Show side menu

New technologies to take advantage of whey from goat, sheep and cow’s milk in the Mediterranean basin

· Whey has a great protein value, and whey from cow’s milk is are already used to make formula milk and drinks for athletes

· The DAINME-SME project will revalue this milk by-product, from which Egypt pours about 1,000,000 litres to the Nile River every day

· The technologies that will be developed will greatly facilitate the process of obtaining the whey protein, so far very complicated and in the hands of a few multinationals

The manufacture of dairy products such as cheese generates a series of by-products that may have more or less value in the market, or serve as ingredients in other food products. An example of these by-products is whey, which is the aqueous part of milk that does not coagulate in making cheese and is often rejected despite having a high protein value. Thus, for example, in countries like Egypt, one million litres of cheese whey are poured daily into the Nile River, which will go to the Mediterranean Sea.

Whey is a milk by-product obtained in the cheese manufacturing

To take advantage of this serum to manufacture new high-quality products, the IRTA-led project PRIMA DAINME-SME has just been launched. This project will also introduce new technologies to improve the circular economy of small and medium-sized dairy companies in the Mediterranean basin.

PRIMA DAINME-SME places special emphasis on producers of goat and sheep dairy products. Goat and sheep milks, with a reduced production that cannot compete in volume or in industrialization with cow’s, are nevertheless increasingly valued, and cause less problems of intolerances and allergies. Also, goats and sheep are more typical of the Mediterranean area than cows, and are essential to maintain the rural economy, biodiversity and sustainability of rural areas. Dairy products are, in addition, an important part of the Mediterranean diet, and animals such as sheep and goats are more adapted than cows to the Mediterranean climate and territory.

Goat milk production is typical of the Mediterranean territories since ancient times (Mosaic Museum in Istanbul, Turkey)

The DAINME-SME project is led by IRTA and has the participation of EGE University (Turkey), the Tunisian Agrifood Technical Center (CTAA), the Food and Agribusiness Technology Center (FAITC, Egypt), Alimenta SRL (Italy), Ekonek (Spain), SPES (Italy), Panagro (Turkey), ApexAgri (France) and Uniproca (Spain).

More sustainable and economical technologies

One of the project’s lines of work is the concentration of a minor protein with great economic value from whey (αLA). This protein has a high nutritional value, and in the case of cow’s milk, it is already used to make infant formulas and drinks for athletes. In fact, whey’s valorisation has become a key point in the sustainability and competitiveness of cheese factories, as some dairy companies even derive more benefits from the sale of whey proteins, than from the elaboration of cheese.

The αLA protein that is extracted from cheese whey is a key component for the infant formula powder.

The recovery of whey’s protein in sheep and goat milk has not yet been fully developed in the Mediterranean basin, the main reason being that producing whey protein concentrates enriched with αLA is a very complex and expensive process currently only suitable for cow’s milk. It is therefore only in the hands of a few companies.

As a solution, the project suggests using emerging food processing technologies, like the high-pressure processing (HPP), which was up to date only used mainly to pasteurize food through the application of isostatic pressure. Despite this technology being very expensive, the main manufacturer of HPP equipment –the Spain-based company Hiperbaric- has launched a new technology that allows to process large volumes at a very low price (less than € 0.05 / liter).

HPP equipment for liquid food from Hiperbaric company

Another technology that will be developed within this project is the PCD (Pulse Combustion Drying) drying, which uses direct heat to dry the liquid and transforms the whey into a powdered ingredient, thus facilitating its transport and conservation. It is a more sustainable process, because it requires 20 – 30% less energy than the current drying process. As part of the project, a pilot team of this technology will be installed at the IRTA centre in Monells (Girona).

The IRTA team, in front of a PCD drying equipment from Ekonek

Within the DAINME-SME project, other low-cost technologies will also be used to take advantage of the whey protein from cheese whey. An example would be the production of fresh cheeses like ricotta.

The DAINME-SME project is funded by the PRIMA initiative and will last until November 2022.

PRIMA (Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area) is an initiative for research and innovation funded by the European Fund Horizon 2020, which seeks to unite the knowledge and cultural heritage of the Mediterranean countries, in order to develop, among others, areas with water scarcity, providing them with employment opportunities in the field of nutrition and competitiveness for women and entrepreneurs, while conserving ecosystems.