- 100% natural endemic to grassfed diary operations and natural beta-carotene associated with such a diet.
- Colorant added to the milk in the 1st stage of the cheese making process, as the whey is a byproduct of a Vermont orange cheddar run (for example).
- The manufacturing process (heat & stability issues).
Why are there obvious 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 batch 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 some light on what your grassfed whey color variations may mean and what conclusions can be reasonably drawn. At a high level there are 3 contributing factors that impact color of whey protein powder. These factors are -
The Best Unflavored Grass Fed Whey Fun Fact - AGN Roots Grassfed Whey is the ONLY grassfed diary operation in the world that consistently produces the same color milk & therefore whey, year over year. By no extra action of it’s own (Ireland), the island’s geography offers the most advantageous environment with impeccable consistency when it comes to climate and mother nature.
Endemic to Ireland – Grasslands
The consistent climate of the eastern coast of Ireland is the reason why the whey protein, the milk, the butter, and all the grassfed diary products made in this location are the same color vintage to vintage. This has 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
If you are familiar with wine & vines, well the same exact concepts apply. When the end product (bottle of wine) is 100% dependent on factors relating to the intricacies of the climate and weather patterns along with various other items completely outside the control of the wine maker, it’s almost impossible to recreate a vintage match because every year, every factor that impacts the vines are slightly different from every other year; thus batch to batch, just like grassfed whey, the color may change.
Quick Refresh – Grass-fed Whey Protein
Whey protein is made in a few simple steps; to refresh your memory –
- Cows graze naturally on grass and with their incredible ruminant bodies are able to convert plants into a jam packed nutritious high protein high fat grassfed milk.
- 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)
- Milk is heated (Raw versus Pasteurization and/or homogenization are WHOLE other topics)
- Color maybe added at this stage (cheese making) - A liquid extract is made 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?
- Live Cultures ar applied depending on what product is being made (think stinky cheese, or hard cheese)
- Bacteria goes to town on the simple sugar in the raw milk known as lactose
- The acid that comes from the bacteria digesting the lactose starts to curd the milk (sticky casein globules & fat form solids)
- The curds go one way (bringing the casein protein and the fat with it) while the whey & potentially a good 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 being related 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 shades 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 diary cows. Beta-Carotene is literally known for its vibrant orange color and is used all over the food industry as a natural colorant. The larger portion of the ruminant’s diet that is made up of greens, the higher concentrations of beta-carotene there will be in 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 exists multiple health benefits of consuming beta carotene. The diary industry dating back years priced dairy products based off the premise that the darker the milk & cheese (more yellowish), the more nutritious the product, thus the more costly it was to produce and thus the more it could be sold for. So, understanding this fact, what do you think the struggling farmers who had historically colorless diary 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
That’s right, the original reason to turn otherwise cheaper white cheese into cheaper dark or bright orange cheese in order 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!
The reason this impacts the color of the powder you are using for your whey protein shake is because this colorant step of the process is executed upstream of the separation between whey and curd. This means that when the whey is drained, after the culture has done it’s thing, the wet whey is the color of the end product cheese in question, which again, means your whey is 100% dependent on the cheese that the manufacturer feels like making that particular season.
The Silver lining; 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 left over 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 of time if exposed to elements outside their comfort levels. Usually with dairy, if there is water or moisture involved, the first sign of the product having been exposed to harsh conditions is the smell. 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 wont necessary be the primary indicator of product deterioration, so what gives? Well, whether the color of the powder is due to beta-carotene as a result of a truly grassfed operation, or whether the cheese manufacture turned the color of the whey yellow to make a nice Havarti both colors inherent to the powder are natural, and thus wildly unstable outside the perfect environmental conditions.
These factors include magnitude of temperature as well as rates of temperature change, time, exposure to sunlight & UV Rays etc… The reason AGN Roots Grass Fed Whey is sold in a thermal barrier pouch rather than a plastic tub is to eliminate any damage to the proteins via UV light exposure. In general its a very poor practice to sell whey protein in a clear (non UV barrier / protected) plastic tub. Plastic be absorbed in the water phase of the whey protein and cause long term contamination issues.
So what are these factors that impact the concentrations of beta-carotene in your grassfed whey?
Conventional-fed (organic or not) vs. Grass-fed –
While beta-carotene can potentially be found in the grain feed that is fed to non-grassfed cattle (beans & legumes), the level of beta carotene in conventional grain feed just can’t compare to the concentrations within the living plant pigment (lush grass). 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. This fact is why, you as a consumer of grassfed whey, should be able to tell from batch to batch, how much time was spent on pasture versus how much of their herds diet was supplemented with nutrient rich grain. In general, the darker and richer looking the whey powder, the more beta carotene it contains and this can help build the case that the product was actually sourced from pasture fed / grassfed cows.
The Best Unflavored Grassfed Whey Fun Fact – all “organic” is not grassfed, but all truly grassfed is organic, certified or not. This is because there are no farms that can afford such great living conditions for their cattle, yet poison their land by adding non organic compounds.
Freshness Matters –
Studies have shown that beta-carotene concentrations are directly correlated 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 goes. 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) would 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?
The answer to this is similar to the question, “why are some apples on the shelf at Sprouts incredibly shiny and vibrant looking?” well, its because the apples were literally 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 great brand for variations in color of the end product. For whatever reason the perception is, most milk is white, therefore it's not far fetched to think whey should be white too, as if this whiteness color serves as the imprimatur of purity. Well, as customer service goes, most consumers of a product like AGN Grass Fed Roots are very willing to learn and open to new ideas. This is important so brands aren't pushed into attempting to meet this demand for white protein powder and end up in a similar scenario where farmers are waxing their apples.
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 common processing step to chemically bleach the colorants out of the powder yielding a more white and therefore more appealing powder. As far as the actual chemicals used in this process, look no further than hydrogen peroxide or benzyl peroxide (legal bleaching agents in the US). Both those agents can easily manage the removal process of any yellow shade imaginable. Nothing like consuming a consistent amount of bleach every time you train and enjoy a nice post workout smoothie.
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 actually a little little yellowish in color. If humanity is capable of believing that big foot is “blurry”, we at AGN Roots remain optimistic to how grassfed why is perceived.!!! Please comment if you enjoyed this information.