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Homemade Whey vs. Protein Powder: Rediscovering nutrient dense foods

What is whey? From the sing-song lines of quaint nursery rhymes describing Miss. Muffet eating her curds and whey, to the body-building enthusiast at the gym grunting with their plastic containers of whey protein shakes, this health food is described in many different contexts. Some people refer to liquid whey, others discuss it in the form of powders, hydrolysates, isolates or concentrates; there is sweet whey, acid whey, chocolate whey, strawberry whey, goat whey, mineral whey...it is all very confusing! So in the midst of all this whey hype, let’s take a time out to explore what real whey is- the wonderful whole food that has been treasured by many traditional cultures for its robust nutritional profile.

nourishing traditions vital whey

The Culture of Dairy

Most people today think of dairy as plain, unfermented milk, and are familiar with wiping off a bright white mustache after finishing a tall glass of the cold creamy stuff. However, this was not always the case. Before the industrialized practices of refrigeration and pasteurization became commonplace, many people enjoyed their milk products soured or fermented in the forms of yogurt, cheese, kefir, clabber, creme fraiche, or curds and whey. When left out to sour or when cultured with friendly lactic-acid-producing bacteria, raw milk undergoes a process of fermentation wherein the bacteria start to digest or break down the milk sugars (lactose) and milk proteins (casein).Through this process, there is a natural separation of firm white globs from the liquid portion of the milk. These white curds are the casein-containing portion of the milk, which are further fermented and processed into cheeses. The remaining tart liquid is whey.

Most Whey Today: Not so great

Whey has been used in traditional cuisine for centuries, and was known by Greek doctors as “healing water” for it’s strength-building properties. Today however, whey is considered a waste product of the cheese and yogurt industries. The wildly popular greek yogurt industry has been under scrutiny from environmental agencies recently for the gallons upon gallons of “whey waste” that they must get rid of after processing their strained yogurt products. For every four pounds of milk, only one pound of yogurt is made, and the rest is a mixture of whey, chemicals and other acidic byproducts. Industries drowning in whey have been scrambling to figure out just what to do with all of this tangy liquid and many have found an outlet in the sports nutrition industry where leftover whey is being powdered, flavored and marketed as a muscle-building, energy-boosting supplement. Sounds like a very solid plan, except for the fact that the whey from big industry is truly waste- high heat pasteurized and subject to several acid baths. Any potentially beneficial nutrients are obliterated and mingled with nasty toxins during production. Supplement companies have tried desperately to “purify” their products by isolating different parts of the protein portion of the whey, which is why you get so many different formulations on the market such as isolates, hydrosylates, concentrates, etc. This fractioning subjects the already destroyed whey to even more sketchy chemical processes and eliminates co-factors, rendering any possible remaining nutrients completely un-bioavailable. So despite the luring claims on those big black tubs of peanut-butter chocolate whey protein, these commercial powders are certainly not going to help your body get stronger.

Recipe: Homemade Whey

When made properly in small batches from cultured dairy, whey has incredibly unique healing properties. Rich with biologically active proteins and protein fractions, it has a high concentration of essential amino acids that are readily used to support vital biological functions in the body. Among these beneficial factors is:

  • Lactoferrin, a multifunctional protein with iron-binding properties that acts as a powerful antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory
  • Bovine serum albumin (BSA), a substance high in amino acids that has been shown to support infection-fighting white blood cells, increase antioxidant activity and maintain healthy cholesterol levels in the body
  • Immunoglobulins to support disease control by bolstering immunity 
  • Probiotic organisms to promote optimal digestion and full nutrient absorption by balancing the gut flora
  • Essential amino acids in a highly bioavailable form to act as building blocks for proteins
  • Glutathione precursors, to boost production of the body's most powerful antioxidant
  • Minerals such as potassium, iron and zinc in balanced amounts
  • Vitamins notably vitamin B2 or riboflavin which helps the body to convert carbohydrates into fuel
Homemade whey has many uses including making lacto-fermented vegetables, condiments or beverages; soaking and sprouting nuts or grains; or as an additive to smoothies, sauces and stocks. The process to make whey is simple and uses things you probably already have around the house.

nourishing traditions vital whey

2 cups yoghurt or kefir*

1 large glass bowl

1 strainer

1 thin, clean dishtowel or unbleached cheesecloth

1 wooden spoon

1 pitcher

1. Line a large strainer with an unbleached cheesecloth or thin, clean dish towel and set strainer in large bowl. Pour yogurt or kefir into the cloth, cover and allow to sit out at room temperature for several hours. The liquid whey will begin to drip into the bowl, while the milk solids will stay collected in the cloth.

