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Turning yoghurt waste into new products

25 March 2015

Researchers at the Wisconsin Centre for Dairy Research in the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences are developing technology to allow waste generated in the production of Greek yoghurt into a high value by-product. The acid whey waste produced by manufacturers can be used in animal feed or spread over farmland, with companies sometimes paying for disposal. This has been of increasing concern given the growth of the Greek yoghurt market. The increase in waste could have a negative environmental impact as if it gets into waterways, it can result in massive fish kills and depleted oxygen availability.

"The whole goal is to take this problematic mixture of stuff — acid whey — and isolate all of the various components and find commercial uses for them," says Dean Sommer, a food technologist with Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research (CDR)

In contrast to acid whey, the process for extracting valuable proteins from sweet whey, a by-product of cheese, is well established. It is far more difficult in the case of yoghurt waste as the ‘problematic mixture’ Dean Sommer refers to includes lactose, lactic acid, calcium, phosphorus and galactose. The presence of galactose and lactic acid prevent separation by simple drying techniques. 

As an alternative, CDR scientists are employing the use of high-tech filters, or membranes, to separate out the various components. Some manufacturers are already installing this technology in their commercial plants with the key area of interest being lactose. Its potential for resale as a food-grade ingredient may offer manufacturers a good source of additional income from what was once going down the drain.

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