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April 24, 2020 2 min read

We don't make a secret of our love of dairy products: Give us all the yogurt, cheese, and labneh, and we're happy like California cows. But we often forget about whey, the cloudy, watery liquid left behind after straining thick yogurts and cheeses (think Greek-style yogurt and ricotta). Whey is often seen as a byproduct en route to yogurt-y goodness, but some yogurt makers and chefs are experimenting with ways to get consumers to eat and enjoy it in its own right.

So, What Is Whey?

The straining process is what helps yogurt thicken up to the desired consistency—the longer you strain, the thicker the yogurt, and the more whey gets extracted. There are two distinct types of whey: Acid whey, the stuff that gets strained out of yogurt and ricotta-like cheeses. Sweet whey, which is often used to make the whey protein powder supplements you'll find at any health food store, is leftover from the process of making harder cheese like cheddar and Swiss.

Whey Too Much to Go Around

These days, there's a lot more acid whey to go around than ever before, thanks to the increasing popularity of thick, strained yogurts and mega-brands like Chobani and Fage. So where does it all go? In truth, a lot goes down the drain. Some big dairy makers will bring truckloads of whey to nearby farms, where it gets mixed into fertilizer and livestock feed, as Modern Farmer reported in 2013. Some scientists are attempting to find ways to make acid whey commercially valuable, just like the whey protein powders derived from sweet whey have become a popular health supplement. And now, some yogurt makers are selling acid whey as a bottled beverage, right next to the coconut water and cold-pressed juices at the supermarket.

Whey: The Next Green Juice?

Brooklyn-based yogurt company The White Moustache has developed a small cult following devoted to its thick and incredibly luscious strained yogurt with various preserves in flavors like quince and sour cherry. Founder Homa Dashtaki is trying to grow her yogurt production in order to meet demand, but says she won't expand without finding a market for the whey leftover from her yogurt-making process. She's currently pushing a new line of pre-bottled flavored whey drinks, which are packaged and branded just like the bottled juices and iced teas you can find in the refrigerated section at Whole Foods Market. Since January, the grocery chain has begun carrying the 16-oz. bottles of whey, which come in no-sugar-added flavors like honey-lime, ginger, and passion fruit.

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