Although it may look strange, with its neon-yellow hue and slightly tangy smell, whey is a truly fantastic ingredient to have in your kitchen. Whey is an acidic by-product of cultured or soured milk, and contains water-soluble proteins, vitamins and minerals. It lasts for months in your refrigerator and can be used for a variety of purposes – from soaking grains to making a refreshing batch of ginger beet kvass.
As a poet, I appreciate whey not only for its ability to ferment anything in its company, but also for its far-reaching pun possibilities. I’ve been known to exclaim, “That’s the whey, uh huh uh huh, I like it!” when tasting a delicious fermented concoction. Forgive me: There are simply so many wheys to enjoy whey.
In my last post, I discussed how to strain yogurt using a colander and cheesecloth, leaving you with thickened yogurt and a bowl full of whey. Whey can also be attained by making a batch of mozzarella or feta cheese, processes that also involve straining off whey. (Click here to learn how to make ricotta from whey.) You can also make whey by straining kefir or buttermilk, or by clabbering raw milk. (To clabber raw milk, leave your milk out on the counter in a sealed container for 3 to 5 days, until it turns thick and separates into curds and whey.)
No matter how you get your whey, it’s time to put it to good use. But which whey shall you choose? Since summer is just around the corner, I thought I’d focus on refreshing beverages involving whey. I’ll start with one of my favorite recipes, a flavorful tonic that’s refreshing in both wintertime and summer: Ginger Beet Kvass. This ancient elixir has been consumed in Russia for centuries, and has been said to aid digestion, cleanse the blood and liver, and alleviate nausea related to hangovers and morning sickness. This recipe, which involves lacto-fermenting beets with whey, increases the already powerful nutritional benefits of beets, with the added flavor and nutritional properties of ginger. This recipe makes 1/2 gallon of kvass.
2 large beets, chopped into 1/2-inch chunks
2 to 3 tablespoons ginger, minced
1/4 cup whey
1 1/2 teaspoons stevia
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 gallon water
1. Combine all ingredients in a half-gallon jar, and cover with a lid.
2. Let the beverage sit in a warm place in your house for 2 to 3 days, then taste. When a pleasant effervescence develops, you may either strain and refrigerate, or simply refrigerate with all ingredients still in the jar, which will you allow you to make another batch of kvass from the same ingredients.
3. If you don’t strain this beverage, fermentation will continue in your refrigerator, although at a much slower rate. To enjoy, I place a tea strainer over my cup and pour the kvass through. Be sure to retain 1/4 cup of the liquid, which can be used, alongside all the ingredients still in the jar, to create your next batch of kvass.
4. Fill the jar up with water again, adding an additional pinch of stevia, and set on your counter for round No. 2. Beets have so much flavor and nutrition that the second batch is sometimes even better than the first!
If there’s a will, there’s a whey, and let me tell you: I will drink as much ginger beer as my body can handle. The following recipe makes a fizzy and flavorful take on ginger beer that’s delightfully refreshing on its own or combined with other beverages, like smoothies, bitters, or even rum.
'Whey Delicious' Ginger Beer
1 inch fresh ginger root, finely grated
Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup local honey
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons whey
1 quart water
Mix all ingredients in a jar or airtight container and cap tightly. Let beverage sit at room temperature for 3 to 7 days. During this time, you may have to release some of the carbon dioxide that’s built up by loosening and then re-sealing the lid. When the beverage is carbonated to your liking, strain into a container with a good pour spout, refrigerate, and enjoy.
Whey can also be used in the place of a salt brine for lacto-fermenting vegetables. Fermentation with whey happens much faster than with a salt brine, so keep an eye on your ferments to ensure they don’t become soggy. Whey is also a great substitution for buttermilk in baking, or as an addition to salad dressings or homemade mayonnaise. If all else fails, use whey for comic relief, and by that, I mean: any whey you like!