Native people groups are known for not wasting. Every part of a harvested animal was used, even the bones, hooves, and antlers for making stock. Every part of a plant was used. Yet, we tend to throw out what we don’t want, like carrot tops or chicken feet. The uses for whey abound. In this post, Chris shares how to use what you may be tempted to pour down the drain after making cheese.
What is whey?
Whey is the watery, greenish liquid that drains off of cheese curd in the cheesemaking process. It is the liquid that you drain from yogurt or kefir to make yogurt cheeses, like lebna. Whey is, by far, the amplest product of cheesemaking. It’s also one of the most wasted. In commercial dairies whey is considered a toxic waste product and buried. But in home cheesemaking, this watery byproduct should be celebrated for the many uses for whey that exist.
There are two kinds of whey with different mineral composition. Acid whey is the result of making cheese with an acid to precipitate the curds. Citric acid mozzarella, or queso blanco, for instance, results in acid whey.
Acid whey also comes from cheese that has a long fermentation process, such as yogurt cheese or chevre. Acid whey is higher in minerals like calcium, zinc, and phosphorous than sweet whey. Only whey from long fermentation, though, results in bacterial rich acid whey.
Sweet whey results when cheese is made with a bacterial culture and rennet, like cheddar, or traditionally cultured mozzarella. Sweet whey is also rich in lacto-bacteria.
Both acid whey and sweet whey have a similar vitamin content. Whey is rich in milk sugars and B vitamins, including B12. It is relatively low in protein and fat, with one cup of liquid sweet whey having just 2 grams of highly digestible protein. (Livestrong)
15 Uses for Whey
Don’t waste the whey. Here are 15 ways to use that nutritious liquid left over from cheese making.
Whey in the dairy
• If you have fresh, sweet whey that’s no more than a few hours old, put the pot back on the stove and make ricotta cheese. Acid whey won’t make ricotta, though. The curd has already precipitated out of acid whey.
• Make a salt brine for your cheese using fresh, sweet whey and sea salt. For saturated salt brine use 210 ml of salt to every four cups of whey. Place cheese in the brine according to the directions in your recipe.
• Lacto-bacteria rich whey from one batch of cheese can be used as the starter culture for the next batch of cheese.
• Lacto-bacteria rich whey will remain active for up to a week if kept refrigerated and several months if frozen. Use ¼ cup of active whey to culture 1 gallon of raw milk.
Whey in the Kitchen
• Use sweet whey as the liquid in muffins and quick breads or any recipe that calls for water or milk.
• Use a few tablespoons of whey as the starter culture for fermented vegetables.
• Acid whey that is rich in lacto-bacteria or sweet whey will work as a starter culture. Acid whey resulting from citric acid or vinegar cheesemaking won’t work.
• Add probiotic-rich liquid whey to condiments like mustard, ketchup, relish, and chutneys to increase their preservation and add to their probiotic benefits.
• Soak grains or beans in sweet whey overnight, to reduce the anti-nutrients and increase their digestibility. Just add a few tablespoons of whey to the soaking water, as suggested by Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions.
• Add sweet whey to your sourdough starter in place of water, to increase the lacto-bacteria and give it a boost.
• Make homemade bone broth using the acidic whey to draw the minerals into the broth.
• Use lacto-bacteria-rich acid whey in making lacto-fermented salami or other cured meat. This ensures that the correct salt-loving, lacto-bacteria is out-competing any bad bacteria in the raw meat, ensuring a safe sausage.
• Make a whey marinade for tougher cuts of meat. Whey tenderizes meat. Add herbs like rosemary and garlic for a flavorful, tender, but less expensive meal.
Whey in the Garden
• Use liquid whey as a foliar spray in the garden to prevent powdery mildew. Both acid and sweet whey work to prevent powdery mildew in the garden.
• Use liquid whey in the compost to increase the beneficial bacteria and add nitrogen and calcium.
Whey on the Farm
• Whey is a nutritious food for baby animals including pigs, calves, kids, lambs, puppies, and kittens.
• Many farms fatten their piglets on gruel made with grains soaked in whey left from cheese making. Probiotic whey should be used sparingly until animals get used to it. Too much at once, before an animal is used to it, can result in scours. Once the animal is adapted to digesting whey they will have no problems with it.
Drink your whey
Sweet whey can simply be drunk. Cold. In a glass. Like the French do.
- Asher, David. The Art of Natural Cheesemaking. Chelsea Green Publishing: White River Junction, VT, 2015. Pp.
- Barth, CA and Behnke U. “Nutritional physiology of whey and whey components” Nahrung. 1997 Feb;41(1):2-12.