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Why Is My Grassfed Whey Slightly Yellow In Color?

Why is Grassfed whey more yellow ?

Why are there noticeable color differences between unflavored whey protein brands with no additives?

No matter the unflavored grassfed whey protein you have been using to hit your macros, have you ever noticed variants in powder color from time to time or from batch to batch? The dilemma of, although all things being the same (same brand, same unflavored product), the protein you received this time is whiter than the last, or maybe more of a creamy yellow color. Well, in the process of fielding a general customer service question around a user's experience with past brands, we made the promise to turn the correspondence into an article worth sharing! 

In this article, we hope to shed light on what your grass-fed whey color variations mean and the conclusions drawn.  At a high level, three contributing factors impact the color of whey protein powder. These factors are -

  1. The source of origin of the milk and, therefore, the resulting level of beta-carotene associated with the percentage of the ruminant's diet allocated towards grasses will naturally impact color.
  2. Colorant added to the milk in the 1st stage of the cheese-making process, for example, if the whey is a byproduct of a Vermont orange cheddar run.
  3. The manufacturing process (heat & stability issues).

The Best Unflavored Grass Fed Whey Fun Fact - AGN Roots Grassfed Whey is the ONLY grassfed dairy operation in the world that consistently produces the same color milk & therefore whey, year over year. By no further action of its own (Ireland), the island's geography offers the most favorable environment with impeccable consistency when it comes to climate and mother nature. Learn Why Ireland Is The Perfect Grass-Fed Environment

The Best Grass-Fed Dairy Comes From Ireland

The consistent climate of the eastern coast of Ireland is the reason why the whey protein, the milk, the butter, and all the grassfed dairy products made in this location are the same color vintage to vintage. Everything to do with the consistency of rainfall, pH of the soil, and the diet of the milk-producing grassfed cattle.

The Analogy We Can All Understand

The Best Grass-Fed Whey & The Best Wine Have A Lot In Common

If you are familiar with wine & vines, well the same concepts apply. When the end-product (bottle of wine) is highly dependent on factors outside the control of the winemaker, it's almost impossible to recreate a vintage match from one year to the next. Every element that impacts the vines are slightly different from every other year; batch to batch, just like grassfed whey, the color may change. The factors outside the winemaker's control include the various intricacies of the climate and weather patterns.

How is Whey Protein Made?

There are only a few simple steps to make any dairy product; to refresh your memory below are the steps involved in producing typical whey protein.

  1. Cows graze naturally on grass, and with their incredible ruminant bodies, convert the organic vegetation into a jam-packed nutritious, high protein high fat grass-fed milk.
  2. Cows are taken to the milking parlor a few times per day (2-3 times per day if Grassfed, 3-4 per day if grain-fed Holsteins).
  3. Milk is heated (Raw versus Pasteurization and homogenization are WHOLE other topics).
  4. It's an option to add color at this stage (cheese making) - A liquid extract using the seeds of a natural pigment from the Annatto seed exclusive to the South American achiote tree (Bixa Orellana). This step is all about the end product; what's the most orange cheese you have ever seen?
  5. Live cultures are applied depending on the desired product (think stinky cheese or hard cheese).
  6. Bacteria goes to town on the simple-sugars in the raw milk known as lactose.
  7. The acid that comes from the bacteria digesting the lactose starts to curd the milk (sticky casein globules & fat form solids)
  8. The curds go one way (casein protein and the fat). At the same time, the whey & potentially a sufficient amount of any of that natural colorant added in step 4 can then be drained out and dehydrated to form what we call whey protein concentrate.

The 3 Reasons for Color Variance in Your Grassfed Whey Protein

1.) The 100% Natural Reason – Cow's Diet

Just like the darkness of beer corresponding to malt content, the natural yellowness of milk, cheese, and whey, is related to Beta-Carotene content. The more the herd's diet is composed of lush green grasses, the more beta-carotene will pass through into the milk giving it a yellow shade and a darker color.

To understand why milk can sometimes look more yellowish than other times, we would like to introduce to you the responsible party, beta-carotene. Beta-Carotene is essentially a colorant made up of carotenoids and can be abundant in milk derived from grassfed dairy cows. Beta-Carotene is known for its vibrant orange color and is used all over the food industry as a natural colorant. The more substantial portion of a ruminant's diet made up of greens, the higher concentrations of beta-carotene there will be within the milk.

So now you know the main reason behind that goldish hue often found in dairy products like cheese, butter, creams, and yes, milk. In general, there exist multiple health benefits of consuming beta carotene. The dairy industry dating back years priced dairy products based on the premise that the darker the milk & cheese (more yellowish), the more nutritious the product.

For apparent reasons, more nutritious products drive the value of the product up and the price with it. So, understanding this fact, what do you think the struggling farmers who had historically colorless dairy products year over year did to make more money? - Now we know where orange cheese came to be.

2.) The 100% Natural Colorant Reason – Annatto

Why is My Whey Protein So Orange? Annatto

The reason this impacts the color of the powder you are using for your whey protein shake is that this colorant step of the process takes place upstream of the separation between whey and curd. The wet-whey is the color of the end product cheese in question, which means your whey is dependent on both the cheese manufacturer's choice of milk and the choice of cheese. That's right, the original reason to turn otherwise cheaper white cheese into cheaper dark or bright orange cheese to sell it under the notion that it's packed with beta-carotene as a function of how incredible the cow's diets were has everything to do with money. Similarly, the reason we love getting info like this out there helps our community put pressure on the competitors with all the same claims, but nothing to back them up. As far as cheddar cheese, don't ask us why the practice of turning perfectly great cheese bright orange is still alive and well, but just know it is!

