All types of proteins are garnering attention for their ability to enrich snacks and baked goods. But “all proteins are not created equal.” This was a phrase that was repeated many times during the joint annual conference of the American Dairy Products Institute and the American Butter Institute, which took place virtually earlier this year. The consensus was that the superiority of dairy proteins needs to be better communicated to consumers, and the industry is ready to help innovators.

“While we know there are definitely headwinds with plant and lab-grown proteins, we all have a responsibility to get behind telling the powerful story of dairy proteins,” said Daragh Maccabee, chief executive officer, Idaho Milk Products, during a session on value-added proteins.

Dairy proteins come in the form of either casein or whey. Both are unique to milk and recognized as high-quality, complete proteins, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids in proportions required by the human body. Both whey and casein are available as purified ingredients, with varying total protein contents. The purest forms are referred to as isolates and have a 90% or greater protein content. Both proteins are found in other dairy foods and ingredients and typically in the same casein-to-whey protein ratio that is present in cow’s milk, which is 4:1.

The two have subtle differences in amino acid composition, which is why a baker may choose to use either one or both, depending on the application and if functional performance is a consideration. Casein proteins, for example, are recognized as “slow” proteins due to their slower rate of digestion. This results in a more gradual and prolonged release of amino acids to muscle.

“These differences in speed of digestion provide a rationale as to why whey or casein may be recommended in a specific circumstance or for a specific population,” said Matthew Pikosky, vice president of nutrition research, National Dairy Council. “Researchers have hypothesized and begun to explore whether consuming casein before bed may better support overnight recovery and rebuilding of muscle given the next meal time/source of exogenous protein will be 8 to 12 hours away. In this instance, a slower, more gradual or steady release of amino acids may be preferable.”

Think bedtime cookie or nighttime muffin. Or, when it comes to whey, think refuel bar or recovering crackers.

“Whey protein is often referred to as a ‘fast’ protein due to its rapid but more transient release of amino acids to the muscle,” Mr. Pikosky said. “Along with its rapid digestibility, whey proteins are one of the most concentrated sources of leucine — a key amino acid in promoting muscle protein synthesis — among protein-containing foods. This is why some experts have noted whey as the protein of choice right after a tough workout, as the goal would be to kickstart recovery quickly while also knowing that their next meal may only be another 3 to 4 hours away.”

Ya Liu, bakery business development director and bakery applications leader, Kerry North America, noted another bonus with dairy proteins is that “they have a clean flavor and are easier to work with in applications as compared to plant-based proteins.”

Dairy protein suppliers continue to invest in ingredients with enhanced performance for specific applications. Fermented whey, which contains naturally occurring organic acids, for example, has been used as a clean label preservative in baked goods, according to Kimberlee Burrington, director, training, education and technical development at the American Dairy Products Institute.

Arla Foods Ingredients has launched a new concept for nut butter bars. Nuts are a source of protein and, in a creamy format, can help increase the total protein content of a bar, but they can also cause quality issues because they tend to harden over time. This affects mouthfeel and shelf life. Arla’s new dairy and whey protein ingredient enables bars to reach up to 37% protein content and maintain a soft texture.

Agropur Inc. offers a range of dairy protein ingredients that allow for claim-based baked goods. One such protein contributes to the structure of low-carbohydrate bakery products, such as chocolate chip cookies, where a 30-gram serving provides 3 grams of protein and only 4 grams of net carbohydrates. A high-protein pound cake is possible with an 80% protein whey protein concentrate ingredient, where one serving provides 15 grams of protein.

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“When replacing flour with protein, it is necessary to adjust moisture content,” said Marissa Stubbs, sales, bakery applications and custom solutions at Agropur.

Adding protein to baked goods displaces or dilutes other solids in the bakery formulation, something bakers must consider in addition to moisture content.

“To account for this, formulators can adjust by equally reducing all solids, or just replacing one or more components, such as the flour,” said Rachel Marshall, global technical engagement manager, active living, NZMP (Ingredients by Fonterra). “Taking into consideration the functionality that each of the components you are diluting is important, and matching functionality can cause challenges.”

Many current dairy protein innovations are focusing on modified fractions and bioactives. These ingredients are produced using advanced technologies to isolate specific dairy protein components. They vary in protein content and provide science-based functionality to the consumer. Glanbia, for example, markets protein hydrolysates, which supply 80% to 95% protein.

“Additional processing breaks the bonds between amino acids,” said Niamh Kelly, senior vice president dairy protein strategy for Glanbia. “Hydrolysates are absorbed more quickly by the body and muscles.”

Such specialty dairy proteins are being used in keto-friendly baked goods, which are high in fat, low in carbohydrates and moderate in protein. SlimFast, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, for example, is growing its SlimFast Keto brand with meal replacement bars that include a blend of dairy protein ingredient along with whey protein crisps. The latter are small, crunchy balls that can be used as a topping or included in fillings as an additional source of protein and for texture.

Idaho Milk Products offers dairy proteins in that 4:1 ratio of casein to whey. The company uses a cold-loop process to produce milk protein concentrate and milk protein isolate, which are 80% and 90% protein, respectively. By eliminating a heat treatment, the ingredients have improved solubility and are better tasting than heat-treated products, Mr. Maccabee explained. The concentrated dried ingredients are made with an energy-efficient, filtration-based process and can be used in any application to provide a protein boost.

This article is an excerpt from the November 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Dairy, click here.