Thursday, December 06, 2007

Gluten-Free Whey Protein : Miracle GF Baking Ingredient

I just released a new Gluten-Free Chocolate Coconut Brownie Cookie Recipe that features whey protein isolate as an ingredient. As such, I have simultaneously posted this blog on using whey protein in your gluten-free diet and Celiac-safe baking strategy.

Using whey protein in gluten-free baking has some serious potential, as I have been busy experimenting and researching how to use this ingredient as a fantastic gluten-alternative in the pursuit of perfect gluten-free foods. After experimenting with it for a few weeks in various recipes, I am nearly ready to declare whey protein the gluten-free baking miracle ingredient, as I am getting some absolutely incredible results with this protein in recipes ranging from pancakes to cookies and more (playing with breads and pastries next - and, I can't wait to see what my wife and I come up with!)

A Quick Science-Lesson Explanation for why I tried Whey Protein
Whey protein got my interest because I needed a safe baking ingredient alternative that could potentially replace the gluten-proteins in my foods (gluten that is obviously missing now that I have to bake without it). The gluten in "normal" foods (foods with wheat, rye, barley grains and flours and compounds derived thereof) is a mixture of water-insoluble proteins (particularly gliadin and glutenin) that lend elasticity to dough and chewiness / resiliency to finished bake-goods.

My objective (in the constant pursuit of gluten-free diet perfection) is to simulate, as best as possible, the effect of gluten in foods while not using any. Since gluten is nothing more than a complex protein, I figured a great substitute would be a complex globular protein like Whey Protein. And, I knew I had found what I was looking for when I tried some plain Whey Protein powder - I just put a teaspoon of it in my mouth (nearly flavorless by the way), and noticed how it quickly turned into a chewing-gum like substance as the proteins developed with just the water in my mouth. Plus, whey protein is easily digestible, so it should be well tolerated by many people.

Types of Whey Protein on the Market
When discussing Whey Protein, there are different types available. You will see all sorts of products on the market labeled as Whey Protein and Whey Protein Concentrates, and then there are some that are Whey Protein Isolates. Isolates are processed to remove the fat, and lactose — they are 90%+ protein by weight, and this is what I settled on for my baking strategy (Isolate). Speaking of protein, an ounce of this product has 25-grams of protein (i.e., half the published government "Daily Value" requirement) with only 105 total calories and nearly zero fat/cholesterol.

The first thing you need to do is ensure you find a brand that is definitely gluten-free, and this can be difficult, as most of the commercial Whey Protein products you will find in grocery stores (like Target, CVS, etc) as well as "health stores" (like GNC) have gluten-containing ingredients and flavoring in them. In addition, many of the whey protein products I saw sold at retail were rather expensive. I looked over countless products until finding some good "safe" gluten free varieties to try out, and even longer before I found one at what I considered a reasonable price.

The Whey Protein Isolate I chose to Use
At first I wondered if the addition of gums (guar gum, xanthan gum, etc) in some brands of Whey Protein was making any substantial contribution to the overall texture and consistency of the finished baked-goods I was creating. I wanted a product that would allow for others to duplicate the results I get, knowing exactly what was and what was not of significance in impacting the texture and consistency of the baked items.

So, I searched until I found a completely pure Whey Protein Isolate in a brand called Now Sports Whey Protein Isolate (pictured above). And, as you'll find on their product page, the product:

"Contains no: sugar, salt, starch, yeast, wheat, gluten, corn, egg or preservatives.", and for those interested, they also say:
"Voted 2005 Whole Foods Magazine “Best Sports Supplement” (I guess that is a "plus").
There are definitely no added gums in this product either, and no added flavorings or sweeteners. The only additional ingredient (less than 1%), is some soy lecithin, which is a natural emulsifier and should not even be an issue for anyone worried about soy allergies - since lecithin does not contain any of the soy proteins.

Having removed gums and thickeners from the equation, I could experiment knowing that whatever results I obtained were completely attributable to the addition of Whey Protein and not due to other "trace" ingredients.

