Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey.
Along came a spider
Who sat down beside her,
And frightened Miss Muffet away!
Curds and whey? Though I chanted this rhyme throughout my childhood, I never really knew what those words meant until just a few years ago. If you let fresh milk sit out on the counter for a few days, you'll see it separate into two parts: solid curds and liquid whey. Traditionally, milk was typically consumed cultured, as it soured quickly for lack of refrigeration (it did not spoil, just soured). Since many people don't drink milk raw anymore, it's more likely that you know whey as the liquid that appears atop your yogurt. Ever wonder what that was? Now you know. :)
Though sometimes considered a by-product of cheese-making, this powerhouse protein maintains an impressive list of credentials. To name a few:
- Good source of key minerals and vitamins
- Source of natural antioxidants (perhaps because it promotes glutathione production)
- Cancer prevention
- Vehicle for probiotics and prebiotics
- Great natural immunity builder
- Stimulates insulin release in type-2 diabetics
Whey is handy to have lingering in the real foods kitchen for many reasons:
- Soaking grain overnight (as in these pancakes, this orange cake, these sloppy lentils). Soaking in this way helps predigest the grain and free up nutrients for absorption. When soaking grain, the general rule is to add one tablespoon acid medium, such as whey, to each cup of liquid in the soak. For example, I could soak 1 cup of 9-grain cereal overnight in 2 cups of water and 2 T. whey. In the morning I would add more water and cook. (Some people rinse the grain in between.)
- Lacto-fermenting, as in these zingy ginger carrots, these zippy fermented drinks, this zesty salsa, or this homemade mayonnaise. I might add that you can ferment without whey, though it adds probiotics, acts as an inoculant, and speeds up the process. It has been used this way in some traditional dairying cultures.
- Adding to a smoothie for a probiotic protein boost.
- Here are a whole bunch more ideas! Hope you get as excited as I did reading over them. :)
So now down to business. Whey is so easy to come by, right in your own kitchen! Honestly, the best part about it is the delicious cream cheese you get on the other side of the drip-cloth (I've only ever used raw milk, so I can't speak for the yogurt variety). Here's a little how-to:
Raw milk (could also use buttermilk or piima milk) or high-quality plain yogurt
If using yogurt, no preparation necessary. If you are using raw milk, let it sit out on your counter until the milk solids (curds) just start to separate from the yellowish whey (the sooner you catch the separation, the creamier your end cream cheese will be). Depending on the freshness of the milk, this can take anywhere from 1-4 days.
1) Set a strainer in a large bowl, and line with a clean kitchen towel. Pour the separated milk or yogurt over the cloth. From experience, I've learned that cheesecloth is too thin, even quadrupled over itself. Tea towels are perfect, as long as you don't use a red one before it's been thoroughly and repeatedly washed (also learned by experience). ;)
2) Cover and let sit for several hours. There's the cream cheese on top.
There's the whey beneath.
3) When the dripping has slowed considerably, tie up the towel with the solids inside (no squeezing necessary!), and rig it up so it can continue to drip a while longer. I usually do something tricky, like hang the bag from a long spoon and balance it over a deep pot.
4) When the dripping stops completely, it's done!
The cream cheese will last several weeks in the fridge and the whey several months. I've only had my whey go bad once, and it smelled clearly moldy. When it's fresh, it doesn't smell like much of anything.
"Whey, which contains the milk sugar and most of the minerals of the milk, is an excellent food... and could, with profit to the health, be more often used in this country."
John and Leah Widtsoe
"Whey is such a good helper in your kitchen. It has a lot of minerals. One tablespoon of whey in a little water will help digestion. It is a remedy that will keep your muscles young. It will keep your joints movable and ligaments elastic. When age wants to bend your back, take whey. . . . With stomach ailments, take one tablespoon whey three times daily, this will feed the stomach glands and they will work well again."
"Using cheese whey as a beverage in human nutrition, especially for therapeutic purposes, can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. Hippocrates, in 460 BC, prescribed whey for an assortment of human ailments. In the Middle Ages, whey was recommended by many doctors for varied diseases; and by the mid 19th century, whey cures reached a high point with the establishment of over 400 whey houses in Western Europe. As late as the 1940s, in spas in Central Europe, dyspepsia, uremia, arthritis, gout, liver diseases, anemia and even tuberculosis were treated with the ingestion of up to 1500 grams of whey per day."
Whey Beverages: A Review, 1974