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What is Whey?

By Kat Yares
Updated May 16, 2024
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Whey is a by-product of cheese making, formed when the cheese curds separate from the milk or cream. After the curds are formed, the remaining liquid is called whey; it is typically thin and watery and will sometimes have a bluish tinge, but this depends on the quality and type of milk used. Whey can be made from any type of milk — cow's milk is the most popular in the United States. Goat's milk is commonly used in the Middle East, and in some desert areas camel's milk is used. The by-product can also be formed during the making of yogurt; it is the thin liquid that forms on top of the yogurt when it has settled.


Most commonly known as an excellent source of protein, whey also offers high amounts of vitamins, minerals, and lactose. It is the base of many protein drinks for athletes or others wishing to build or repair muscle tissues; when offered as a protein drink, it is usually found in powder form. The by-product is also an important supplement for those who have limited mobility in the limbs, as it contributes to the prevention of atrophy, or wasting away, of muscular cells. When used in pet foods as a source of protein and fats, it helps contribute to a healthy coat and proper muscle development for animals.

When formed during yogurt making, whey can be drained off and added to shakes, smoothies, or other liquid drinks for added protein. The by-product is often used in the making of ricotta cheese where it is heated, and vinegar or another acidic liquid is added. The addition of the acid causes the fats in the whey to solidify into the curds that create the cheese, forming a cooking staple for many dishes.

Whey can be an important addition to anyone's diet. Those who have difficulty finding the time to eat right or who have other dietary concerns, such as protein needs in a vegetarian diet, will find it to be an excellent supplement. Most people incorporate the powder form into their diet because it is easy to cook with and offers a quicker solution over making it from scratch.

How it's Made

There are numerous methods to making this cheese by-product, and the methods and materials used do vary. It is possible to find "recipes" on the Internet that explain the process in great detail. Most methods include heating water, organic milk, and vinegar in a pot over very low heat until it forms curds. Once it is done curdling, the mixture should be refrigerated and left to cool. The leftover liquid is whey and can be refrigerated for several weeks to be used at a later date.

Sour Milk

Most people are familiar with the old nursery rhyme, "Little Miss Muffet," who was eating her curds and whey. The type of cheese mentioned in this nursery rhyme would be similar to cottage cheese in appearance and made by allowing milk to sour and naturally separate into curds and whey. While the idea of making cheese from soured milk may not sound appetizing to most people, it is a method used around the world in many different cultures; for example, many Indian dishes incorporate this method. It is also commonly used as a condiment for toasted bread.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon320820 — On Feb 19, 2013

I read somewhere that people like me, who suffer from psoriasis, should avoid whey.

By anon315559 — On Jan 24, 2013

We make yogurt daily with cow's milk. We prefer Greek-style yogurt, so we strain the yogurt. We have made a cheap strainer with smaller 24 oz. plastic yogurt container with holes punched in the bottom, set into a larger 36 oz plastic yogurt container. We line the smaller container with a coffee filter then pour our fresh yogurt into it. After a couple of hours, we have strained yogurt in the top (smaller container) and whey in the bottom container. I then freeze the whey in an ice cube tray to add to various recipes. Once it is frozen, I transfer it to a sealed freezer bag.

The longer the yogurt is left in the strainer, the thicker the stuff gets on top (going from a Greek-style yogurt consistency, to a sour cream consistency, to a cream cheese consistency). Longer straining times also increases the amount of whey. Since we are not trying to make whey, but yogurt, we try not to leave it too long.

By anon302531 — On Nov 10, 2012

Yes, you can get whey from pig's milk. Pigs are mammals; pigs make milk. However, milking pigs isn't actually done, and there is no pig whey in any food you might buy.

By whuebl — On Apr 23, 2012

My wife and I make about a gallon of yogurt a week and I strain half of it to make Greek style yogurt. This leaves about a quart of whey and I found if you mix a quart of whey and a quart of orange juice (other juices might work) that it is great stuff! I use up all our whey that way - no pun intended!

By anon261876 — On Apr 17, 2012

Someone please answer. Does whey come from pig's milk or a pig and if yes, which products and please tell me the right answer I've been searching forever for that question and every one has a different answer.

By anon227356 — On Nov 04, 2011

When I make yogurt, sometimes I get a lot of whey, and sometimes only a little. What causes the various amounts of whey in the yogurt?

By anon183955 — On Jun 07, 2011

All the harping on pig's whey and not one question on human whey.

I make all sorts of cheese and use the whey in soups and for soaking grains and bircher as well as thinning out the yogurt for dressings. Labna is one of my favorite cheeses and that makes a lot of whey.

By anon160303 — On Mar 15, 2011

I am a lung cancer survivor and now faced with pancreatic cancer. I have lost upwards of 25 pounds and have little or no appetite. Would whey be a good source for putting on weight?

By anon150896 — On Feb 09, 2011

I'm allergic to mold and cheese. Would I be able to drink a whey protein drink?

By anon149800 — On Feb 05, 2011

Vegetarians will supplement their protein from a vegetarian protein. this type of protein supplement would come from a protein blend containing pea protein or brown rice protein concentrate or protein concentrate from beans. Vegans would not take whey protein!

By anon115236 — On Oct 01, 2010

If you are a vegan, you definitely cannot take whey. If you are a lacto-vegetarian, you can take whey, provided the whey comes from non-rennet cheese making.

