What is whey? From the sing-song lines of quaint nursery rhymes describing Miss. Muffet eating her curds and whey, to the body-building enthusiast at the gym grunting with their plastic containers of whey protein shakes, this health food is described in many different contexts. Some people refer to liquid whey, others discuss it in the form of powders, hydrolysates, isolates or concentrates; there is sweet whey, acid whey, chocolate whey, strawberry whey, goat whey, mineral whey…it is all very confusing! So in the midst of all this whey hype, let’s take a time out to explore what real whey is- the wonderful whole food that has been treasured by many traditional cultures for its robust nutritional profile.
Most people today think of dairy as plain, unfermented milk, and are familiar with wiping off a bright white moustache after finishing a tall glass of the cold creamy stuff. However, this was not always the case. Before the industrialized practices of refrigeration and pasteurization became commonplace, many people enjoyed their milk products soured or fermented in the forms of yogurt, cheese, kefir, clabber, creme fraiche, or curds and whey. When left out to sour or when cultured with friendly lactic-acid-producing bacteria, raw milk undergoes a process of fermentation wherein the bacteria start to digest or break down the milk sugars (lactose) and milk proteins (casein).Through this process, there is a natural separation of firm white globs from the liquid portion of the milk. These white curds are the casein-containing portion of the milk, which are further fermented and processed into cheeses. The remaining tart liquid is whey.
Whey has been used in traditional cuisine for centuries, and was known by Greek doctors as “healing water” for it’s strength-building properties. Today however, whey is considered a waste product of the cheese and yogurt industries. The wildly popular greek yogurt industry has been under scrutiny from environmental agencies recently for the gallons upon gallons of “whey waste” that they must get rid of after processing their strained yogurt products. For every four pounds of milk, only one pound of yogurt is made, and the rest is a mixture of whey, chemicals and other acidic byproducts. Industries drowning in whey have been scrambling to figure out just what to do with all of this tangy liquid and many have found an outlet in the sports nutrition industry where leftover whey is being powdered, flavoured and marketed as a muscle-building, energy-boosting supplement. Sounds like a very solid plan, except for the fact that the whey from big industry is truly waste- high heat pasteurized and subject to several acid baths. Any potentially beneficial nutrients are obliterated and mingled with nasty toxins during production. Supplement companies have tried desperately to “purify” their products by isolating different parts of the protein portion of the whey, which is why you get so many different formulations on the market such as isolates, hydrosylates, concentrates, etc. This fractioning subjects the already destroyed whey to even more sketchy chemical processes and eliminates co-factors, rendering any possible remaining nutrients completely un-bioavailable. So despite the luring claims on those big black tubs of peanut-butter chocolate whey protein, these commercial powders are certainly not going to help your body get stronger.
Recipe: Homemade Whey
When made properly in small batches from cultured dairy, whey has incredibly unique healing properties. Rich with biologically active proteins and protein fractions, it has a high concentration of essential amino acids that are readily used to support vital biological functions in the body. Among these beneficial factors is:
- Lactoferrin, a multifunctional protein with iron-binding properties that acts as a powerful antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory
- Bovine serum albumin (BSA), a substance high in amino acids that has been shown to support infection-fighting white blood cells, increase antioxidant activity and maintain healthy cholesterol levels in the body
- Immunoglobulins to support disease control by bolstering immunity
- Probiotic organisms to promote optimal digestion and full nutrient absorption by balancing the gut flora
- Essential amino acids in a highly bioavailable form to act as building blocks for proteins
- Glutathione precursors, to boost production of the body’s most powerful antioxidant
- Minerals such as potassium, iron and zinc in balanced amounts
- Vitamins notably vitamin B2 or riboflavin which helps the body to convert carbohydrates into fuel
Homemade whey has many uses including making lacto-fermented vegetables, condiments or beverages; soaking and sprouting nuts or grains; or as an additive to smoothies, sauces and stocks. The process to make whey is simple and uses things you probably already have around the house.
Raw Milk (as much as you want/need) left at room temperature for 2 days
Juice of 3 limes/lemons or a cup of good quality yogurt (or kefir grains)
1 large glass bowl
1 thin, clean dishtowel or unbleached cheesecloth
1 wooden spoon
Prepare the raw milk. Add the lemon juice, kefir or yoghurt and let stand for 2 days (more might be required). It will appear to “sour” and the curds separate (solidify). This is good. I prefer to do this this with yoghurt or kefir for the probiotic profile.
Line a large strainer with an unbleached cheesecloth or thin, clean dish towel and set strainer in large bowl. Pour soured milk into the cloth, cover and allow to sit out at room temperature for several hours. The liquid whey will begin to drip into the bowl, while the milk solids will stay collected in the cloth.
When the dripping slows, tie up the cloth into a sac with the milk solids inside. Although tempting, do not squeeze the curds to get the remaining liquid out. Instead, tie the cloth to a wooden spoon, placing it over a pitcher so that the sac containing the milk solids is suspended inside. Allow this to hang for an additional several hours (I generally leave mine overnight) or until the dripping completely stops. At that point, pour the liquid whey from the large bowl or pitcher into a small glass jar for storage- it will last 6 months refrigerated. The curds left in the strainer are a tasty cream cheese rich with healthy fats, that can be used as a nutrient dense spread or dip.
This second step ensures that you are getting all of the whey to separate from the curds. There is no one way to do this either; get creative with straining methods! For example, you can tie the cloth to the kitchen faucet and place a bowl in the sink to collect the whey, or onto a knob on your cabinets so that the whey collects into a container on the counter.