What it looks like (a Powder)
I included the picture above so you could get a quick feel for what the whey protein isolate powder looks like. It is just an off-white light powder. I just sprinkled a little on a very dark-red plate for that picture.

Where to get the Gluten-Free Whey Protein
Now Sports has a "where to buy" finder tool on their site (to locate retailers in your area - since they don't seem to sell direct on their website), but I decided to go searching the web for the best deal I could find. I located it at a place called Outlet Nutrition, which had the large and economical 5 pound tubs of Now Sports Whey Protein Isolate for only $35.97 (price at the time). The order went smoothly, and the product was delivered quickly and packaged wonderfully (boxed with plenty of bubble-wrap - a "must have" when anyone ships with UPS!).

To give you a feel for how much gluten-free baking you can do with 5 pounds of this stuff: the container calls a "serving size" one scoop, which is 28 grams (i.e., essentially one ounce of whey protein concentrate). Thus, there are basically 80 servings in 5 pounds. I have determined that their "scoop" is approximately 3/8th Cup (i.e., 6 Tablespoons). As such, a tub of this protein will go a long way -- we only used 1/4 cup in a whole batch of cookies for example, and I use just a Tablespoon or two in my pancakes.

Baking / Recipe Results
The results in my baking experiments have been fantastic. It took a bit of time to get the proportions right, and adjust my bake times, liquid content proportions, fiber proportion, and other ingredients, but the end result is quite encouraging.

One of my long-time pursuits has been what I'll call "Gluten-Free pancake perfection". I love pancakes, and I always have. I mean, gee... the name says it all "pan CAKES" :) A cake has to 1) rise substantially, and 2) have nice resiliency and texture.

The pancakes I have been making lately are huge - I use the full surface of a 10-inch round cast-iron griddle (a favorite pan) - and with the whey protein isolate the results are amazing and meet my criteria for great cakes too. I have created pancakes that are 10" in diameter and a full inch thick, plus with enough sponginess / elasticity that I can grab an edge and shake the pancake without any chance of it crumbling or ripping apart. The interior of the pancakes are well developed and bread/cake-like. It's just wonderful (and even amazing - given that there is no gluten involved).

Those Chocolate Coconut Gluten-Free Cookies I mentioned earlier are also an example of what the whey protein can be used for. Although the whey was used rather sparingly in the cookies, it definitely helped with the binding and texture.

I have found that, in general, when using this Whey Protein Isolate in my gluten-free recipes, I need to play around to get the proportions right. Too much, and you may get something a bit too rubbery. It seems to require more liquid in recipes too (not too surprising, as this powder readily absorbs liquid when mixed). Also, the protein works best when combined with the right amount of fibrous ingredients (I have found pumpkin to be a nice fiber-rich source to use, and there are many other options).

In fact, one of the first gluten-free whey protein products I experimented (which worked as a "miracle additive" in my pancakes too) was this brand of Biochem Fitness "Raw Foods & Whey" (vanilla flavor - packet pictured below) which includes 3 grams of fiber per ounce by using a combination of Fig, Buckwheat, Millet, Pumpkin, Red Bean, Brown Rice, and Burdock Root in the product. It was quite nice. I got that at Whole Foods Market, and though it was a bit expensive (about $2.00/ounce), it goes a long way (one packet lasted through 4 pan-sized super-pancakes) I'd surely use it again, especially because it removed some of the guesswork regarding what other fiber-containing ingredients I would add.

I will be posting some other gluten-free recipes using whey-protein in the future, so stay tuned. This additive / ingredient could be quite useful in your gluten-free diet.

Since I first wrote this, the original place I purchased the NOW brand isolated whey protein from raised their price considerably. I suggest shopping around.

I found it on for $35.97 per 5# tub, and reasonable shipping.

I have written an UPDATE BLOG ENTRY about gluten-free whey-protein and its current price (link);  in summary, it is now up to approximately $53.00 (delivered) for a 5# container of isolated whey protein by Now (brand).  See that link to my recent blog for more details and link to seller's website.

I again updated my BLOG ENTRY about gluten-free whey-protein and its current price (link);  in summary, the new price is $66.00 (delivered) for a 5# container of isolated whey protein by Now (brand).  See that link to my recent blog for more details and link to seller's website.


