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Without realizing it, until probably this very moment, you have been destined for the dairy ingredient business since you were 4 years old, reciting Little Miss Muffet, who first introduced us all to curds and whey.

Whey protein is one of the two major groups of proteins found in milk and is a by-product of cheese-making. This whey by-product is in liquid form and is known as raw whey. Raw whey is composed of naturally occurring macronutrients – protein, fat, minerals, lactose and water as well as micronutrients that are biologically active – alpha lactalbumin, beta lactalbumin, lactoferrin, glycomacropeptides, igG and peptoaminoacids. There are two main methods used to separate whey protein: membrane filtration and ion exchange. We will start with the latter ion exchange which, in terms of nutrition, is our proverbial spider.

Ion exchange is a chemical method that utilizes pH adjustment in order to achieve protein separation. Raw whey is sent through a column that has an affinity for protein. The protein is collected and all the other macronutrients pass through. Chemical reagents sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid are introduced in order to release the protein, by adjusting the pH.

While this yields a very high protein ingredient – 90-96%, with no fat or carbs (lactose), this pH adjustment can denature the protein and can reduce the biological activity of the protein and it’s micronutrients. Reduced or eliminated are antioxidants, essential amino acids, protein digestion, calcium absorption and immune support to name a few. The total carb savings in ion exchange is 6-10g; the same amount found in nutrient powerhouses almonds and spinach respectively. Lastly, due to the protein denaturing, ion exchange has noticeable flavor differences. Ion exchange protein tastes processed; salty with less dairy notes.

Membrane filtration is a cold temperature processing method that allows for the production of a high protein finished whey where the protein remains intact (undenatured) and is not treated with chemical reagents. Membrane filtration uses a filter with different pore sizes which allows carbohydrates and minerals in raw whey to pass through and retain the whey protein. While concentrating the proteins membrane filtration does not change the protein profile of naturally occurring whey proteins, where as ion exchange changes the protein profile and selectively takes away the more beneficial bioactives like alphalactalbumin and other components, which are the most valuable components of whey and have functions like stress relieving, faster recovery and immune development. Membrane filtration is century long technology that is similar to the one used in water filtration at home and works by size exclusion to retain those valuable components of whey.

Membrane filtration yields a high protein product with a small amount of naturally occurring fat, lactose and minerals, for which the micronutrients are biologically active. Membrane filtration whey tastes as it should, clean with pleasant, native dairy notes.

Membrane filtration and ion exchange yield nutritional differences in their finished ingredients, and for anyone paying a pretty penny for whey protein and their health and fitness, I think that membrane filtration is the superior product. The extremely low carbs in ion exchange protein may not be worth losing the bioactivity of whey protein and it’s micronutrients.

Milk Specialties Global only offers dairy ingredients brought to you by cutting edge food technology that your body can utilize. Little Miss Muffet taught you about curds and whey, we’ll help with the rest.

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