Vessel: 1-quart/1-liter wide-mouth jar, or a larger jar or crock Ingredients (for 1 quart/1 liter): 2 pounds/1 kilogram of vegetables per quart/liter, any varieties of cabbage alone or in combination, or at least half cabbage and the remainder any combination of radishes, turnips, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, shallots, leeks, garlic, greens, peppers, or other vegetables Approximately 1 tablespoon salt (start with a little less, add if needed after tasting)
Prepare the vegetables. Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and reserve. Scrub the root vegetables but do not peel. Chop or grate all vegetables into a bowl. The purpose of this is to expose surface area in order to pull water out of the vegetables, so that they can be submerged under their own juices. The finer the veggies are shredded, the easier it is to get juices out, but fineness or coarseness can vary with excellent results. (Fermenting whole vegetables or large chunks requires a saltwater brine)
Salt and season. Salt the vegetables lightly and add seasonings as you chop. Sauerkraut does not require heavy salting. Taste after the next step and add more salt or seasonings, if desired. It is always easier to add salt than to remove it. (If you must, cover the veggies with dechlorinated water, let this sit for 5 minutes, then pour off the excess water.) Squeeze the salted vegetables with your hands for a few minutes (or pound with a blunt tool). This bruises the vegetables, breaking down cell walls and enabling them to release their juices. Squeeze until you can pick up a handful and when you squeeze, juice releases (as from a wet sponge).
Pack the salted and squeezed vegetables into your jar. Press the vegetables down with force, using your fingers or a blunt tool, so that air pockets are expelled and juice rises up and over the vegetables. Fill the jar not quite all the way to the top, leaving a little space for expansion. The vegetables have a tendency to float to the top of the brine, so it’s best to keep them pressed down, using one of the cabbage’s outer leaves, folded to fit inside the jar, or a carved chunk of a root vegetable, or a small glass or ceramic insert.
Screw the top on the jar; lactic acid bacteria are anaerobic and do not need oxygen (though they can function in the presence of oxygen). However, be aware that fermentation produces carbon dioxide, so pressure will build up in the jar and needs to be released daily, especially the first few days when fermentation will be most vigorous.
Wait. Be sure to loosen the top to relieve pressure each day for the first few days. The rate of fermentation will be faster in a warm environment, slower in a cool one. Some people prefer their krauts lightly fermented for just a few days; others prefer a stronger, more acidic flavour that develops over weeks or months.
Taste after just a few days, then a few days later, and at regular intervals to discover what you prefer. Along with the flavour, the texture changes over time, beginning crunchy and gradually softening. Move to the refrigerator if you wish to stop (or rather slow) the fermentation. In a cool environment, kraut can continue fermenting slowly for months. In the summer or in a heated room, its life cycle is more rapid; eventually it can become soft and mushy.
Surface growth. The most common problem that people encounter in fermenting vegetables is surface growth of yeasts and/or molds, facilitated by oxygen. Many books refer to this as “scum,” but I prefer to think of it as a bloom. It’s a surface phenomenon, a result of contact with the air. If you should encounter surface growth, remove as much of it as you can, along with any discoloured or soft kraut from the top layer, and discard. The fermented vegetables beneath will generally look, smell, and taste fine. The surface growth can break up as you remove it, making it impossible to remove all of it. Don’t worry.
Enjoy your kraut! I start eating it when the kraut is young and enjoy its evolving flavour over the course of a few weeks (or months in a large batch). Be sure to try the sauerkraut juice that will be left after the kraut is eaten. Sauerkraut juice packs a strong flavour, and is unparalleled as a digestive tonic or hangover cure.
Develop a rhythm. Start a new batch before the previous one runs out. Get a few different flavours or styles going at once for variety. Experiment! Variations: Add a little fresh vegetable juice or “pot likker” and dispense with the need to squeeze or pound. Incorporate mung bean sprouts . . . hydrated seaweed . . . shredded or quartered brussels sprouts . . . cooked potatoes (mashed, fried, and beyond, but always cooled!) . . . dried or fresh fruit . . . the possibilities are infinite . . .
Recipe from: Katz, Sandor Ellix. Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, 2nd Edition
See optional modifications for each dosha below.
- 1/2 cup of plain organic yogurt
- 1 cup of water
- 1/8 tsp turmeric powder or 1 medium root
- 1/8 tsp ginger powder or 1 inch sq root
- 1/8 tsp cinnamon powder – or same full/dried
- 1/8 tsp cardamon powder
- pinch black pepper
- 3 saffron stigmas – or marigold/calendula flowers
- 1 tsp of raw honey
Optional – you can add mangoes, berries or coconut
1. Place the yogurt in a blender.
2. Add the water, spices and honey.
3. Blend thoroughly for 1 minute.
4. Alternatively one can use a hand blender or a ball jar with an airtight lid to “shake it up”.
5. Take 1/2 cup of this probiotic drink after each meal to increase the digestion, boost beneficial bacteria in the gut and strengthen the blood.
Optional Doshic Variations
This recipe is great as is for Vata types and should be taken regularly after meals to reduce gas, bloating and constipation symptoms.
Pitta types should replace the honey with yacon syrup which is more cooling (and also appropriate for diabetics). If available they should use homemade yogurt, as this is more cooling and less sour than its store bought counterpart.
Kapha types should use plain goat yogurt rather than cow yogurt, as this tends to be easier to digest. They can double the amount of cinnamon and ginger and add in a pinch more black pepper. If there is a strong Kapha imbalance such as congestion, cough, excessive mucus, excessive weight or obesity, one should reduce the amount of yogurt in half.
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