2. When the dripping slows, tie up the cloth into a sac with the milk solids inside. Although tempting, do not squeeze the curds to get the remaining liquid out. Instead, tie the cloth to a wooden spoon, placing it over a pitcher so that the sac containing the milk solids is suspended inside. Allow this to hang for an additional several hours (I generally leave mine overnight) or until the dripping completely stops. At that point, pour the liquid whey from the large bowl or pitcher into a small glass jar for storage- it will last 6 months refrigerated. The curds left in the strainer are a tasty cream cheese rich with healthy fats, that can be used as a nutrient dense spread or dip.

This second step ensures that you are getting all of the whey to separate from the curds. There is no one way to do this either; get creative with straining methods! For example, you can tie the cloth to the kitchen faucet and place a bowl in the sink to collect the whey, or onto a knob on your cabinets so that the whey collects into a container on the counter. Find out what works best with your kitchen set-up.

*You can also use raw milk in this process, if first left out to separate for about 1-4 days. I prefer to use cultured yogurt and kefir because of their superior probiotic profile. If you use a high quality store bought yogurt, make sure that it is free of gelatin and pectin as these will bind the solids to the liquids, and prevent separation of curds and whey. Although different dairy produces different results- a rule of thumb is that 1 cup of dairy yields about 1/2 cup of  whey.

Finding a Non-Denatured Whey Powder

vital wheyIt's true: In an ideal world, everyone would obtain their nutrients from traditional whole foods like tart, golden, homemade whey. However, realizing that a significant piece of modern wellness is making informed choices that best fit your lifestyle, the convenience of a powdered form of whey is completely understandable. Over the past few years have been unwaveringly committed to finding a powdered whey from happy, healthy grass-fed cows, in its complete, non-denatured form. That's why we use Vital Whey, which contains the full range of fragile immune modulating and regenerative protein components naturally present in fresh, raw milk from cows grass-fed year-round on natural pastures. Another whey that we love is Mt. Capra Mineral Whey. Made from goat whey, this carefully prepared whole food supplement is incredibly rich with alkalizing minerals and electrolytes. This mineral whey can be very helpful for the improvement digestive distress, weak and painful joints and to replenish the mineral reserves depleted by stress and devitalized foods. While these powders cannot by used in place of fresh whey in cooking and baking, you can try blending them into a superfoods smoothie for an effortless way to incorporate the health benefits of whey into your diet.


Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

Enjoying Little Miss Muffet’s Curds and Whey by Jen Allbritton, CN

Remarkable Whey Protein by Alan Shugarman, M.S, R.D.


