No Whey!? Is the yogurt by-product an eco-problem, or a business opportunity?
Most of the liquid "acid whey" is strained out to make Greek yogurt this thick. Photo: Jennifer Worthen, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
There's been a media hub-bub since yesterday about the so-called dark side of NY's Greek yogurt boom. A report by Justin Elliott in Modern Farmer explains that making one ounce of smooth, creamy, protein-packed yogurt, like Fage and Chobani, takes about four ounces of milk. The remaining three ounces are strained out into a thin, runny liquid called acid whey.
Elliott says it's roughly as acidic as orange juice, and it can't just be dumped.
"Not only would that be illegal, but whey decomposition is toxic to the natural environment, robbing oxygen from streams and rivers. That could turn a waterway into what one expert calls a “dead sea,” destroying aquatic life over potentially large areas. Spills of cheese whey, a cousin of Greek yogurt whey, have killed tens of thousands of fish around the country in recent years."
The New York Post concludes that Greek yogurt is "creating a waste disposal nightmare for the yogurt industry."
Perhaps NY should talk to folks in California.
It was just three days ago when this headline appeared in the LA Times: "State dairymen seek bigger share of whey windfall."
The story continues:
"Once thrown away as waste, whey has become a valuable commodity, left over from processing cheese and then used in hundreds of foods, including baby formula and protein powder. Whey has become a profit center for cheese makers that invest in processing equipment."
The by-product from cheese-making is called sweet whey.
That's different than yogurt's acid whey.
Dave Barbano, a dairy scientist at Cornell University, is looking for a cost-effective way extract the protein from acid whey, and use it for baby formula.
“Because the Greek yogurt production grew so rapidly, no one really had the time to step back and look at the other viable options,” said Barbano.
Other researchers are trying to figure out how to get lactose out of acid whey, so it can be used as a browning agent in bread.
For now, New York dairy makers and farmers just want to get rid of it. Some are mixing it with cow feed, or with farm manure that's eliminated in waste pits.
According to Modern Farmer, one Greek yogurt maker said recently, “If we can figure out how to handle acid whey, we’ll become a hero."
Tags: agriculture, business, dairy, economy, environment, food, nutrition, yogurt