You don’t have to look far in the grocery store, drug store or maybe even your own desk drawer or kitchen cabinet to find health foods touting high protein — bars, shakes, supplements and powders. These protein-enriched products are intended to help enhance or maintain energy or to assist you in the satiety battle, working to keep you feeling full. Many people use them as meal replacements during a busy day.

It is common to see ingredient legends on protein-enhanced products that include the words “isolates” and “concentrates.” It is important that the “bang for the buck” on the percentage of protein ingredients used be as high as possible. This approach allows more room for the good-tasting ingredients while maintaining the level of protein delivery required to satisfy health-conscious consumers. And they like their protein bars to taste more like candy than health food.

Whey protein concentrate (WPC) is in high demand and short supply today. As the typical supply-and-demand curve indicates, when demand increases, supply tends to have a difficult time keeping up — especially with high volume demand. Many times, byproducts from manufacturing ingredients can be beneficial to the baking and snack food industries. Such is the case with whey permeate.

Whey is the liquid remaining after milk is turned into cheese. It goes through further processing to concentrate its components into useful ingredients.

During ultrafiltration, whey proteins are retained in the filtering membrane because of their larger size. Substances of lower molecular weight such as lactose and minerals pass through the filter and become the permeate stream. Once the moisture is removed from the liquid permeate, the result is an off-white powder with a mild dairy flavor. After the protein and some of the lactose and minerals have been removed, the remaining collection of components is called whey permeate. Other names for this material are “dairy product solids,” “deproteinized whey” or “modified whey.”

When you’re investigating ingredients for new product development, whey-based materials can offer benefits to baked goods. Enhanced surface browning and flavor development are two attributes valued by bakers and snack food producers. Permeate’s naturally salty flavor may actually allow the reduction or elimination of added salt to formulations. The sodium content of whey permeate is approximately 0.6%. In some cases, adding 5 to 8% whey permeate in muffins, scones or cookies allows reduction of sugar and/or fat in the formulations while maintaining or improving product quality.

The composition of whey permeate varies by milk source, cheese type and processing conditions. So knowing if the permeate is made from cow’s milk, typical of cheese-making in the US, is important. Also, ask questions concerning the type of filtration, evaporation and spray-drying process, so alternative sources of whey permeate are as similar as possible.

Many of us in new product development have been around long enough to see the move from non-fat dry milk to whey/soy blends and then to no milk ingredients at all.

Bakers have long memories. They remember using various dairy ingredients and then finding them unavailable or prohibitively priced for the new contract period. This situation requires purchasing, product development, regulatory and operations to jump through hoops to replace or remove the ingredient in a short period of time.

During the past few months, several potential clients have called requesting information about the use of whey permeate in baking. A recent review of the bread aisle found several branded bread products listing butter, non-fat milk or milk on their ingredient legends.

As a dairy farmer’s daughter, I love the mouthfeel and flavor enhancements of dairy ingredients. As a baker, I must analyze the benefits and the risks to determine what is right for the consumer and the company.