It turns out, Little Miss Muffet was really onto something! The value of whey goes far beyond just protein powders and nursery rhymes – it’s actually one of the most multitasking foods around. Get ready to get domestic with our friends at Cultures for Health as they teach us all about this protein (and probiotic) packed superfood and how to turn it into this drool-worthy homemade ricotta cheese! Here’s our cultured friend, Rosalyn…
Have you ever opened up a container of yogurt or sour cream that’s been sitting in the refrigerator for a few days, and you see a watery liquid on top? That liquid is whey and though it may seem unwelcome in our world of modern foods and their uniform appearance, but whey is simply the part of a cultured milk product that does not contain the milk proteins and fats!
It does contain protein, though, called whey proteins, and it is loaded with probiotics.
Any time you culture milk, whether you’re making yogurt, milk kefir, buttermilk, sour cream, or cheese, what happens is that the milk becomes more acid, and the acid breaks down the cell membranes in the proteins, making them stick together. That’s why the milk becomes more solid. As the solids start to form, the liquid is left behind, and that’s the whey. The proteins in whey are less likely to clump, so they hang around in the liquid.
Whey can be dried, leaving behind just the whey proteins. You often see “whey protein” as an ingredient in processed foods, or protein powders. It’s a very efficient way of adding protein to your diet without a lot of calories! What else can you use whey for? Whey is fairly acid, and it also contains a lot of the bacteria that caused the milk to ferment in the first place. You can use that acid and bacteria to do some extra duty in fermenting other foods!
If you heat up the whey, it will turn into a soft cheese. Here is a recipe for making ricotta cheese, using the whey that is strained off from yogurt or cheese-making.
Homemade Fresh Ricotta Cheese
Ingredients and Supplies
Cooking pot and stirring utensil
Whey left over or strained from yogurt, kefir, cheese or etc.
Heat the whey in the cooking pot, to just boiling. Turn the heat off and let it cool down a little, stirring occasionally. You’ll get whey solids clumping up in the liquid.
Set up the strainer with the coffee filter inside, and pour the whey mixture through it into the large bowl. Most of the solids will be at the bottom of the pot, so if you pour slowly, you’ll get most of the liquid poured off first, and the solids will stay in the strainer. When the strainer gets full, transfer the contents to the small bowl, rinse out the filter (or use a new one), and keep straining.
Once it’s all strained, get all the solids back into the strainer, and let it sit over the large bowl for a while until all the liquid is out. This could take an hour or more.
Now you have ricotta cheese! You can transfer it all to the small bowl for serving or for storage.
There are lots of other things you can do with the leftover whey! Add it to a protein shake for an extra boost and for a little flavor. Keep feta cheese fresh by storing it in a bath of whey. Use it instead of chicken or vegetable broth in cooking or add whey to hummus or pesto to thin it out. Whey will keep up to six months in the refrigerator, and up to a year in the freezer.