Whey upgrading by enzyme biocatalysis
Whey is a co-product of processes for the production of cheese and casein that retains most of the lactose content in milk. World production of whey is estimated around 200 million tons per year with an increase rate of about 2%/per year. Milk production is seasonal, so surplus whey is unavoidable. Traditionally, whey producers have considered it as a nuisance and strategies of whey handling have been mostly oriented to their more convenient disposal. This vision has been steadily evolving because of the upgrading potential of whey major components (lactose and whey proteins), but also because of more stringent regulations of waste disposal. Only the big cheese manufacturing companies are in the position of implementing technologies for their recovery and upgrading, so there is a major challenge in incorporating medium and small size producers to a platform of whey utilization, conciliating industrial interest with environmental protection within the framework of sustainable development. Within this context, among the many technological options for whey upgrading, transformation of whey components by enzyme biocatalysis appears as prominent. In fact, enzymes are green catalysts that can perform a myriad of transformation reactions under mild conditions and with strict specificity, so reducing production costs and environmental burden. This review pretends to highlight the impact of biocatalysis within a platform of whey upgrading. Technological options are shortly reviewed and then an in-depth and critical appraisal of enzyme technologies for whey upgrading is presented, with a special focus on newly developed enzymatic processes of organic synthesis, where the added value is high, being then a powerful driving force for industrial implementation.