8 Uses for Whey Around the Homestead

8 Uses for Whey Around the Homestead

Don’t throw out valuable products! There are many uses for whey around the homestead. As with coffee grounds for plants or cornhusks for mulch, these valuable byproducts can enhance your health, livestock … and especially your garden!

If you’re a cheesemaker, you’ve noticed that one-eighth or less of your milk turns to actual cheese. Whey, the yellowish liquid that separates from curds, still contains proteins, acids, and often probiotics. It’s a shame to toss it down the drain.

Before moving on to secondary uses for whey, be sure you’ve utilized its full cheesemaking possibilities. If whey is a byproduct of a culture ripening, such as with most methods of making goat cheese, you can still extract some curd. Heat the whey past 190 degrees then add a little acid, such as a tablespoon of vinegar or one-third cup lemon juice. Then strain through fine cheesecloth. Use that small amount of ricotta for more recipes and use the whey again.

How long does whey last? Not long at all, considering it’s already fermenting during the cheesemaking process. Refrigeration can extend life to a week or two, which is great if I make cheese for pizza one night but can’t start other uses for whey until the end of the week. I never leave whey on the counter overnight, unless I don’t intend to use it for human and animal consumption. And I never leave room-temperature whey in a tightly closed container because it will continue to ferment and build pressure within the bottle.


Culinary Uses for Whey

1. Lacto-fermentation – If you made Greek yogurt, or cultured cheese, your whey still contains lactobacillus and other probiotics. Lactobacillus also ferments sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles in a process called lacto-fermentation. Using whey for lacto-fermentation can speed up the process because these good bacteria have already started multiplying, feeding on whey sugars, and join the lactobacillus existing within vegetables.

2. Yogurt – Also, consider using whey to culture a new batch of dairy goodness. Learn how to make yogurt from scratch. Most yogurt tutorials instruct purchasing dry starters or a small tub of store-bought yogurt containing live, active cultures. Adding ripened whey puts the cultures into milk … especially if the whey came from a previously crafted batch of Greek yogurt.

3. Bone Broth – When cultures feed on sugars in milk, it becomes more acidic, which separates curds from whey. But not all whey comes from culture ripening. Quick cheeses, such as mozzarella and ricotta, use added acids like vinegar or lemon juice to separate the curds. Whether you make cultured or quick cheeses, you can use that acidity to improve other foods.

After making ricotta cheese, save the whey for your next batch of bone broth. Chefs often add 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar to a gallon of water when making broth, to weaken bones and pull out nutritious marrow; try using whey instead of the water and vinegar. Or use it for quicker soups, such as beef vegetable, using whey instead of water and enjoying how the acidity heightens other flavors. Perhaps use it to soak rice and beans before boiling.

4. Leavening – Acidity also helps leaven baked foods. Breads containing no yeast, such as zucchini or banana breads, rely on a chemical reaction where acids meet an alkaline substance like baking soda and create carbon dioxide. This gas creates bubbles in the batter and dough, fluffing it up, before leaving the finished product. That’s why buttermilk works so great for fluffy biscuits and pancakes! Acidity, from culturing, mixes with baking soda. If I have extra homemade yogurt needing to be used up, I switch it to buttermilk in these recipes; it’s made the same way and has pretty much the same cultures. The same for whey.

5. Sourdough Flavor – Yeast breads already have leavening, but if I replace the water with whey, it makes dough even fluffier and gives it a sourdough tang without days of feeding and tending a starter. The same concept gives a sourdough tang to a quick pancake mix or recipe.

When considering whey’s acidity, keep in mind that 1/4 cup lemon juice or white vinegar is suggested to curdle one gallon of whole milk into ricotta. That vinegar comes back out with the whey. The resulting liquid is 1/32 to 1/64 the strength of the original vinegar or lemon juice: enough to activate baking soda but not enough to eat through an eggshell or keep the liquid from going bad.


Uses for Whey: Farm and Garden

6. Feed to Animals – Is whey good for dogs? Herbivorous and carnivorous animals can enjoy whey’s protein and sugars. It’s not bad for them unless you feed them so much it upsets their regular diets. When I give whey to my animals, I use it as an occasional treat.

