sweet whey, dry acid whey, dry reduced-lactose whey and dry reduced-mineral whey. All of these appear as white- to light cream-coloured powders with a clean, neutral dairy flavour. A new extruded whey ingredient, textured whey protein, can be used to manufacture crisps, chips and puffs.
Whey protein?s versatility is driving its use in a wide spectrum of foods and beverages, from nutrition bars, snacks and sauces to confections, frozen novelties and beverages. Mintel?s Global New Products Database shows introductions of new products with whey ingredients increased 363 per cent in the five years from 1999 to 2004.
Chief among whey protein?s functional benefits is its clean, neutral dairy taste, which requires no masking and blends well with flavours from sweet to savoury. Formulators also look to whey protein for its excellent texture, gelling, foaming, emulsifying and browning capabilities.
In beverages, whey protein foams well and stabilises emulsions and also is soluble across a wide pH range. In baked goods, whey proteins are perfect for stable foaming and whipping or to replace egg albumin in items such as sponge cakes.
Whey proteins also have the ability to mimic fats, offering good mouthfeel in reduced-calorie offerings such as prepared foods and processed meats. Research at Ohio State University, funded by America?s dairy farmers through Dairy Management Inc (DMI), showed that using whey protein in reduced-fat sausages cut the calorie count, minimised shrinkage and resulted in products indistinguishable in taste from the full-fat versions.
Beyond its strengths as an all-around performer, WPI is a great source for protein fortification — a useful feature when developing lower-carb/lower-calorie products. While the percentage of Americans following lower-carb diet regimens like Atkins and South Beach dropped from nine per cent to less than five per cent during the first nine months of 2004, millions are still interested in trimming their carbohydrate intake to some degree. WPI answers the challenge of deciding what to add after high-glycaemic carbohydrates such as sugars and starches have been reduced. In bread, for instance, whey protein can replace two-four per cent of the flour weight.
Nutritional benefits of whey protein
In addition to being highly versatile, whey protein is a nutritionally dense ingredient that may deliver significant health and nutritional benefits. First, whey protein is a complete protein, containing all of the amino acids the body requires for good health, including about 26 grams of branched chain amino acids (BCCA) per every 100g of whey protein. The BCCAs — isoleucine, leucine and valine — are unique among amino acids in their ability to provide energy during endurance exercise.
Second, as a protein source, whey protein has a high biological value, which indicates that the body can metabolise it particularly well. For example, the biological value of WPC is 104 vs 100 for whole egg, 74 for soy protein and 54 for wheat.
Third, whey protein delivers a wealth of other valuable nutrients, including calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, thiamin, riboflavin, and vitamins B6 and B12. One hundred grams of dry sweet whey contains about 796mg calcium, while 100g of dry acid whey contains about 2,054mg. At the same time, whey ingredients are naturally low in trans fats.
Fourth, preliminary studies show that specially processed whey protein may offer advantages in lowering high blood pressure. Research also suggests that whey protein may help protect against microbial and viral infections.
DMI-supported research is looking ahead to additional innovative whey protein applications. For instance, at the Southeast Dairy Foods Research Center at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, research is under way into finding ways to boost whey protein?s ability to provide benefits to the stability and flavour of low-pH beverages. This would give beverage manufacturers a new and superior tool for developing protein-enriched energy and sports drinks.
Other research at the Southeast Dairy Foods Research Center is exploring how to make whey proteins perfectly stable under a wide range of thermal conditions. This research could allow whey protein to appear in more clear beverages, which are often subjected to ultra-high-temperature processing.
A new extrusion process developed by the Western Dairy Center at Utah State University in Logan and commercialized by Grande Custom Ingredients in Wisconsin has created varieties of textured whey proteins suitable for a wide range of applications, such as snacks, cereals and crispy inclusions for energy bars. Researchers at North Carolina State University also are modifying whey protein to extend its capabilities for emulsification, gelation and hydrocolloid-like viscosity. A whey protein-derived hydrocolloid would offer food manufacturers an alternative to carbohydrate-based thickeners and stabilizers and generate a clean label when used in such products as yoghurt and processed cheese.
Whatever the formulation need, whey protein can help food and beverage manufacturers meet the challenge. With its superior flavour, nutrition, versatility and functionality, whey makes it work.
Bill Haines is vice president of product innovation at Dairy Management Inc, the US and international planning and management organisation that builds demand for US-produced dairy products on behalf of America?s dairy farmers.
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