Anonymous said...

Mike, that's incredible. I bought a tub of that NOW whey protein isolate for my wife after she was diagnosed with celiac and began suffering from light lactose intolerance as a way to replace some of the protein in her diet and offer a better alternative to a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter for breakfast.

She didn't take to it, so the tub sits on a shelf largely unused. With this information, I may have inadvertently made a good purchase that we'll have to play with.

I look forward to more recipes using this. Especially the bread and pastries... ;)

Mrs. G.F. said...

WOW! What an incredible idea. Genius, really.

And all those people who seem surprised when baking is talked about as a science!

This is something to try.

Thanks for sharing!

Mike Eberhart said...

GF Life: hope you can finally use that whey up in your gluten-free baking now. Certainly worth another try.

Slacker Mom: thanks, though I don't know about "genius" per se. There is definitely some science in baking. And, I love Alton Brown's approach on his Food Network show (where he takes a scientific look at the chemistry of baking, etc). More experiments to come!

Sheltie Girl said...

Very interesting reading Mike...thanks for sharing.

Sheltie Girl @ Gluten A Go Go

Anonymous said...

Wow. Sounds pretty yummy. Thanks for sharing the info! By the way, I chose the NOW brand for my Omega 3 capsules. Good brand.

Anonymous said...

I have some pancake mix that I already like. Would I just add the whey protien powder to the mix? How much? I guess I would just need to experiment with it at first. This is all so new to me (just diagnosed 2 months ago) and am trying to gain back some weight and muscle mass I lost>
norma jean

Mike Eberhart said...

norma jean,
I would do what you suggest, and just experiment with amounts. I put a tablespoon or two of pure whey protein into a single LARGE whole-pan pancake (where I use a cup of batter, or perhaps a bit more), and that seems to be about right. Maybe that'll give you a target. Let me know how it goes.

Anonymous said...

Love this blog about the Whey Protein. How interesting and awesome that you shared. I am excited to try. I have a tub of whey protein I bought to put in my drinks as a means of gaining weight and look forward to seeing how it changes my baking and also adding protein to my diet. Thanks for blogging this info!

Mike Eberhart said...

Notice to people trying to post links to overpriced suppliers of whey-protein: don't bother, I will REJECT the comments. As I put in the article, a 5# tub of this NOW brand whey can be had for about $35. I have people trying to post links to "deals" that are $65.00. Needless to say, I assume that either 1) you didn't read my post, or more likely 2) you are the one trying to sell for double++.

So, please, don't try leading people to marketing sites from here. I won't allow it, unless I can confirm the deal is GENUINE, and actually a deal. Regards.

Anonymous said...

Mike, what a blessing to have found your post. This is a great idea! It has inspired me to try baking bread again...always in search of that gluten-like solution!

I have some Biotech whey, as well as some of Jay Robbs (also GF). This is going to be FUN!

I love the "chemistry" approach to cooking. I have always said math and science are best taught in the kitchen. And it's one reason I enjoy watching America's Test Kitchen. Some segments focus on the chemistry behind the recipe.

Hats off to you!


Anonymous said...

My hubby has tons of this around and I am going to try making some things for him to reach his ridiculous protein goal. This post was really well done. I will have to get creative- THANKS!

Mike Eberhart said...

Good luck with the gluten-free whey-protein baking. I've been using it daily in my pancakes, and my wife put it in the orange-nut cake recipe we have online here, and we've used it in other gluten-free desserts and more too. It's quite versatile, and I'm sure you can come up with some wonderful GF treats that make use of it! Enjoy.

Anonymous said...


If I want to experiment with this whey protein in my breads and cakes, how would you recommend I go about it? Should I use it as a substitute for some of the flour in the recipe, or should I use it as an additive to impart fluffiness/chewiness?

Mike Eberhart said...

I personally found the best thing to do was experiment. I added whey to some of my everyday things (like the pancakes I discuss on the blog), and quickly found what proportions made sense. I have found that it doesn't take very much of the stuff to make a difference. And, it doesn't seem to change the wet-ingredients requirements too much either.

