In early 2012, the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) established a cooperative research agreement with food industry innovation firm Jones Laffin to patent an “effective system for the economical and effective processing of acid whey.”
North Carolina-based Jones Laffin partnered with ARS to complete the agency development, which involves the extraction of whey protein and lactose from acid whey - a natural by-product of Greek yogurt, cream cheese, and cottage cheese production that is difficult to dispose of and can pollute waterways.
“The new process is an all-natural method of separating the component ingredients of raw acid whey – water, lactose, and protein – and turning them into valuable commodities which can be sold as ingredients in the food industry,” Joe Laffin, president of Jones Laffin, told DairyReporter.com.
The technology will “offer the dairy industry as opportunity to turn a disposal expense into a new revenue enhancement,” he said.
“The result is a new source of valuable, usable protein rather than an economic and environmental risk.”
“Problem of volume”
Greek yogurt is undoubtedly one of the biggest success stories in the food and beverage industry over the last few years. In 2007, Greek yogurt accounted for just 1% of total US yogurt sales. Now the product accounts for more than a third of all yogurts sold across America.
On the back of this growth, however, acid whey has become greater concern for the USDA, said Laffin.
“Acid whey is a really a problem of volume,” he said. “While it can be used in animal feed, its use must be limited. A chief danger is that, if it gets into waterways, it can result in massive fish kills and creation of a ‘dead sea’ effect by depleting oxygen.”
“Although these challenges could be met when the Greek yogurt industry was much smaller, they are now industrial level issues.”
“Since the disposal of acid whey has so threatened the growing Greek yogurt industry, we’re confident the technology will be critical to yogurt manufacturers, and the benefits will have a positive ripple effect not only on our national economy but also our national health,” said Laffin.
The company plans to introduce the technology, which will be suitable for “widespread commercial use”, in the second quarter of 2014.
Texturized whey protein
Through its partnership with the USDA’s ARS, Jones Laffin also boasts an exclusive license within the US and several European countries to develop texturized whey protein (TWP), which is the product of a process that converts whey protein into “a more functional ingredient.”
“Food manufacturers may utilize regular whey protein up to certain levels due to the very nature of protein as an ingredient,” said Laffin.
“TWP addresses those concerns by working in recipes and formulas at significantly higher percentages that traditional whey protein – doing so without altering the flavor, texture or other natural characteristics in products such as cereal, pasta, soups and beverages.”
The combination of the two processes being developed in partnership with the USDA should lead to the an increase in the production of “environmentally conscious, healthier commodities to address consumers’ growing needs and demands for products containing more protein,” Laffin added.