Wheying the future – whey protein concentrates
When process engineers and scientists at one dairy cooperative planned a new whey protein manufacturing facility, they tried to foresee the needs of today’s marketplace and the desires of future product developers. As a result of their efforts, the company is going on-stream with a plant that can produce anything from whey protein concentrates (WPCs) to whey fractions that are now a gleam in a researcher’s eye.
The Land O’Lakes plant in Perham, Minn., started production early this year and is expected to be fully operational by July. The processing line was built for maximum flexibility. In addition to providing 34, 50, 80 and 90% protein ingredients, the line can target precise protein levels specified by customers. Above 90%, it can produce whey protein isolates based on proprietary technology. Membrane processing equipment is also based on proprietary technology.
The Perham plant is adjacent to a plant that makes whole whey and white cheese products. Keeping the heat low and a constant watch on quality goes all the way back to the cheese vat. Whey from the cheese-making process goes directly to the WPC plant with no time lag that would allow the base product to build additional lactic acid. The resulting whey products are very bland tasting and light in color.
Typical fat levels for WPCs range from 2% to 5%. However, the WPCs produced at Perham have only 0.1% to 0.2% fat on a dry weight basis. Very low fat levels help ensure bland flavor, less rancidity and fewer pigments. They also enable the producer to attain the very high protein levels of whey protein isolates.
Lower fat levels also mean that WPCs are less opaque and more compatible with beverage applications. Researchers compared lowfat WPC with conventional WPC in a strawberry sports beverage. The protein level was 3% in the beverage to mimic the protein level of milk. The lowfat sample was slightly cloudy, like lemonade, not opaque like a yogurt drink. It was judged by an expert sensory panel to have good hedonics, such as appearance, and a satisfying, not overly thick mouthfeel. The strawberry flavor came through more strongly than in the conventional sample.
If a WPC is to be used in a dry mix, the Perham plant can deliver it as an agglomerate. The company will have the only agglomeration dryer designed specifically for whey proteins in the U.S. It will be operational in July.
WPCs are readily soluble, but they may not be as easily dispersible. The agglomeration process improves the dispersibility or wetability or the WPC so that it readily mixes into a liquid. The process modifies the WPC so that dusting is minimized. Non-agglomerated particles measuring about 30 microns can be agglomerated to form particles up to 200 microns.
In addition to beverages, another potential market for the WPCs is nutritional drinks, including infant formulas, geriatric preparations and health and diet drinks. Bakers may use them for their water-holding ability or to replace egg whites in many types of products.
In structured meat products or surimi, WPCs can build a network that gives the product form and texture. WPCs fit smoothly into dairy applications such as frozen desserts.
As the plant goes on-stream, food technologists are testing the ingredients in many different food applications involving various functionalities. They will explore methods of isolating immunoglobulin, lactoferrin and other fractions present in tiny amounts and evaluate their potentials as health promoting ingredients.
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