Milk is an amazing food that contains a wide range of important dietary components. And while ultimate thanks for this nutritional goodness goes to our dairy herds big and small, some clever engineering from GEA means that industry can extract and formulate key milk fractions into high value products that boost the nutritional value of many different foods and supplements.
Today, milk and dairy-based products represent a hugely important source of key nutrition for millions of people worldwide. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), milk represents a major source of dietary energy, high-quality protein and fat, and can be an important source of calcium, magnesium, selenium, riboflavin, vitamin B12 and pantothenic acid1.
Developments in industrial processing technologies and equipment mean it is now possible to separate out many different milk components. From the simple extraction of the milk protein casein – easily recognized as the solids that separate out in soured milk, or cheese curds – to the extraction of lactose, which is the primary sugar in milk, scientists and engineers have generated effective ways of isolating key nutritional components from the milk of cows, goats, sheep, buffalo and other species.
Today milk whey protein is processed into high-value whey protein hydrolysates, concentrates, isolates, and other formulations, which are used in a wide range of nutritional powders, drinks and snacks. But it doesn’t end here. Innovative companies and scientific groups are working to develop new ways of exploiting different bioactive whey components, including lactoferrin.
First discovered in 1939 lactoferrin in its pure form is easily recognizable by its pink color. A natural iron-binding milk glycoprotein present in cow’s milk and in human milk, lactoferrin is present at its highest concentration in human colostrum.
Lactoferrin is a fast-growing, increasingly high value market2, and the number of producers of this whey protein has increased over recent years, particularly in light of increasing amounts of scientific research indicating that lactoferrin may have multiple health benefits. Studies suggest that lactoferrin supports the human immune system, and that it also possesses antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties, as well as multiple other potential health benefits3.
The nutritional, and potential health-related effects of lactoferrin have led to its increased use as an ingredient or additive in a wide range of infant formula products, sports and clinical nutrition supplements, yoghurt and other foods, as well as personal care and cosmetic products2.
Extracting lactoferrin from raw materials
Commercial production of lactoferrin involves the precisely controlled extraction and purification of the protein from raw materials such as skim milk, cheese whey or “native” whey, which is whey produced directly from skim milk by means of membrane filtration. The lactoferrin molecule is heat sensitive, and its functionality is significantly reduced if the protein is denatured, so careful pasteurization of the raw material is essential, and is carried out in combination with milk processing using bacteria removal separators (BRS) or micro filtration.
Extraction and purification of the lactoferrin from the raw material is then carried out using a combination of ion exchange chromatography and membrane filtration, and the purified and concentrated lactoferrin is dried into a powder by freeze drying or gentle spray drying.
GEA technologies for lactoferrin processing
Our experts here at GEA can partner with companies who might be exploring the potential to manufacture lactoferrin. We can design plant and process steps that help to maximize powder yield, hygiene and plant operability, and reduce the risk of losing or damaging valuable product. Our expertise spans multiple steps in the process, including the use of CEE high efficiency cyclones for dust separation. Specialists at our GEA Test Center in Denmark can work with customers to configure the key drying step, and provide samples for activity studies that will help to identify the optimum spray drying or freeze drying conditions for generating a lactoferrin powder with the desired characteristics.
It is especially important to configure a process that will result in highly reproducible, and finely controlled powder particle size distribution, as this is key to generating a lactoferrin powder that will display the properties and functionality required for the desired application. For example, if the lactoferrin is being produced as an ingredient in a powder blend, such as infant milk formula, it is important that the lactoferrin component can be easily blended into the milk formula, and that it does not separate out when the consumer product is stored and transported.
GEA works with customers around the world to help develop and optimize lactoferrin powder process lines for a growing global market. Talk to us to find out more.