just a question: I find that my eczema flairs when I consume dairy, even raw dairy. Any thoughts on which part of the dairy is the issue? I wonder if I could consume whey? Or if soured or fermented dairy would make a difference?
Posted @ Thursday, February 07, 2013 5:01 AM by diane lassen
Hi Diane, 
Dairy is actually one of the most common food-related causes of eczema. Up to 65% of the adult population suffers from lactose (milk sugar) intolerance, while others are sensitive to the casein (milk proteins). Fermenting dairy products is helpful in neutralizing some of those irritants and is certainly worth a try. New evidence suggests that sometimes the healthy bacteria in these products can actually reverse intolerances. Kefir is a highly digestible form of dairy that many people do well with. Chris Kresser wrote a great article on this subject: 
I hope that is helpful!
Posted @ Thursday, February 07, 2013 7:34 AM by Kayla Grossmann
If I replace homemade whey with powdered whey- what is the protein nutritional profile difference of each and how much would I need to add to my "protein smoothie"?
Posted @ Friday, February 15, 2013 6:16 PM by lindsey
I have the same question as lindsey posted on 2-15. What is the protien profile difference of each and about how much would I use in a "protien smoothie"? Great informational article!
Posted @ Tuesday, March 05, 2013 11:59 AM by Tonya
Hi Lindsey and Tonya, 
The powder certainly has a significant amount more protein by volume, but it is really tricky to put a direct conversion on it. The nutrient profile of homemade whey is so variable depending on the type of milk product you are using to get it and there also (unfortunately) haven't been a significant amount of detailed studies on homemade whey to draw this comparison with precision. However in general, adding 4-8 TBSPs to a smoothie or sauce is appropriate, though adjusting the amount of whey to best suite your taste and texture preference will be important factors!
Posted @ Tuesday, March 05, 2013 3:42 PM by Kayla Grossmann
is it ok to use nonfat yogurt and drain the whey from it or is the fat needed to produce some of the whey
Posted @ Wednesday, April 10, 2013 2:50 AM by Joe
Hi Joe, 
It is certainly possible to use nonfat yogurt to obtain the whey, although the full fat yogurt has the additional benefit of leaving you with a nice creamy yogurt cheese once the whey is strained out. Make sure that you are using a good quality yogurt that has active cultures as this will ensure that you have all of the beneficial enzymes and nutrients that whey can provide.
Posted @ Thursday, April 11, 2013 10:15 AM by Kayla Grossmann
In the book Super Nutrition for Babies they talk about making whey from human breastmilk for lacto-fermenting veggies for a infant. Do you have any experience with separating the breastmilk whey? I followed there instructions but my infant was not a fan of the sweet potatoes at all. I'd love to continue using my breastmilk whey but I just want to verify that I separate it the same way as cows milk whey. Thanks.
Posted @ Wednesday, May 22, 2013 9:02 PM by Michelle
Hi Michelle,  
Breast milk, like cow's milk, is naturally non-homogenized meaning that the cream readily separates when allowed to stand. Some milks, like goat milk for example, do not share this same property. Thus, making whey from breast milk is actually similar to the process described above. Because you will likely be making a lesser amount of whey however, just be sure to adjust the amount of root veggie you are culturing accordingly. Also, it may simply take some time for baby to adjust to the new flavor of tangy cultured foods. I hope this is helpful- best wishes to you and your infant!
Posted @ Thursday, May 23, 2013 9:26 AM by Kayla Grossmann
Hi how many grams of protein consists in 100grams of home made whey protein powder ? 
Posted @ Sunday, September 08, 2013 9:39 AM by Victor Cav
I have some soured raw milk and cream. It soured under refrigeration because I had an overabundance of raw milk during the holidays. What will I be able to do with it? Thanks for your response.
Posted @ Thursday, January 02, 2014 9:42 AM by Cheri
Soured raw milk and cream isn't a terrible problem to have! Raw dairy doesn't go putrid like pasteurized products, and can still hold many uses in the kitchen. Culture it to make kefir, yogurt, whey or butter, or use for baking or scrambled egg making. One of my very favorite posts on the matter is from Sarah The Healthy Home Economist. Check out her list of 101 Uses For Soured Raw Milk. Enjoy it!
Posted @ Thursday, January 02, 2014 10:26 AM by Kayla Grossmann
how much of home made whey in enough to drink? how much is too much? and when is the best time to take it? thanks.
Posted @ Wednesday, February 19, 2014 1:39 AM by dafta
I was wondering if the Mt Capri and Vital Whey products would be considered to contain fermented whey?
Posted @ Saturday, April 12, 2014 7:47 AM by Craig
Can this powder be substituted for regular dairy whey like that required in he Nourishing Tradition recipe book? 
If so, do you just add water to this powder?
