whey protein

Where Does Whey Protein Come From?

Whey Protein powder is worldwide consumed among 'fitness lovers', and not that lovers. It first started as a supplement, and it's now  considered another food source more to choose from.  But, Where does whey protein come from, and how is it made?

In this post we'll talk about whey protein, the characteristics of this food and the different manufacturing process to get the final product.

Scroll down and enjoy!!

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Athletes need higher protein intakes (study) compared to traditional recommendations. Reaching such amounts from normal foods is sometimes hard or non-adherent.

Whey protein is the food with the highest %protein/100g, with a 65-90% protein depending on the product (study). Taking whey protein is an easy way to reach such amounts and keep building muscle mass overtime.

Biological value of Whey Protein

The biological value of a protein gives you information of how good of a protein source that is.

Based on protein digestibility, net protein utilization and amino acid profile (number of essential amino acids present and quantities), you can determine the protein quality of different protein sources (study), and compare between them

Protein Sources Biological Value

Whey protein products is the protein source with the highest biological value . It provides all essential amino acids with a very high digestibility.

When compared to plant based proteins, whey protein shows a higher anabolic response and muscle protein synthesis (study)


Types of Whey Protein

There are different whey protein products, each of them with a different manufacturing process.

Today we'll focus on whey protein, but there are other plant-based proteins with different extraction and purification methods.

Types of Whey Protein

  1. Whey concentrate
  2. Whey isolate
  3. Hydrolysed whey protein
  4. Casein

Whey concentrate and isolate are the same product with different protein concentrations.

Hydrolysed whey protein, however, provides "broken" amino acids, which makes it easier to digest (study). Lastly, casein is another "raw material", used as a slow release protein source.

All four are purified and dried into powder. But purification methods and downstream processing are different.


Whey Protein Concentrate

The best-seller in most of the cases. The protein content usually ranges between 65-80g/100g product, containing also some fats and trace amounts of carbohydrates.


Whey concentrate provides enough protein to build muscle, while giving more room for sweeteners, flavouring and other species to make it taste good. Usually, whey protein concentrate flavours are better than those from isolates.

One serving provides around 20-24g, within the recommended dose for muscle building (study). It also shows the best quality/price ratio. It's considerably cheaper than other proteins.


Fraud is common within this products. There are very few patents assuring quality and exact quantity of protein,

Companies always put excess of low value nitrogenous compounds to elevate protein content on lab analysis. This is the called Amino Spiking.

Whey Protein Isolate

This product, compared to Whey Concentrate, provides between 80-90g protein in each 100g product. That leaves less room for flavourings, which makes the products more plain but still enjoyable.

During the manufacturing, it comes through and extra filtration process to achieve a higher protein concentration. There are patents as Provon® assuring quality and reliable labelling. However, price increases considerably from the concentrate

Whey Protein Hydrolysate

This product is produced by protease-mediated hydrolysis of intact whey protein.

The amino acids are "broken" into smaller units, hence digestibility and absorption is higher than other protein products (study)

Hydrolysed proteins elevate muscle protein synthesis more than other whey protein products. (study).

The price of a hydrolysate is considerably higher than concentrate.


Casein comes from the purification and drying of casein, the most abundant protein in milk (study).

Being a slow release protein, it's often used before bed to maintain amino acids levels higher for longer overnight (study).

The "mousse-like" consistency and flavour makes it one of the most enjoyable protein products. Price is similar to that of isolate and hydrolysate.

Where Does Whey Protein Come From?

Production of whey protein is considered a biotechnological process. It involves microbial fermentations and purification of the product.

Simple in principle, but many parameters to consider.

Overall Process of Whey Protein Production

Milk is the raw material to produce whey protein. The milk used is usually skimmed milk, but any kind can be used.

Milk undergoes phase changes and a series of separations to give the final product; whey protein. This is a process flow diagram (PFD) to get an overview of the process.

How is whey protein made

First, the raw milk is pasteurized by heating it at 70-75ºC to kill all microorganisms present in the liquid(study).

Then, the product is precipitated by adding an acid or another chemical. The goal is to separate the milk into solid and liquid fractions.

The liquids will be used for whey production, while the solid will be used for both cheese making and casein production.


General Steps for Whey Protein Production

The principles and basis by which all four whey protein products are:

  1. Separation
  2. Filtration
  3. Drying
  4. Flavouring
  5. Packaging

Each of these steps can be done using different methods, depending on the final product (study).

Following these steps give you a final product high in protein and in powder form, which can be further mixed with different sweeteners and flavourings to get what we know as "whey protein".

Production of Different Whey Protein Products

Now that we know where protein comes from, we'll get into more detail on each type of whey protein.

Whey Protein Concentrate

The liquid fraction is concentrated by ultrafiltration.

During this step, the liquid flows through a membrane of specific porous size. This makes smaller molecules to go through, while proteins don't pass due to their higher molecular size (study).

Once ultrafiltration is finished, we keep the retentate (whatever hasn't gone through the membrane) and throw the permeate to waste.

To get a powder final product, the product is dried by spray drying the solution (study).


Whey Protein Isolate

This process is very similar to that of the Whey Concentrate, but an extra filtration is  used to further concentrate the product to obtain higher protein content (study).

Ion-exchange is commonly used to concentrate whey isolates(study). Chemicals are added to separate molecules based on their net electric charge.

Whey Protein Hydrosylate

A solution with enzymes is added to hydrolyse the protein (break it down in smaller fragments). Some of the enzymes added may be lactases or proteases (study).

Once the product is filtered by membrane separation, the enzyme solution is added. The enzyme hydrolysis of whey protein products improves digestibility and bioavailability (study).

The product is dried by spray drying



This product, different from the other three, is obtained from the solid fraction of the separation.

Once we have the cheese curds, we need to decantate it to remove remaining liquid (study). Then, the solids are washed, heated and dried to get the final powder form.

You can find, however, different casein products depending on the downstream processing. For example, caseinates have been added a metal ion (usually calcium) to improve the stability of the product.

Where does casein protein come from?

Finishing Steps to Produce Whey Protein

After having the powder form, further steps are done to get the right packaging and fulfil the requirements:

Addition of flavouring and sweeteners

Flavourings are added to get the desired flavour of the whey protein. These are regulated by health organizations to keep the product safe for human consumption.

Sweeteners and other stabilizers are also used. The former for increasing the palatability of the product (study), and the latter for improving shelf-life (study).


Packaging and labelling

The product must be put into some kind of container with the appropriate labelling indicating the nutritional value, ingredients and recommended use.

Other information such as the patent used (if used), the raw material or company's information can also be added to the label.

Analysis of the protein

Whey protein must undergo post-manufacturing analysis to see if the expected nutritional content is fulfilled.

Depending on the product, the analytical methods are different. For whey protein, and amino acid analysis can be made (study).

Other tests for flavour, solubility in water, shelf-life or overall quality of the product can be made.


Whey protein products come from raw milk. After different separations, filtrations and drying steps we obtain what we know as whey protein in its powder form.

In this post we have seen where does whey protein come from. Different protein products require of different steps, but there's always a common denominator.

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