ALLERGY HOTLINE COLUMNS
One more time. Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey.
Curds are solidified casein protein. This month’s topic is that bete noire of lactose intolerance: whey.
Whey is the liquid part of milk, everything that is left over when curds form during cheesemaking. That’s right, whey is what used to be called a waste product, and was dumped by the ton. No longer. A chemical analysis of whey would show that it retains most of milk’s minerals and water-soluble vitamins, along with the bulk of the milk’s sugar. Whey therefore is sweet, health-packed, relatively fat-free, and cheap.
Once manufacturers discovered that they could give their products that good milky taste and feel at a fraction of the cost of whole milk, they started using whey in everything. Whey is in the vast majority of cookies, and can be found in uncountable numbers of frozen foods, cold cuts, salad dressings, and canned soups. There are many categories of supermarket foods in which it is difficult to find a product that does not use whey. Natural food store items are much less likely to use whey, however.
Liquid whey is mostly water, and so contains about the same lactose content as whole milk. But no manufacturer respectful of the bottom line is going to pay to have unneeded water shipped across the continent. Almost all whey used in commercial food products is powdered. And whey powder is two-thirds or more lactose. (Indeed, commercial lactose is made from purified powdered whey. You’ll see lactose as an ingredient in an increasing number of foods these days.)
Except to a food processor, all wheys are pretty much alike. If you’re extremely sensitive, you should probably avoid any product that contains whey or any of its derivatives (sweet dairy whey, whey protein concentrate, reduced minerals whey, dried dairy blend, even the so-called reduced lactose whey) on its ingredients list. As usual there is one exception: whey protein isolate, a variation that contains at most 0.5% lactose. It can be lactose-free and is used in a few products that so proclaim themselves.
The news isn’t all bad. Because whey is a powder, it’s often used in very small quantities. If whey is one of the last items on an ingredients list, those of you who can have some milk probably can just pay it no never mind.
Those with milk allergies, on the other hand, should probably avoid whey altogether. Here’s another exception, though, a truly odd one. While the casein in goat’s milk is similar to that of cow’s milk, the whey proteins are not. If you’re one of the rare individuals who are allergic only to the whey proteins, you can try experimenting with goat’s milk for a change of pace. Remember, however, that the lactose content of goat’s milk is almost exactly the same as that of cow’s milk.