Maybe you haven’t seen bottles of it at major grocery chains just yet, but whey beverages are on the way. Where is all this whey coming from? Gallons of liquid are separated from milk solids during yogurt production. That’s what actually gives Greek yogurt its nice, thick consistency; much of the liquid has been removed from straining. This byproduct is called whey. There’s so much whey, in fact, that yogurt producers have the liquid carted away by the truckload. Modern Farmer reports dairy facilities in the Northeast hauled 150 million gallons of whey away in 2012. But as the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
The White Moustache, a Brooklyn dairy, believes whey is “gold.” The company’s neon-colored whey is procured by its yogurt production and contains nothing but milk and probiotics. The liquid that’s left over is as valuable for the body as the yogurt itself. “Within one 8-ounce glass of whey, you get 27 percent of the recommended daily value of calcium,” explains The White Moustache’s Lauren Brown. Currently The White Moustache distributes its plain whey beverage to local gourmet retailers, and soon to come is flavored whey — ginger infused and a lime juice and honey syrup version. Sohha, another small yogurt producer in New York, offers two varieties — lemonade and plain — inside Chelsea Market. “We sell it plain to cook with or to make bread,” says owner Angela Fout. “I drink whey with fresh lemon and a little honey and sugar.”
The benefit of drinking whey is actually not a new phenomenon. One of our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, was known to drink his whey in a beverage called Milk Punch. His recipe, which he mailed to James Bowdoin in 1763, combined whey, brandy and lemon juice; it was considered an elixir used to fight off colds. Mixologists resurrected Franklin’s recipe putting their own spin on it. While chefs like Rob Newton — of Brooklyn’s Seersucker, Wilma Jean and Smith Canteen — and El Rey’s Gerardo Gonzalez have explored the softer side, both developing nonalcoholic beverages. Newton serves his cucumber-infused, fresh mint and pomegranate whey drink at Smith Canteen. Gonzalez created a fennel, tarragon and star anise soda sweetened with simple syrup.
Whey has viscosity, but it’s not thick like drinkable yogurt, and it’s translucent. We should mention, however, that whey on its own is definitely an acquired taste. If taste is an issue, there are more ways to benefit from this nutritional liquid. “It has so much calcium packed into it that the calcium acts as a meat tenderizer because it breaks down enzymes,” says Brown. “I call it the lazy person’s brine.” Whey can be used as brine for turkeys, as a liquid to cook oatmeal, rice, grains and beans, and as a poaching liquid for fish or chicken, which means added calcium to dishes that might not already offer much on their own. “There’s so much you can do with it,” says Brown. “It’s really versatile for both cooking and drinking.”
Kiri Tannenbaum is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Paris and holds an M.A. in food studies from New York University where she is currently an adjunct professor. When her schedule allows, she leads culinary walking tours in New York City and is currently at work on her first book.