Whey is the byproduct of making cheese, yogurt, and other cultured dairy products. It’s packed with protein and nutrients and tastes delicious in bread and baked goods. This list of 45+ practical uses for whey will make you think twice before pouring it down the drain!
If you’ve ever opened a container of Greek Yogurt, you would have noticed a thin liquid that rose to the top.
That liquid is called whey, and if you make a lot of foods from scratch – especially homemade cheese – you’ll often end up with A LOT of whey.
It seems wasteful to throw away leftover whey, especially when you know how nutrient dense it is!
What is Whey?
Whey is the liquid that naturally separates from milk products, like sour cream or yogurt. It’s cloudy, whitish-yellowish, and full of protein, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes.
This kind of whey is NOT the same kind of whey you find in protein powders or sold in health food stores. They’re not interchangeable. If you’re looking for recipes to make with your whey protein powder, this isn’t the spot. (However, I often add protein powder to my Protein Pancakes!)
Where Do You Get Whey? (Hint: Whey From Yogurt)
The easiest way to get whey is to simply open up your containers of dairy products, like sour cream or yogurt. Just gently pour out the whey into a mason jar and store it in the fridge.
There are two types of whey – sweet whey and acid whey – and each has its own purposes in the kitchen and around the home.
- Sweet Whey: the liquid that comes from making cultured cheese that’s curdled with rennet (soft cheeses, mozzarella, etc.)
- Acid Whey: the by-product of dairy that has been cultured or curdled with an acid (farmer’s cheese, lemon cheese, etc.)
Uses for Whey
- Culture foods. Whey can be used to lacto-ferment all sorts of foods, including ketchup, mayonnaise, beets, cabbage (for sauerkraut), and carrots.
- Soak whole grains. Soak grains before grinding to boost their nutrition and make grains easier to digest. I first learned of this method in Nourishing Traditions, an amazing book on traditional cooking.
- Soak oats. Soaking oats overnight helps with digestion. Consider doing this before making Blueberry Baked Oatmeal or Perfect Overnight Steel Cut Oats.
- Soak beans. Your digestive system benefits from beans being soaked before cooking. Swap your acid medium and add whey, or feel free to add more!
- Soak nuts. For the same reasons above!
- Tenderize meat. Swap whey for any vinegar in a traditional meat marinade. Mind that whey will add tang, so adjust seasonings accordingly.
Easy Recipes with Whey as a Substitute
- Yeast Bread. If you’re not ready to make sourdough yet, uses for whey as the liquid in any fresh bread to get that classic sourdough flavor. I suggest starting with No-Knead Overnight Artisan Bread.
- Pizza Dough. Use in place of water in my favorite pizza dough recipe.
- Rice. Use whey instead of water when making rice. Although the heat will kill some of the live enzymes, you’ll still retain the nutrients since rice absorbs all the liquid.
- Pasta. Swap whey for water to cook pasta and like the rice, the pasta will absorb some nutrients from the whey.
- Pancakes. Use in place of some of the milk in Protein Pancakes or in recipes.
- Waffles. My Blender Oatmeal Waffles calls for water, but you can easily substitute any whey you have.
- Quick Bread. Think Pumpkin Bread or Chocolate Banana Bread and any other baking recipe.
- Sourdough Discard Recipes. Sourdough Pancakes and Sourdough Waffles both use milk, but using a little whey will give an extra bit of tang flavor.
- Buttermilk Substitute. Swap whey for buttermilk in Biscuits, Pancakes, Waffles, and even Cornbread.
- Milk Substitute. Uses for whey in recipes that call for milk to make sauces, like Homemade Macaroni and Cheese or Chicken Jalapeno Popper Casserole.
- Creamy Salad Dressings. Both Ranch Dressing and Caesar Dressing call for lemon juice, but you can substitute whey.
- Vinegar Salad Dressings. Swap all or part of the vinegar for whey in recipes like Italian Salad Dressing or Greek Salad Dressing.
- Marinades. These 4-ingredient Chicken Marinades all call for some sort of acid. Use whey for some of the acid for a fun twist on flavor.