I mix the whey in with my other dry ingredients first for even distribution, since I did notice that adding it directly to the wet ingredients could sometimes result in whey-lumpies :)

I know this is not the most helpful advice perhaps, since I am saying that it will take some experimentation, but it really should bear fruit quickly. For me, the key was practicing on *small-batch* stuff (like the pancakes) where I could get a feel for how best to use the stuff without the prospect of pitching an entire cake if something went wrong. I'm always an advocate of baking 1/4 or 1/2 batches of things when practicing to keep the ingredient-use down in case of failure. And, when I have a success, I just multiply up, bake a "whole" recipe and further fine-tune as needed.

Bottom line is that it shouldn't be TOO tough to get some quick-positives. I'd say just start with small amounts of whey, and see what the effect is. Perhaps just 2 or 3 tablespoons in a batch of cookies or a cake to start with, and work up.

Another way to determine any "moisture impact" that works is this: if you know the normal batter-consistency (prior to whey) that you are shooting for, just take a couple tablespoons of whey (if you are willing to "risk" it), and slowly add water to it until the whey/water mix is similarly wet as compared to desired batter outcome. That'll give you a feel for how much extra moisture *may* be needed. It's a good way to rough-out the attempt. I tend to just eyeball the batter or dough look/feel as I go, since I generally know what level of moisture works now (I bake a lot) when practicing new recipes. But, you have quite a few options.

Hope that all helps at least somewhat. Regards. M.

Anonymous said...

I baked Greek pastry with phyllo, prior to my diagnosis. Since, I have not been able to reproduce gluten- free. Have you tried, and if not, any suggestions where to start? Thanks.

Mike Eberhart said...

Wow... now that is something I have not had in ages. Ah, now you have me dreaming of Baklava. mmmmm. But, I have not tried to create such a thing. Phyllo (or filo) dough's paper-thin "sheets" or "leafs" would be an amazing thing to assemble without gluten.

Now you have me wondering if it would be possible to make a really convincing gluten-free phyllo dough, and whether the whey protein could be used to help. My gut feel is that anything is possible with enough work (Edison comes to mind), but I could only guess where to begin. My inclination is that I would make a very wet batter - nearly a liquid (including some whey) that I could pour out and allow to dry in very thin "sheets". This is purely conjecture though, since I have no idea what would happen.

Since I can nearly taste a sweet bite of Baklava, with some honey and nuts... mmmm... I may just have to try making such a thing. If anyone can pull off the recipe for a *convincing* (i.e., like the *real* thing) gluten-free baklava to share with everyone, I'd certainly reward them with a free book... or two :)

In the mean time, if/when I get time to play kitchen-chemist, I will at least TRY to make something resembling a filo dough. (I admit: it's a bad time of year for this - great weather puts me outdoors more than in the kitchen)

Anonymous said...

I'm brand new to this - learning to cook GF for my new GF - but for phillo, it seems like you might need a crepe maker. Crepe recipes have lots of sugar and eggs (if memory serves..)but the cooker should make thin sheets from any batter. Mine (when I was a kid) was convex, internally heated, like the opposite of a frypan - you'd invert it and dip it into a pan of batter. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

Mike, i just stumbled upon your site just now and am so excited to have discovered you!! my daughter who is seven, was diagnosed nine months ago, and finding recipes for foods (cookies, cakes and all the goodies kids like really) that even REMOTELY resemble her favorites has been a real struggle for us. my husband has made it his mission to perfect a GF chocolate chip cookie and pancake! we throw away more than we eat unfortunately...but we persevere. you have some very good tips and cannot wait to try some of your ideas out...especially the whey in the pancake one. we are trying to make the other kids in the house eat gf as well(mostly becuase she feels SO left out of the whole food thing) and it is a pretty tough sell let me tell you! but if we could find great substitutes that taste and "feel" like the real thing, we might be on our way.

my husband has been the one to do most of the baking/experimenting and he will be so thrilled to read your ideas here. i look forward to purchasing some of your books as well.

feeling a big sigh of relief right now.....thanks.

Mike Eberhart said...

