Simplified article on How Whey Protein is Manufactured?

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Rohit Jadhav Founder - M2PROTEINS

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Simplified Explanation of How whey protein is manufactured ?

Whey protein is a milk product and is manufactured mostly from cow milk. Like any other milk product, the whey begins its journey on a milk farm or a dairy.

How Whey Protein Is Manufactured?

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  1. Collection- This starts with healthy cows, cows with good health are chosen to collect milk from. These cows are fed with the best nutritional food, nutrients, and in most cases allowed to roam free in big green pasture fields. Milk is collected from cows and transported to the processing facility.
  2. Pasteurization- The collected milk may contain some bacteria, to get rid of these bacteria milk is pasteurized. Milk is heated to 70-80 Celsius and cooled down to 4. Once pasteurized it is transferred to further separation and processing.
  3. Separation/ Curd formation- Different enzymes are added to pasteurized milk which separates milk into liquid and solid. The liquid on the top is yellowish and called whey, while the solids at the bottom are called casein. The liquid whey comprises of 20% while the solid part is about 80%. This casein is then used to form cheese, curd, or casein protein. It’s a similar phenomenon when we make curd at home, we use leftover curd for leavening or a few drops of lemon juice for separation, the milk separates and curd is formed after some time. The yellow liquid on top that we usually throw out, is whey.
  4. Filtration- The liquid whey is then passed through a giant web of filters to separate protein from carbs, lactose, and fats. After the separation of these components to the desired level, whey protein is collected. Depending upon the type of filtration and stages of filtration used the final liquid contains 25-90% protein. Protein with high purity is called Isolate and one with lower purity is called concentrate. Usually, whey concentrate is 80% pure, but different grades are available upon requirement. Filtration is one of the most important stages in the manufacturing of whey proteins. The level of sophistication, process parameters, advanced methods play a crucial role in the quality of the final product. So we will dive a little deeper into this section.
  5. In this section, we will see the most common methods used for the filtration of whey proteins.

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4.1 Ion Exchange Filtration – This method takes advantage of different charges present on the protein. Some protein components are positively charged while some are negative. The liquid whey is sent through a column which has a charged membrane. The oppositely charged membrane attracts protein components while lactose, fats, and carbs are passed through the column to a receptor. Then the proteins attracted to or stuck to the membrane are released using various pH adjusting chemicals and collected.
Advantages of Ion-exchange

  • A cheaper method of production
  • Easy to scale up
  • Can be used for selective separation of whey protein components.

Disadvantages –

      • Chemicals used for the separation of protein from the membrane can change the protein profile and may render them partially denatured.
      • Can change the shape of protein which may reduce bioactivity of proteins.

4.2. Membrane filtration– This method is quite similar to those we see often, filtration using a muslin cloth and in our water purifiers. In this method, the pressure is applied to the feed material which is then passed through a semi-permeable membrane, and the material of interest is collected from the respective side.


4.3. Ultrafiltration- It is also called as cold filtration. In this method, liquid whey is pushed through a membrane or column which has different pore sizes. The fat, carbs, and lactose present in liquid whey have a different size, so they pass through pores to the other side and collected (permeate), while proteins are collected on the column as retentate. This method does not use any harmful chemicals as the pH changes and release agents like Ion exchange is not required.

4.4 Cross-flow microfiltration- This method is similar to the ultrafiltration with exception of the shape of a column, the pore size of the column, and the flow rate of material through the column. The Crossflow microfiltration uses an even smaller pore size hence achieves a higher degree of protein purity by removing even more fats, lactose, and carbs than ultrafiltration.

Summary: All whey proteins are filtered using one of the above methods, the method used impacts the final quality and bioavailability of proteins in the body. Proteins filtered using advanced methods cost more because they help preserve the structure of final protein hence increasing bioavailability and effectiveness.

5. Drying- The liquid whey is then dried in a big spray drier. The liquid whey is sprayed into the dryer in the form of tiny droplets. A stream of hot or cold air is blasted on the tiny droplets, which evaporates liquid, and the solids are collected at the bottom. The solids are known as whey proteins.

6. Blending- Delicious flavors, sweeteners, stabilizers, enzymes, and different other ingredients based on the formulation of different brands are then added to the unflavored or raw protein. Then all the ingredients are blended in a giant blender to obtain a uniform mixture.

7. Quality Testing and packaging- Once blended and the final product is obtained, the product is tested for various quality parameters. If the product meets the quality standards set by the company, then the product is packed in containers and shipped out to consumers.

Summary: It’s a process similar to the formation of curd or cheese and separation of the liquid part followed by filtration and drying.

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