Whey created from culturing has more value for livestock because it also contains healthy probiotics. Dogs, cats, chickens, and pigs can enjoy this as it soaks grains, ferments feed, or just sits in a bowl. I’ve found I don’t have to worry about overconsumption; my animals flock to the whey bowl and gulp it down but soon grow tired of it and won’t drink more.

7. Acidify Soil – If I collected whey from mozzarella or ricotta, I take that directly out to the garden. It lands on the fallow ground in winter and directly beneath tomatoes and eggplants in summer. My soil is extremely alkaline and, no matter what amendments I have added, I have not managed to make it too acidic for garden vegetables. This isn’t the same for everyone, though! Some gardeners struggle with acidic soil that won’t produce good root crops.

“But wait … that whey contains vinegar, and vinegar kills plants!”

Full-strength vinegar kills plants. When I make ricotta, I use a tablespoon or two of vinegar for one gallon of milk. That’s so diluted that it won’t adversely affect plants unless the soil is already too acidic.

8. Compost – Whey also works great in compost. As you can imagine, whey from cultured cheeses works best because probiotics multiply within compost and speed up the process. If derived from quick cheeses, the acidic liquid can also help break down the browns; wood chips, cardboard, dried leaves. If you’re worried about compost becoming too acidic, throw in ashes from clean, untreated wood. That will add more alkalinity as well as phosphorus, which helps sweeten root vegetables.

Gardening and composting are my favorite uses for whey; I make so much cheese, and garden so much, that I never have an excess of this useful liquid. Combined with manure from my livestock, and kitchen refuse, it creates healthy soil that never needs store-bought amendments or inorganic fertilizers.

In the Kitchen How Why
Lacto-Fermentation Use whey obtained from cultured cheeses. Add to ferment recipes such as sauerkraut and pickles. Lactobacillus, the same bacterium used to make fermented pickles, already exists in cultured dairy products.
Yogurt Save whey from cultured cheeses. Do not heat. Add to homemade yogurt recipes right before you set it aside to ripen. Cheese cultures contain one or more of the bacteria used to culture yogurt. Keep those cultures alive and healthy by giving them another job to do. Saving whey from homemade Greek yogurt transfers all the probiotics to your new batch.
Bone Broth Use whey obtained from ricotta or quick mozzarella instead of the water and apple cider vinegar normally suggested. The acidity helps bone break down to access nutritious marrow. Whey’s acidity is about equal to what you would achieve by dribbling a few tablespoons vinegar into cooking water. Simply replace all that liquid with whey.
Leavening Use whey from cultured cheeses in your next biscuit or batter bread recipe. When acidity meets alkalinity from products such as baking soda, it creates carbon dioxide bubbles to leaven bread. This is why buttermilk makes biscuits fluffier than regular milk does.
Sourdough Flavor If you don’t have time to keep a sourdough culture alive, use whey to get the same tangy flavor in pancakes and yeast breads. Sourdough is from fermenting yeast with lactobacilli … the same bacterium used in cultured dairy products. Since whey is already cultured, simply use it as the water content in yeast bread or pancakes to harness the tanginess without days of feeding a starter.
In the Farm and Garden
Feed to Animals Give treats of cultured whey to pigs, dogs, cats, and chickens. Cultured whey offers the same probiotics to animals that yogurt offers us. Use as an occasional treat, especially for non-mammalian animals such as chickens, so the lactose doesn’t upset their regular diets.
Acidify Soil Pour whey from cultured or quick cheeses directly onto alkaline soils to keep tomatoes and peppers happy. If you don’t know if your soil is alkaline or acidic, do a soil test. Pour whey directly beneath plants. If you are concerned about cheese smell or acidic concentration, water the same spot afterward.
Compost Pour whey directly only compost piles, especially when you need to add moisture to expedite decomposition. Whey’s probiotics may not survive the hot composting process, but they can’t hurt. The water, proteins, and sugars assist decomposition and microbial growth to create black gold for your garden.

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