Creative Ways to Use Your Leftover Whey
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If you’ve made your own Greek yogurt, labneh, or other fresh cheese, you’re left with a bunch of whey. This thin liquid that’s leftover is from the coagulation of proteins and fats in milk and cream during the cheese-making process. But don’t pour it down the drain! Whey is actually pretty useful stuff.
First, determine which kind of whey you’re working with. Sweet whey and acidic whey are byproducts of different dairy items and are good for different uses. As the name implies, acid whey (often a byproduct of homemade yogurt) is higher in acid and therefore has different applicability. It’s also important to note whether you added salt to your dairy before straining. Salt in the whey may limit its use as well.
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The Spruce / Julie Bang
Uses for Sweet, Unsalted Whey
Sweet whey is the whey that comes from things made with rennet, like most cheeses. Try these uses for the sweeter whey:
- Make ricotta: True ricotta cheese is made from the whey that’s left over from making mozzarella and other fresh cheeses. To make ricotta, the whey is heated often with fresh milk and citric acid. Then the curds are harvested.
- Form mozzarella: If you’re making mozzarella, you must stretch the curds in hot water. You can use the whey instead of plain water for more flavor.
- Make butter: To use whey to make butter, leave it to cool for a few hours or overnight. The cream present in whey will rise to the top and can be scooped away and used to make butter.
- Pest control: Strain the whey well and dilute 1:1 with water. Spray on plants to help keep powdery mildew at bay.
- Amend soil acidity: If you’re growing plants that need more acidity, like tomatoes, or if you want to turn your hydrangeas blue, bust out the whey. It will lower the pH of the soil.
Uses for Acidic, Unsalted Whey
Acid whey comes from products that have used bacterial action to acidify the food, like goat cheese, yogurt, sour cream, and labneh. Use acidic whey for these sorts of things:
- Smoothies and mixed drinks: Whey is full of probiotics and has a bracing acidity. It may not be palatable on its own, but try it in smoothies or even cocktails. Replace milk or juice in a mixed drink for a bit of creamy tang. Just be aware that whey does have lactose in it still, so if you’re intolerant, steer clear.
- Make lacto-fermented soda: A dash of whey can be used to make a refreshing, effervescent beverage. Simply combine whey with soda water and, if desired, simple syrup for sweetness.
- Kickstart lacto-fermentation: Since acid whey comes from lacto-fermented foods, it’s already got a bunch of the good bacteria in it you need to get a good ferment. Add a tablespoon or two to a new ferment to get it bubbling for all sorts of veggies like cabbage, carrots, radishes, and more.
- Feed it to animals: This is an age-old practice in Emilia-Romagna. The whey from the production of Parmigiano Reggiano is fed to the pigs that ultimately become prosciutto. Don’t have pigs? Add some to your dog’s diet, or supplement feed for backyard chickens.
- Add to your beauty regimen: The acidity of whey tones skin, so add it to your bath water or swab on with a cotton ball for dewy skin.
- Condition your hair: If you’re using an alkaline shampoo (such as the no-poo method), whey acts as a balancer, neutralizing the pH. Even with regular shampoos, rinsing your hair with whey can make it smoother and shinier.
Uses for Salted Whey
Sometimes cheese recipes have you add salt before straining. This leaves leftover salted whey, which can be used for the following:
You may have leftover whey after making cheese or yogurt. Don't toss it! Learn how to add the leftovers to your food, plants, and body care.
Cheesemaking – what to do with all that whey?
You’ve conquered your demons and made cheese- good for you!! (If you haven’t yet made cheese, subscribe to our YouTube channel, join one of our cheesemaking classes in Berkeley, CA or check out our home cheesemaking kits – you won’t regret it). Now you find yourself with a pound of delicious homemade cheese and three quarts of whey! What to do with all that protein-rich goodness?
First, some things to know about whey: Whey is milk with most of the fats and solids removed (those should now in your cheese). It’s primarily water but also contains whey protein and lactose (milk sugar) which is water soluble and ends up draining off with the whey – for the lactose-intolerant, beware.
The most valuable ingredient in whey is the whey protein. Milk contains two types of protein – caseins and whey proteins. Most of the casein ends up in your cheese and most of the whey protein (which is also water soluable) ends up in the whey, as you would guess based on the name.
In the early days of large-scale cheesemaking, cheesemakers would have to be creative to find uses for their whey. Farmstead cheesemakers have commonly fed it directly back to the animals as a protein source, of course, and many still do. But once cheesemaking became industrial and moved off the farm, the industry had to find another way to dispose of all that “waste”.
Because whey is an excellent source of protein the cheesemaking companies began marketing their leftover product to companies which make protein-enriched products such as protein shakes and bars. Before too long, the protein industry became so huge that it nearly overcame the cheesemaking side of the business.
Today, there’s such a large demand for industrial whey protein (check ingredient labels on health foods and you’ll see it everywhere), that marginal cheese has become the by-product and whey the primary product for some large-scale cheesemakers. There are even middlemen-type distributors that buy dried whey and resell to the packaged food industry.
That said, you’re probably not going to sell your three quarts of whey to a protein bar manufacturer. Why would you when there are so many uses for it at home? The end use depends upon whether the whey is salted or not and there are way more options for the unsalted variety but here are some general ideas:
- Super Rich Homemade Stock – Save up your bones and/or veggie trimmings (you can keep them in the freezer for a few weeks until you have enough). When you have what you need, cover the bones and trimmings with whey instead of water, bring to a boil then simmer on low a couple of hours to extract the flavor. Strain out the bones and trimmings and reduce the liquid until it’s about half or even a third of its starting volume. Be sure to tasted for salt since reducing it will increase the saltiness. Freeze in ice cube trays and use as needed in place of bouillon or stock. DELICIOUS!
