Back before I began my real food journey, I didn’t even know what whey was… I never would have dreamed I would as familiar with it as I am now!
Whey is the cloudy, yellowish liquid that is leftover after milk is curdled. It’s packed full of protein, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes.
There are two kinds of whey that you will encounter in your home dairying adventures:
1. Acid Whey- the whey resulting from cheese in which an acid (like vinegar or lemon juice) has been added to aid in the curdling process. (Some types of mozzarella, lemon cheese, or farmer’s cheese).
2. Sweet Whey– the whey resulting from cheese that is cultured or curdled with rennet instead of additional acid. (Yogurt whey fits in this category, as does soft cheese whey and traditional mozzarella.)
If you’ve ever made cheese, no doubt you’ve been amazed (and maybe even overwhelmed…) by how much whey is leftover after the process. It takes a lot of milk to make a little cheese! But, before you pour it down the drain, WAIT!
There are SO many uses for whey, it’ll make your head spin!
(Please note: real whey is not the same as the powdered “whey” sold in health food stores. They are not interchangeable. )
I’ve compiled a list of ideas that to help you to use up this nourishing byproduct.
I prefer using sweet whey in most of these cases. Be careful when adding the acid whey to things like smoothies, etc, as it might really change the taste of things!
(Some of these uses for whey require the whey to be heated, so if you are interested in keeping all the qualities and enzymes of the raw whey, just skip those.)
16 Uses for Whey
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1. Substitute whey in any baking recipe that calls for water (or even milk). I love making fresh breads and rolls with my leftover whey. Also try it in cornbread, pancakes, waffles, muffins, homemade biscuits, homemade tortillas, and more!
2. Use whey to lacto-ferment vegetables, condiments, sauerkraut, chutneys, jams, etc. This is an area that I have yet to really explore, but it’s on my list! This is an incredibly healthful form of preservation that increases the nutritional value of so many things. Check out the book Nourishing Traditions for more info on this topic. (It is important to use raw whey when you lacto-ferment– not acid whey or cooked whey.)
3. Use whey to soak grains, Nourishing Traditions style. Depending on your recipe, several tablespoons or more can be added to your grain and legume preparations to make them more digestible.
4. Freeze it for later. If you anticipate a milk-less time of year (perhaps when your animals are dried up), you can easily freeze whey for future use. Try putting it in ice cube trays or small cups to make the proper portion sizes. Then pop out the frozen cubes and store in a baggie.
5. Use whey to cook pastas, potatoes, oatmeal, or rice. Boiling the whey will cause it to lose its raw properties. However, if you feel like you are drowning in whey, this is a wonderful way to use it up and add extra flavor to the foods.
6. Add whey to soups and stews. Perhaps it could take the place of some of your homemade stock or broth?
7. Add whey to homemade fruit smoothies or milkshakes. The sky is the limit when it comes to all the flavor combos you can make.
8. Use whey as a hair product. Now, I personally have not yet tried this, so proceed with caution! But I have seen several sources recommend it as a shampoo substitute, hair rinse, or even as hair gel! Not sure if I’ll be trying this, but let me know if YOU do!
9. Feed it to the dogs. Our dogs love it when I pour a little whey on their dry food and make it into a cereal. It’s quite the treat.
10. Make whey lemonade. I’ve seen several delicious-sounding recipes for lemonade-type drinks using whey. It’s on my list of things to try this summer!
11. Use whey to water your plants. Dilute it with a good amount of water (straight whey will “burn” your plants- I learned this the hard way…) and pour on your veggies or flowers (avoid using acid whey here). Think how much your container garden would love that!
12. Feed extra whey to the farm critters. Our chickens love it and so did our pigs.
13. Make ricotta. Ricotta cheese is traditionally made from whey. And it’s so incredibly easy! However, this will require the whey to be heated to 200 degrees, so all the raw enzymes will be lost. Here is my homemade ricotta recipe. I like to make ricotta when I have gallons of extra whey, and then I freeze it for making lasagna later.
14. Pour it in your compost bin. I have yet to do this, but it would be better than dumping it down the drain.
15. Make a whey marinade. Add your favorite spices and seasonings (garlic, salt, pepper, maybe some rosemary…Yum!) to the whey and allow it to marinate your steaks, chicken, fish, or pork chops. The enzymes in the whey help to break down the meat and add flavor.
16. Use whey to stretch your mozzarella. If you’ve ever made mozzarella before, you know that you must stretch the curds at the end of the process. Some recipes say to use the microwave (no thanks!), while others use a pot of hot, salted water. I always use hot whey to stretch my curds–I think it adds more flavor, plus it’s just sitting there anyway. Here’s my traditional mozzarella recipe.
Bonus! 17. Use leftover sweet whey to make this incredibly awesome vintage Lemon Whey Pie recipe.
Now surely I didn’t cover all the uses for whey… What are some of YOUR whey tricks?