A whey difficult problem

chobani containers in fridgeThere's an interesting article over at Modern Farmer about "the dark side" of Greek yogurt production: whey -- what's left over from the process of making yogurt. A clip from the article by Justin Elliot:

For every three or four ounces of milk, Chobani and other companies can produce only one ounce of creamy Greek yogurt. The rest becomes acid whey. It's a thin, runny waste product that can't simply be dumped. Not only would that be illegal, but whey decomposition is toxic to the natural environment, robbing oxygen from streams and rivers. That could turn a waterway into what one expert calls a "dead sea," destroying aquatic life over potentially large areas. Spills of cheese whey, a cousin of Greek yogurt whey, have killed tens of thousands of fish around the country in recent years.
The scale of the problem--or opportunity, depending on who you ask--is daunting. The $2 billion Greek yogurt market has become one of the biggest success stories in food over the past few years and total yogurt production in New York nearly tripled between 2007 and 2013. New plants continue to open all over the country. The Northeast alone, led by New York, produced more than 150 million gallons of acid whey last year, according to one estimate.
And as the nation's hunger grows for strained yogurt, which produces more byproduct than traditional varieties, the issue of its acid runoff becomes more pressing. Greek yogurt companies, food scientists, and state government officials are scrambling not just to figure out uses for whey, but how to make a profit off of it.

As you know, New York State was the nation's biggest producer of yogurt in 2012, thanks in large part to the Greek yogurt factories in the state (including Chobani). So this is a pressing issue upstate -- especially as companies to continue to expand production. And there doesn't appear to be an easy answer.

Update: Chobani sent along a statement about the situation surrounding whey. It's in full after the jump.

Modern Farmer: Yep, that's the new publication based in Hudson.

From Amy Juaristi, the director of PR for Chobani, via email:

At Chobani, we are committed to being a good community partner. That includes finding responsible uses for whey, a natural byproduct of the process to create authentic strained Greek Yogurt. We are constantly exploring the best ideas and options for beneficial whey use.
Right now, we choose to return whey to farmers, most of whom use it as a supplement to their livestock feed. Some is used as a land-applied fertilizer but only at farms that have nutrient management plans in place with the state environmental conservation agency. A small percentage is also sent to community digesters, where the whey is used to produce energy.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Yogurt Empire State
+ Upstate is yogurt country

Comments

Perhaps give it to Little Bo Peep to have with some of her curds?

This sounds like a problem for the inventors studio at RPI!

So Delicious makes a great coconut milk Greek yogurt. No pesky "whey acid" issues there. :P

This may be a stupid question: but what has Greece been doing with all the whey from Greek yogurt? This can't be a unique problem.

Much as I like Greek yogurt and buy it and eat it, I think Greek yogurt is kind of faddish, possibly connected to our obsession with high protein consumption.

As for the whey in yogurt, it's only a "waste product" (what a relative concept) if you dump it in a water way. It was a source of nutrients when we simply used to stir it back into our cup of (non-strained, non Greek) yogurt and eat it. After all, dehydrated whey is a main ingredient in many of protein powders. So you'd think there'd be an industrial use for the whey byproduct of the Greek yogurt industry to make powdered whey.

Bo Peep? Really? SUNYA graduate, perchance? Along came a sheep that sat down beside her?

What we need is to give tax incentives for tuffets. Problem solved. And allow fracking which will kill all the spiders.

Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey;
Along came a spider,
Who sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away

Here is an interesting and informative piece, "Uses of Whey in the Farmstead Setting".

http://future.aae.wisc.edu/publications/farmstead_whey_use.pdf

Farmers also use milk products as a very effective fertilizer. I wonder if whey can be used in a similar fashion.

http://www.columbiatribune.com/news/local/farmers-turn-to-milk-for-fields/article_a0b2ab6b-5e62-59d8-b771-00128889af1a.html

It's my understanding that pigs can consume it without the complications faced by cows. Is it too late to quit my job and become a pig farmer?

http://thenaturalfarmer.com/article/whey-fed-pigs-lard-health-food

@Lauren: It really does sound like the sort of problem that program encourages its students to tackle.

@chrisck: That's a good question about how it's handled in Greece (or wherever Greek-style yogurt has traditionally been produced).

From the article it sounds like there are a plenty of potential uses for the constituent parts of whey, it's just a matter of figuring out how to extract them efficiently and profitably. (I thought the analogy to oil in this regard was an interesting one.)

@Rob: It's never too late!

They should send it to the Saranac Brewery where they can use it to power their brewery with their anaerobic digester!

Slate just ran a piece on how Wisconsin is looking into whether the acidic brine (whey) that is the by-product of their cheese industry can be used to help de-ice the roads in a more environmental way.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/09/11/more_states_should_copy_wisconsin_s_dairy_innovation.html

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