Whey Protein's Origin and Uses

Origin and Original Uses

Whey protein, still occasionally called whey for short, is a topic of much discussion in the fitness world these days. It originated about 8,000 years ago when the by-products of cheese were no longer just thrown away or given to farm animals as a source of extra calories during the winter. People were becoming more conscientious in their use of resources. Meanwhile, whey protein also became more well-known for its potential health benefits.

“As early as 460 BC, the Greek physician Hippocrates prescribed whey to his patients for immune system booster, gastrointestinal ailments and skin conditions.”

Mingruo Guo (Editor), Whey Protein Production, Chemistry, Functionality, and Applications

In the seventeenth century onward, whey was used medicinally for sepsis, wound healing, and stomach disease. It found its way into a variety of foods such as soups and butter, and it was even bathed in by members of the upper class because of its presumed skin benefits.

What It's Known For Now and Current Uses

This liquid residue has become so much more than a survival aid, medicine, and luxury. It wasn’t discovered until much later on that whey has even more complex benefits than ever imagined. It’s now known as “a high-quality source of protein rich in the amino acid cysteine, which can bolster the body's antioxidant defenses, and glutamine, which can benefit intestinal health. There may also be an anti-cancer benefit with undenatured whey maintaining its bioactive peptide contents.”

New uses for whey protein are being discovered quite often, and we’re excited to dive into this incredible supplement more today.

According to Examine.com, “whey protein is a collection of proteins found in whey, a byproduct of cheesemaking. When a coagulant (usually renin) is added to milk, the curds (casein) and whey separate; whey protein is the water-soluble part of milk.” Aside from the color of the protein powder form of whey today, it’s hard to tell it’s even derived from milk! Yet, if you’re at all familiar with modern whey protein, the white or cream-colored powder form you’ve likely seen took years to develop.

It really has only been in the past century that attempts to dry the liquid residue have been successful, which now enables people to easily add whey protein to shakes, oats, drinks, etcetera. The dry powder forms contain different concentrations of protein and differ in terms of the speed they’re absorbed as a result of various levels of processing. 

How The Process Of Making It Has Evolved

Speaking of processing, how does the water-soluble part of milk become this powder supplement? Let’s take a more in-depth look at how it came to be.

The process of creating a dry powder form of whey protein began in the 1920s. People recognized the health benefits of whey, but the solids hadn’t been isolated before. The four different industrial methods initially attempted were: 

“Conventional hot roller milk driers; heating until a concentrated liquid was obtained, cooling to solidification, and then extruding in a tunnel; two-stage steam heating; and a combination of spray drying and rotary drum drying.”

Michael Tunick, Whey Processing, Functionality and Health Benefits

The same book says the first notable innovation to whey processing was with the application of the long-tube multiple-effect evaporator in 1933. The second was the spay drier, developed in the 1860s but applied to whey beginning in 1937. Then, membrane filtration in the 1970s finally allowed whey protein to be available in a water-soluble and non-heat-denatured form, which gave whey many more uses.

This popular product has a detailed history, only some of which we can include in this short-length blog post. We encourage you to check out some of the literature linked throughout to learn more about the power of whey protein!

Are YOU interested in adding whey protein to your regimen? We'd love to create a personalized program for you!