I know the feeling when it comes to not having foods that resemble the real thing, which is what inspired my wife and I to create the desserts cookbook.

Thanks for your comments, and I am glad you find my ideas helpful here. Stay tuned, I have some more coming... been playing around with whey more and chia seeds. I hope to publish variations for the recipes in our book where I will explore additional ways to achieve nice results. I have one for the banana bread done, and more coming.

Enjoy those pancakes! I know I do :)

DeeBert said...

I don't know much about protein powders, but as we are also soy and casein free, do you think brown rice protein could possibly work the same way?

Mike Eberhart said...

I have not tried any form of isolated rice protein, though I have my doubts it would perform the same. All I can say is, if you have the stuff, give it a try. One item that I have found which lends *some* of that similar binding-power is Chia seed, which I wrote about here recently. It works rather well. Again, experimentation is the key to all this GF baking, so if you have the time and resources to play around with things like the rice protein, give it a go :)

Angela said...

Very interesting about "whey" protein, however, we need to use brown rice powder due to dairy/soy/egg allergies. I have experimented a little with "Better Than Milk Rice Powder" in cookies, which makes them very sweet, gluten-free, and chewy. I have also discovered xanathan gum, and just 1/2 t. has helped me make cookies with quinoa, brown rice, millet, buckwheat, and teff flours. I'll have to try the brown rice protein powder. Interesting posts, we just went to a Greek Festival and had baklava (my husband couldn't have it), but it inspired me to look into a way to make phyllo. I'll let you know if I think of anything (:

Curious Art said...

Thanks so much for this brilliant idea! I was searching gf whey when I found out the protein drink I'd been using was what had caused a reaction, just looking for a "clean" whey for dietary supplement. This post was very helpful in that regard, but the idea of using it in baking hadn't even occurred to me! I'm so excited to try it!

Armando said...

It´s great. Thanks for sharing the information on this new product. I´ll start to taking it very soon.

shannadarx said...

Mike, I'm just wondering if using the Whey protein removes the need to use Xanthum or Guar gum? Because I'd really love to be able to avoid those in my GF baking attempts. Thanks so much for your enthusiasm and effort.

Mike Eberhart said...


Yes indeed, the whey protein can remove the "need" for Xanthan or Guar gums (the "need" being what I consider a myth in gluten-free baking). Actually, if you follow this blog and/or own our Gluten-Free and Wheat-Free Gourmet Desserts recipes book, you will see that we do not use gums regardless. It is one of our book's "claim to fame" : the face we do not use gums for Gluten-Free baking when nearly everyone else does. (and, the book recipes do not even use whey protein; the recipes work wonderfully without).

Gums (Xanthan, Guar, etc), for whatever reason, mess my stomach / GI region up something fierce, especially if I consume very much of them at once, so I avoid them with rare exception. There are a few bread recipes on our website that include gums, but I have engineered some versions without (since posting those recipes online). Whey protein can introduce some of that gum-like binding-power, without the gums. Being an isolated protein, it makes up for the gluten (which is also protein, that we just can not use) that was removed from Celiac-safe recipes. Whey protein definitely does offer some benefits with regard to texture and hold-together-power.

I would suggest experimenting and getting used to the properties that Whey protein brings into the fold... you can also accidentally "overdo a good thing" with whey, so getting the proportions right is a matter of practice. E.g., I know how much whey protein my morning gluten-free pancakes need to get the perfect binding power and overall texture. But, when playing with bread and cake recipes, it usually takes me a few times to get it "right". I also use the whey in combination with pre-hydrated chia-seed for a really nice super combo gluten-free "gluten". (see other discussion of chia here on this blog). And, as with whey alone, that takes some experimentation.

Good luck, and I hope you find the whey protein helpful in your gluten-free baking and recipes once you start experimenting.

Carol said...

I have found mixed information on using whey protein isolate in baking. I personally called Now Foods and spoke with their dietician. I use their whey isolate in a drink form and asked about using it to make bread. The dietician says the heat in cooking destroys/denatures the protein and not to use it that way. I have found other sources on Google that say the same thing. But then, I have found other sources that have recipes using the whey isolate. I am confused and have been holding off using it in baking until I can confirm its usefulness in baking.