More Uses for Whey in Everyday Cooking
- Smoothies. Use it as the liquid base in any smoothie recipe and naturally give it a boost in protein.
- Chicken Stock. Substitute for the apple cider vinegar and up to half of the water.
- Gravy. Use whey to thicken gravy instead of boring water.
What is Whey Used for in Baking
- Substitute for orange juice. If you use orange juice in baking, try using whey for the same acidic properties.
- Substitute for lemon juice. Whey tastes much like lemon, so it makes a great substitution in recipes or cocktails.
- Make caramel. Add a bit of salt with a touch of sugar and voila – instant caramel!
- Lemon-Whey Pie. If you can use whey in place of lemon juice, why not try it for dessert?
Uses for Whey in Beverages
- Cocktails. Mix one part whey with one part juice, then sweeten to taste with honey or stevia.
- Lemonade. Here’s the recipe.
- Ginger Ale. Easy tutorial.
- Soda. The Swiss drink Rivella is 100% whey.
Uses for Whey in Fermenting and Cheese Making
- Stretching Mozzarella. You have to stretch the curds when making mozzarella, and using hot whey is a great alternative to using hot, salted water.
- Cheese brine. Feta and mozzarella will keep longer if they’re stored in whey.
- Cream Cheese. Similar to the method of culturing milk with buttermilk, you’re culturing milk with whey and straining for cheese. More details here.
- Ricotta Cheese. The word “ricotta” means cooked twice, which is what happens to the whey when you make ricotta cheese. Here’s a super easy tutorial to get started.
- Gjetost. A Norwegian cheese that’s sweet like caramel, with the texture of buttery fudge.
- Butter. I haven’t tried this myself, but I’m told if you let whey sit at room temperature overnight, the cream will rise to the top and it can be scooped away and used to make butter.
What to Do with Whey
- Condition your face. The cultures in whey are acidic, so toss some on a cotton ball and use it as a toner.
- Condition your body. And add one cup of whey to your bath for an all-over-the-body skin toner.
- Make a face mask. Uses for whey combined with soothing raw honey for an easy face mask. (Tutorial on this page.)
- Condition your hair. If you’re washing with baking soda, a diluted whey rinse will work just as well as this Homemade Conditioner.
- Pet food. Add excess whey to pet food.
- Chicken or pig food. Add to the water and/or milk when you feed the farm animals.
- Water the plants. Adding diluted sweet whey to your plants gives a boost of vitamins. Read this article to get started.
- Balance the garden’s pH. If watering the plants is out of the question, consider balancing the pH levels of peas, cucumbers, and squash by spraying some on just the leaves – the sweet whey will kill the mold that grows!
- Lower the garden’s pH. Blueberries, roses, and tomatoes like acidic soil, and whey will help you achieve just that.
- Pest Control. Use sweet whey with water to a 1:1 ratio and spray on garden plants to keep powdery mildew away.
- Add to compost. A great outdoors spot if you don’t feel comfortable adding it to your garden, or don’t have one to add it to!
- Freeze it for later. If you’re not making fresh cheeses, you may only get a little bit of whey at a time. Freeze it in an ice cube tray so when you have enough, you can use it in any of the above recipes!
Whey Recipe (How to Make Whey)
You can easily find acid whey just by opening up your containers of dairy, but if you want to know how to make whey – whether for baking, cooking, or recipes – here are several ways to do it:
- Allow raw milk to sit at room temperature where the natural bacteria will cause the milk to clabber. Strain the milk using a cheesecloth, a tea towel, or an old (but clean) thin t-shirt.
- Use a fine mesh strainer, clean towel, or cheesecloth to strain Homemade Yogurt.
- Strain kefir (with the same methods as #2).
- Strain buttermilk (with the same methods as #2).
- Make Homemade Greek Yogurt (which is essentially the same as #2).
More Helpful Tutorials
- How to Blanch Greens
- 15 Easy Egg Substitutes
- How to Make Flour Without a Grain Mill
- How to Meal Plan and Make It Work