Dairy Protein Advancements: Microfiltration, Sustainability, and More

Nov 16, 2016


Dairy protein has made a big name for itself as an excellent source of protein. Many consumers now seek dairy protein after intense physical workouts in order to rebuild or retain muscle. But alternative uses, including for weight management, have hordes of consumers (beyond the dedicated athletes and gym goers) shopping for dairy protein, too. With an increasing consumer base, dairy protein is now formulated into dips, soups, snacks, and a host of other products.

In order for dairy protein to succeed mainstream, it must meet some key targets. Taste is one. Everyday consumers won’t necessarily settle for the chalky and sometimes bitter taste of dairy protein as is sometimes found in protein powders and beverages consumed by hardcore athletes.

“Taste is a top priority in food and beverage formulations,” says Terri Rexroat, vice president of U.S. trade services for the U.S. Dairy Export Council (Arlington, VA). “Consumers are less willing to choose between taste and nutrition, but rather they expect health and wellness products to pack a nutritional punch while being delicious.”

And so, dairy specialists around the world are in hot pursuit of better tasting and higher functioning dairy proteins. Breakthroughs within the last several years show just how much dairy, as we know it, is changing.


Micellar Casein and Native Whey
Of all the advances happening in dairy, ultrafiltration is perhaps most notable because it is changing the way that we consume milk’s proteins, casein and whey. Using highly sophisticated filtration technologies, dairy ingredient processors can separate, extract, and concentrate casein and whey more easily than ever before. The result is healthier, more functional, and less-processed dairy proteins.

Take casein. Using ultrafiltration (also referred to as microfiltration), processors can extract casein. When produced in this way, this casein is called micellar casein. Micellar casein is considered a very efficient dietary protein. According to experts at Ingredia Inc. (Wapakoneta, OH), micellar casein has high levels of branched-chain amino acids and essential amino acids, but it’s also a very slow-digesting protein thanks to the reduced use of processing that ultrafiltration makes possible.

The potential benefits of consuming micellar casein include rebuilding broken-down muscle after intense exercise, increased satiety (due to slow digestion of protein) for weight management, and potential use in avoiding malnutrition and sarcopenia because of micellar casein’s highly bioavailable calcium. Less processing also means it’s a highly soluble and mild-flavored protein, which can benefit food and beverage manufacturers.

The other component of milk protein from ultrafiltration is whey, which is also referred to as native whey. While ultrafiltered native whey is a nutritious protein much like traditional whey, native whey also comes with a host of functional benefits, including limited syneresis (resulting in a creamy mouthfeel for protein beverages), lighter color, and lower fat content. By forgoing the acid processing of traditional whey, native whey should also have a milder taste.

Although these protein ingredients have been around for some time, suppliers say that more consumers are now getting educated on their benefits.


Protein for Bars
Since consumers now expect their protein fix in a tasty and otherwise perfect experience, dairy protein suppliers are fine-tuning their proteins to meet each and every preference.

Milk Specialties Global (Eden Prairie, MN) is currently putting a lot of its emphasis on texture. Earlier this year, the company launched BARsoft, a dairy protein designed for soft texture and improved shelf life in high-protein bars. Company vice president and general manager Chris Baughman says that thanks to a proprietary, co-processed matrix of dairy proteins, BARsoft imparts an exceptional sensory experience alongside significantly reduced browning and hardening of bars over time. Browning can occur naturally in dairy protein products due to a number of environmental factors. If left unchecked, it can influence color, flavor, and other important qualities of finished bars.

Alternatively, Milk Specialties has also made available high-protein bar inclusions that promise crunchy and texturized dairy protein. These inclusions are currently available in chocolate and graham cracker flavors and can add up to 4 g of protein to a single bar.


Eliminating Dairy Byproducts
Because dairy proteins and other dairy products are usually made at the expense of byproducts, large-scale dairies and dairy ingredient manufacturers must figure out how to discard or repurpose their leftovers. Any efforts made towards greater efficiency and less waste can only improve a company’s image and its potential for continued business.