Nathan Jarvis said...

clkagan: as far as my understanding of cooking processes goes, yes the heat of the baking would cause the milk proteins to denature and coagulate. The same process happens when you cook meat: the heat causes the proteins to denature (basically unwind) and then coagulate (bind together). I don't know exactly how that affects the nutrition, but since you can get protein from cooked meat, I would think that the milk protein would still be nutritious for your body.

Anonymous said...

I have been doing a lot of research lately about soy versus whey protein powder and about a safe gluten free version. Just because a product says gluten free/wheat free does not mean it is safe (especially for those of us with celiac) Unless it is certified GF with a circle around it, it can still cause problems. The Biochem brand is certified GF but make sure you always check everything you buy as formulations can always change on any product.

Anonymous said...

I would like to start using whey protein isolate in my baking, so do you have any posts that are more specific about how much you need in a recipe?

Mike Eberhart said...

The amount per recipe varies considerably based on what type of food (or baking) I am using the whey protein in and I tailor it to my needs via trial and error. I do recall having this gluten-free recipes - pancakes using whey protein posted onine, but not sure how many other recipes I posted. For my own baking, I rarely even measure ingredients unless I know for sure I will be publishing the recipe. Hopefully the pancake recipe is a good starting point. regards, m.

Anonymous said...

I can's do Casein - What could be used in place of the Whey Protein protein???? If so - what brand do you recommend and how much should be used in replacement for what aspect of a GF flour blend?

Mike Eberhart said...

Sorry, but I am totally soy-free and so are all my recipes.

As for another alternate to Whey, I have used egg-whites (and/or isolated egg-white protein) where possible and have found it to work quite nicely and not alter the flavor of baked items too much. In fact, that is one great thing with the whey protein: it didn't change flavor profile of recipes much. So, an inert-tasting protein is ideal. As such, that really limits what I'd recommend as it will depend greatly on the recipe as to whether the taste of any particular protein will affect (negatively) the outcome/taste.

I have used pea-protein on occasion, but that definitely has a taste. So does soy. And some things like hemp protein are interesting but way too "strong" flavored for most recipes. Also, I have found the veggie-derived proteins in general (like soy, pea, hemp, etc.) tend not to have the same baking profile that the whey and/or egg protein offers.

Bottom line: it is going to take some experimentation and the type/amount of your protein addition(s) will vary by recipe. You will likely have to do what I do and that is simply experiment until it comes out "right". Worst problem with that is the *cost* of the various proteins (I know from experience), and it really is annoying when a recipe flops along with a couple added $$ of whey or whatever. Best wishes. m

Annalise Roberts said...

Are you the first gluten-free baker to discuss using whey protein isolate in a gluten-free recipe (it had been used for years in low-carb baking, but I can't find any other GF-only cookbook writers using it in their recipes.

Mike Eberhart said...

Yes, as far as I am aware, I was the first to discuss using whey-protein in Gluten-Free baking and to post GF recipes using whey protein. I had looked all over the web before doing so and never found any. So, I did it.

Since writing this article originally in 2007 I have incorporated isolated why protein into a lot of our recipes -- some of which I have posted and quite a few others I keep meaning to get around to posting buy have not. I have found it to be absolutely wonderful, though it takes some experimentation to get each recipe's proportions just right. I even came up with some otherwise "impossible" things like GF filo dough in super-duper-thin sheets.

Another protein that is just as good, if not ever perhaps better in some recipes, is egg-white protein. Depending on access to it (e.g., Costco has liquid egg-whites in bulk; also Now Foods has powdered egg-white protein), it may be worth trying.

With luck, and when I get "free time", I will try to post more recipes using Whey protein. For that matter, I have a lot of other potentially-interesting recipes that use what may be "novel" ingredients for my GF baking -- everything from Benefiber (wheat dextrin, which is considered GF), to hemp protein / fiber, to avocado (in things like cheesecakes), and even diary-free "ice cream" made using Coconut Oil. Just lacking that "free time" lately, and for quite while.