Posted @ Sunday, April 13, 2014 10:38 PM by Beano
The whey powders mentioned in this article do not serve effectively as starters for fermentation or soaking/sprouting, nor are they fermented prior to being powdered. 
They are instead meant to be taken as stand-alone supplements for those who do not get a lot of natural whey products in the diet. Vital whey contains the complete protein spectrum naturally found in the food variety, while the Mt Capra brand is a concentrated mineral formula. We like them because they are non-denatured from grass-fed cows, but unfortunately they are not as versatile as homemade whey strained in the kitchen.
Posted @ Monday, April 14, 2014 8:46 AM by Kayla Grossmann
Dear Kayla, 
I am Atanas, creator of Trimona Bulgarian Yogurt that we make in the Catskill Mountains of New York. I liked you article about the whey and thought that maybe you want to use some of my personal knowledge and experience as a yogurt maker for your future blogs. I am not asking you to promote our product, just wanted to connect and share some interesting facts about Bulgarian style yogurt that perhaps you may have not heard about. How yogurt should be made in the old fashion way, why calcium absorption is easier in yogurt than in milk, full fat yogurt from A2 grass-fed cows, low pH in relation with calcium absorption in yogurt, lactose intolerance and low pH yogurt, etc.  
I hope you want to hear about it.  
Atanas Valev 
Founder & CEO 
Trimona Foods Inc. 
Port Jefferson, NY 11777 
Tel: 631-662-6163 
Facebook: Trimona Foods, Inc. 
Twitter: @trimonayogurt 
Posted @ Tuesday, May 06, 2014 5:26 PM by Atanas Valev
I have Nubian Goats and make cheese. Approximately how much protein is in the whey and is this a better source of whey than any of the powders on the market?
Posted @ Monday, May 19, 2014 10:07 PM by Nadine
Hi, I enjoyed your professional-sounding article. I have been wanting to try the yogurt made with a crockpot. Would the heat in that disturb the nutritional benefits of the whey?
Posted @ Tuesday, May 20, 2014 3:56 PM by Denise Petty
Hi Denise! Although heat may damage some of the enzyme content, the process of using a crockpot to make yogurt is gentle enough to maintain most of the integrity of the whey. I recommend giving it a try. Plus homemade yogurt is delicious! 
Posted @ Wednesday, May 21, 2014 9:42 AM by Kayla Grossmann
Hi Nadine! It is difficult to assess an exact protein amount, as this can be highly variable. However, it is certainly true that whey from homemade cheese will have the complete spectrum of bio-active protein, whereas this can be difficult to obtain from dried powders.
Posted @ Wednesday, May 21, 2014 9:44 AM by Kayla Grossmann
Thank you for the response. I'll give it a try!
Posted @ Wednesday, May 21, 2014 12:08 PM by Denise Petty
Is it possible to concentrate whey made from yogurt. I do use my crockpot for making yogurt. Could the whey be gently simmered to reduce or would the additional heat reduce the actual protein and enzymes, etc., in the whey?
Posted @ Monday, June 09, 2014 12:50 PM by LaDeane Cobabe
I plan to make a homemade formula when my baby is 6 months based on the receipe from Super Nutrition for Babies. I will only use 1 bottle per day and the rest will be breast milk. I dont have time to do homemade whey. What whey quantity would be a good substitute for 60ml liquid homemade whey? I have another receipe from Biblical Health that includes 2 tsp whey protein concentrate & 8 TB mineral whey powder (entire receipe is 38oz vs Super Nutrition which is 36oz) 
I read that it is not wise to veer from the main receipe for homemade formula, but since it is only for 1 bottle a day i dont think it should be too big of an issue.  
Thanks in advance for your response.
Posted @ Wednesday, July 30, 2014 8:39 PM by Kristine
Kayla, thank you for maintaining such an informative, fun, well-written site! I read it every chance I get whether or not the issues pertain to me. I need your help, as I am stumped...can't find this info anywhere. I make my own fresh goat milk kefir from pastured goats. I am considering the ketogenic diet for cancer where carbs are severely restricted. Since the grains in kefir feed upon the lactose, what exactly is the total carb amount in a well-fermented cup of whey made from this? I hope you can help. Thank you so much!!
Posted @ Saturday, August 09, 2014 7:43 AM by Marian
Kayla, I think I found the carb info. But now need help with another. I keep running across the statement in the keto diet world that casein spikes insulin levels. Is this true? I have just made my first batch of goat cheese from your instuctions. So amazing. Your site is SO HELPFUL! Any idea just how much casein would be in this wonderul soft cheese? Thank you !
Posted @ Thursday, August 14, 2014 10:53 AM by Marian
Is this home made whey is as powerful as those ones we get in market in powder form ? Can we gain more muscles from this home made whey as we get from market whey supplements ?
Posted @ Sunday, August 17, 2014 12:45 PM by mk
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