- Baking – Use in place of water or milk in bread or pastry recipes. Be sure to omit the salt.
Try it in beverages:
- Protein Shakes and Smoothies – Big industry isn’t the only one able to take advantage of this protein rich product. Add a little to your shakes and smoothies for a protein boost.
- Drink it Up! – The acidic tang of whey may be a bit of an acquired taste but I actually find it quite refreshing. Cultured whey has probiotics that can help balance the microflora in your gut as an extra bonus to the protein. Combine 1 part juice or fresh fruit with 4 parts cultured whey and cap for a couple of days to make a sparkling beverage (careful not to build up too much pressure or your drink could become a geyser when you open it!).
- Booze it Up! – There are so many ways to get creative with whey. Inspired by my awesome homesteading buddy Heidi Kooy of Itty Bitty Farm in the City, who brought a whey-based lemonade to a potluck, I turned my extra whey into a martini I dubbed “Lemon Meringue Pie”. Vodka, limoncello (if you have it), lemon juice and whey mixed together made a lovely, almost (but not quite) creamy drink reminiscent of its namesake. Equally tasty with lime – try it!
Use it in the garden:
- Powdery Mildew Assistance – If you’re a gardener, especially near the coast or in wet climates, you’ve battled powdery mildew, that icky whitish-gray powder that settles on your cucumber, pea and squash leaves. No need to buy expensive treatments at the garden store – spray on some whey and the acidity will change the pH of the leaves, discouraging powdery mildew.
- Nitrogen Supplement for the Garden – Whey is not only full of protein – it’s full of nitrogen! Bad news for big companies that need to discard tens of thousands of gallons of whey but great news for the cheesemaker who is also a home gardener. Small scale wins again. Be sure to dilute your whey about 1 part whey to 6 parts water to avoid burning the roots of your plants.
- Lower Garden Soil pH – Do you grow plants that prefer soil with a higher acidity like blueberries or tomatoes? Strain your whey incredibly well with doubled up cheese cloth or butter muslin then pour it into the soil. The acidity will benefit your plants! Again, be sure to dilute the whey – 1 part whey to 6 parts water.
Use it in other home projects:
- Lacto-Fermentation – If you’re a junkie for fermented goods like I am, you might appreciate the ability to speed up the process that whey gives you. Instead of adding salt to produce you intend to ferment, you just add the whey – fermentation will occur much more quickly than you’re accustomed to so keep an eye on it. You can add salt to taste if you like. Make sure they whey you’re using is from cultured cheese. Quick cheese made using citric acid like quick mozzarella or ricotta doesn’t contain the all-important microorganisms to ferment your veggies and will just create a putrid disaster.
- Feed to the Animals – Obviously not everyone can take advantage of this use, but we mix whey in with feed for our backyard chickens for a protein boost. It’s especially useful during moulting when they need a little extra protein to grow new feathers. Unfortunately, there isn’t much calcium left in whey, as it’s all helping to maintain the structure of your cheese at this point. I’ve heard of people feeding whey to their dogs as well, though we do not – I suspect that, like milk, it’s not advisable to feed whey to adult cats.
- Bathe in It? – Now this I have to admit I haven’t tried, but I’ve been assured by a true Swiss Miss who studied cheesemaking with the pros in the alps that it softens your skin like nothing else. Some of the students who have taken my cheesemaking workshops told me it made their hair super duper soft. Worth a shot??
- Ricotta – Many people ask about making ricotta from leftover whey. In fact, ricotta means “re-cooked” in Italian. If you made cheese using a culture then you must do this -it’s the ultimate re-use. You still end up with some whey to use up, but you get some additional cheese from it. Take 1-2 gallons of fresh whey (fewer than 2 hours old) from cheesemaking and heat to 190°F). Skim the floating curds from the top and enjoy! Yield is low but it’s still akin to getting something from nothing. Keep in mind, however, that if you made simple cheese by adding acid (like citric acid, lemon juice or vinegar), you won’t be able to get ricotta out of just heating the whey – you’ll need to add an acid like vinegar or lemon juice to get the tiny ricotta curds – and even then your yield will be low.
- Mysost or Gjetost – These are Scandinavian cheeses made from leftover whey which has been cooked at a low temperature for 24-28 hours to reduce, then added to heavy cream. It’s traditionally served on toast. I’ve cooked whey in a crock pot with the lid off for 48 hours and ate the concentrated solids and it resembled what might happen if spray cheese and Vegemite had a strange little baby! Try it, it’s strangely delicious.
- Freeze for later – You can always freeze your whey for later. I recommend splitting it into smaller, manageable batches and freezing separately. It will keep in the freezer for up to 6 months, possibly longer.
I know I’ve barely scratched the surface here on whey’s uses. Check out this video to see how we use whey in our house!
You don’t have whey yet?? You clearly need a cheesemaking kit!
Better yet, come visit us in Oakland, California and take one of our cheesemaking classes. Learn to make camembert, mozzarella, burrata, ricotta, chèvre, yogurt, feta, paneer and more!
If you’re unable to make the trip to us, you can start by learning how to make fresh chèvre by watching our video below. It’s simple and delicious (and nothing like that garbage you might be used to buying at the grocery store!
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You've conquered your demons and made cheese- good for you!! (If you haven't yet made cheese, subscribe to our YouTube channel, join one of our cheesemaking classes in Berkeley, CA or check out our home cheesemaking kits – you won't regret it). Now you find yourself with a pound of delicious homemade cheese and three