By anon105468 — On Aug 20, 2010

I understand you can use whey in making bread. Is that correct and I assume you would just use in place of the liquid. any comments? mj

By anon104485 — On Aug 16, 2010

I have personally milked a rat and a mouse so I know you could get whey from rodent milk. We usually got about 1ml from rats and several hundred ul from mice.

By tribulus — On Aug 01, 2010

Whey is a by product of cheese making, as what it is mostly supplied. It is true that whey comes from milk, because milk is also made into cheese. I am not certain though, that whey can utterly be a strict vegetarian protein though, as whey is a byproduct of milk and true/real milk comes directly from the mammary glands of mammals. Thus. we find goat, cow, camel, (any mammal that produce rich milk in large quantity that is free of innate disease, so rats are out of the option here) or even wild boars or tamaraws in the southeast asia can produce good cheese and thus whey.

Be careful though, in choosing the right kind of whey protein, as there are so many now out there. Ask your local seller, what's best for you and for your needs.


By anon84012 — On May 13, 2010

I never heard of anyone milking a pig. Nor of pig's milk being sold. There is no whey made from pig's milk because nobody milks pigs, let alone if someone did they would not have any to sell to make whey from it.

By anon58884 — On Jan 05, 2010

At last here is the answer to the pigs' milk question, since pigs are mammals and as the majority of mammals produce milk, then it is safe to say yes you can make whey from pigs' milk. you could even make it from rats' milk, assuming you had a lot of time to spare. so rest assured for all the pig milk lovers you can make whey from it.

By anon49986 — On Oct 25, 2009

Just want to know which cheese is considered vegetarian and which are not?

By kimie — On Sep 28, 2009

i found a whey powder in Nutella Hazelnut Spread ingredients. Is whey from pig's milk as well? you mentioned goats and cows. but what about pigs.

By anon37427 — On Jul 19, 2009

is whey that is used in cake, cookies etc always in powdered form?

By anon34193 — On Jun 18, 2009

is whey from pig's milk as well? you mentioned goats, and cows, but what about pigs?

i've seen all bakery products and milk products use whey or enzamny. i should know mostly they are used from which animal?

By r29p — On May 11, 2009

I would like to know if drinking fresh whey gives suitable protein, how much to drink each day and if it can be frozen to be used subsequently. I can obtain fresh goat's whey, organic, but would have to freeze it for future use. I have a protein deficiency and was told that whey would help.

By anon31369 — On May 04, 2009

Why does my mouth and throat feel funny (like there's residue that I can't rinse out) after drinking whey? It is the same when rinsing the glass.

By anon30858 — On Apr 25, 2009

Can Whey come from pigs milk?

By anon28266 — On Mar 13, 2009

I have made curds and whey from raw milk. Sometimes the whey is reasonably clear colored and other times it is milky colored. Are they both whey? Is one more desirable than the other? What is the difference? anon 2570

By orange — On Feb 23, 2009

is whey from pig's milk as well?

By anon26495 — On Feb 14, 2009

can full vegetarians take whey?

By anon25295 — On Jan 27, 2009

I thought that Whey was poisonous, so I have avoided it. Why did I think that? Did it have a bad rap previously?

By anon24339 — On Jan 11, 2009

can someone who is allergic to milk products safely eat whey?

By Hafizah — On Jan 07, 2009

is whey from pig's milk as well?

By anon23427 — On Dec 24, 2008

yes i would also like to know about pigs milk and if whey is made from it.

By anon19374 — On Oct 11, 2008

To re-iterate Hotgal's question, does anyone know if whey is sourced from pig's milk as well or from the lining of a pigs stomach just as it is also sourced from the lining of a calf's stomach? Please help.

By anon15490 — On Jul 13, 2008

How long does whey stay good in the refrigerator?

By anon13537 — On May 29, 2008

I make my own whey at home. What I do is take a quart of yogurt with live active cultures. I line a strainer with a flour cloth or you could use a dish towel. Put the strainer over a 2 quart pitcher. Then pour in the yogurt. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent contamination. Put in the refrigerator for 24 hours. The liquid at the bottom of the container is whey. I use mine for a lot of my recipes. The milk solids still in the strainer is cream cheese. The cream cheese is so good spread on whole grain toast with honey. Yummy!

By anon13460 — On May 27, 2008

Okay, I would think this would be an obvious question that should've been answered already: What common products contain whey?

By anon12187 — On May 01, 2008

Where does Whey come from?

By anon12065 — On Apr 29, 2008

Whey can be made from any lactalbumin or casein mixed milk (anything animal in other words). It can be made at home by curdling the casein portion of the protein with acid and heat. The solids are casein and the liquid leftover is water and whey. This can be achieved with heat, Vinegar, and skim milk. You can be allergic to whey if you are allergic to milk protein. However, some wheys contain lactose and others do not (mainly the isolates). Symptoms include gastrointestinal distress and basically anything that can be seen as an allergic reaction. The symptoms are wide and far so you'll have to find that out on your own.

Whey does not contain gluten. Gluten is a protein derived from wheat. However, it can be cross contaminated if the whey is manufactured or packaged in a plant that has wheat products present. A whey protein that has glutamine peptides usually has wheat in it because glutamine peptides are hydrolyzed wheat gluten.

By DaltonGang — On Jan 07, 2008

Does whey contain gluten?

By anon3691 — On Sep 11, 2007

can you be allergic to whey and what are the symptoms?

By anon2233 — On Jul 04, 2007

is it possible to make whey protien or just whey at home ? (recipies)

By hotgal — On May 29, 2007

is whey from pig's milk as well?

you mentioned goats, and cows. but what about pigs.

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