There is a silver lining to the dependencies of your whey protein associated with the fromager. When there is cheese involved in the production of your whey protein, you can rest assured that the milk used to produce your whey is top-notch. This notion is in stark contrast to processes such a "native whey" production where whey is extracted directly from milk that, in general, is of such low quality it doesn't compete with the quality of other milk available for cheese making.

If your whey over time from one purchase to the next is changing colors, at a minimum, you are most likely not ingesting bleached whey or some other chemical residue leftover from the manufacturer's attempt at creating white whey perceived as "pure." 

3.) Manufacturing Process & Stability

Natural dairy products are not stable for long periods if exposed to elements outside their comfort levels. Usually, with dairy, if there is water or moisture involved, the first indication that a product had exposer to harsh conditions is the smell. The smell is a given most the time; if the product smells off, unless its a super expensive cheese, it's off.

When talking about Whey Protein powder, however, the moisture content is down to single-digit percentages (<6%). Without moisture, the smell won't necessarily be the primary indicator of product deterioration, so what gives?

Whether the color of the powder is due to beta-carotene as a result of a genuinely grassfed operation or whether the cheese manufacture turned the shade of the whey yellow to make a nice Havarti, both powders contain natural colorants, and thus wildly unstable outside the perfect environmental conditions.

Factors the have the potential to break down the natural colorant of dry whey powder are the same factors that cause protein structure denaturation. These factors include temperature (magnitude & time), sunlight (UV Rays), pH changes associated with Chemicals (harsh flavor systems - Citric Acids), and lastly, mechanical agitation (blending).

The reason AGN Roots Grass Fed Whey housed in a thermal barrier pouch rather than a plastic tub is to eliminate any damage to the proteins via UV light exposure. In general, it is generally a bad practice to sell whey protein in a clear plastic tub without an ultraviolet light barrier. Sunlight exposure is known to cause plastic leaching into the water phase of the whey protein, which can lead to many long term contamination issues.

So what are these factors that impact the concentrations of beta-carotene in your grassfed whey?

Conventional-Fed vs. Grass-Fed

While beta-carotene can exist within typical grain feeds (beans & legumes), the level of beta carotene in conventional grain feed doesn't compare to the concentrations within living plant pigment (lush grass) on pasture. The beta-carotene concentration profile found in living plants like grass or even general forage (various plant sources not just grass) is absurdly high compared to dry grains.

As a consumer of grassfed whey, you should be able to tell if a powder that claims to be grass-fed is not a natural off-white but rather a vibrant bright white. Based on how white (compare it to a paper towel), you may even be able to apply some logic to its color based on the source of origin. In general, the darker and more saturated looking the whey powder, the more beta carotene in theory it contains, and this can help build the case of the product came from and if it's massed produced or niche.

The Best Unflavored Grassfed Whey all "organic" is not grassfed (Organic concentrates and grain-feeds), but all genuinely grassfed is 100% Organic.

Freshness Matters –

Studies have shown that beta-carotene concentrations correlate to the degree of freshness of the grass. Farmers dehydrate grass in preparation of winter season or drought seasons (based on the geographical location of the farm) into forage, silage, or hay. Scientists found that the drier the grass gets, the less the concentrations of beta-carotene go. Therefore, based on the season, you could harvest different shades of dairy products.

Beta-Carotene has a Shelf Life –

When farmers work on storing dried grass (in preparation for winter, inclement weather, or a potential dry season), the duration of storing forage (or silage or hay) will affect the beta-carotene concentration in them. The longer the grass sits in storage, the more the beta-carotene breaks down into nothingness.

How is it that some protein powders seem to be extremely resilient to color variations batch to batch?

Similar to the question, "why are some apples on the shelf at Sprouts incredibly shiny and vibrant looking?" Many apples are waxed to shine and look vibrant during the washing process well before being loaded on trucks. Although the apple from a perfection point of view was knocked down a peg or two on the "natural-looking" scale, it gained ground on the "attractiveness scale" as consumers are generally more attracted to shiny apples.

For whey protein, we are always shocked to read consumer reviews bashing a top brand for variations in the color of the end product. For example, "my whey this time is a little yellow, can I return it for a fresh batch."

It's common logic to think that because most milk is white, whey protein should be white too. The inference, unfortunately, depends on some bad logic that equates the whiteness of color to a high level of purity. Well, as customer-service goes, most consumers of a product like AGN Roots Grass-Fed Whey are very willing to learn and are very open to information. Too often, brands attempt to meet consumer demand rooted in wrong marketing information. Can you imagine if whey protein brands bleached their whey similar to apple producers waxing their apples for a shine? 

Are There Bleaching Agents or Peroxide in Whey Protein?

Well, just like a batch of dull apples, the incentive-driven by the consumer is to have them shined, of course. In terms of whey protein, it's become a standard processing step to chemically bleach the colorants out of the powder yielding a more uniform color variance batch to batch. The actual chemicals used in this process are hydrogen peroxide or benzoyl peroxide (legal bleaching agents in the US). Both agents can easily manage the removal process of any yellow shade imaginable. The existence of chemical detergents in whey protein powders is possible and not uncommon.

The Underlying Issues Remain –

How do we get the correct information out such that consumers everywhere have the opportunity to recognize that the healthiest grassfed whey protein on the planet if left untouched, unflavored as if still innocent & naked, is a little yellowish? If humanity is capable of believing that bigfoot is "blurry," we at AGN Roots remain optimistic about how grassfed whey is perceived!  Please comment if you enjoyed this information.

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Good article. Helpful.

Jonathon Douglas

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