Why does powdered baby formula dissolve perfectly in water, but protein powder (or even chocolate for chocolate milk) usually clump up?

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Why does powdered baby formula dissolve perfectly in water, but protein powder (or even chocolate for chocolate milk) usually clump up?

In: Chemistry
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First; you’re not mixing your protein powder well enough. Use a blender, shake longer than you think you need to, and keep track of how long you shake it. If it’s still clumping, shake more. Keep shaking until it’s mixed thoroughly, note how long it took you, and just do that from now on.

Second; protein powder won’t clump if you pour it in an empty cup and then pour hot liquid over it. If you use hot liquids, it’ll just dissolve real easily with some stirring. If you want to use a cold liquid, pour the liquid in first and add the powder in afterward.

Third: brand matters. Some brands clump more than others, usually due to a binding agent. Many brands use anti-“clumping” agents to prevent it.

Baby formula makers NEED their product to dissolve perfectly, for the baby’s sake. If an adult doesn’t mix up their protein enough, they have only themselves to blame, so companies don’t bother changing the formula for dissolvability

I really wouldn’t know for sure but my best guesses are that the molecules of the baby formula are hydrated. This means that water molecules are chemically added to the formula which usually increases how it can dissolve in water. Either that or protein powder might just have physically larger granules than baby formula, which would require more vigorous shaking to dissolve. Again, these are just best guesses

Formula is developed to be as close to milk as possible. It has all the vitamins, minerals, sugars, everything the baby needs, which helps it to dissolve more easily. The powder is also quite a bit finer.

On the other hand, protein powders are more pure protein. While proteins will dissolve in water, it takes quite a bit more effort. The proteins absolutely love water, but when they get wet, they tend to form a little ball with an outer wet layer and dry powder in the middle. It takes some effort to break open these clumps.

No matter how hard you try, cocoa powder for chocolate just doesn’t dissolve well at all

Baby formulas only like 10-15% protein by weight. They’re about 50% sugar by weight (mostly lactose). Most protein powders are going to be 70-90% protein by weight. Lactose dissolves into water much easier than proteins.

One anomer of **Lactose** (alpha-lactose) is often used in food products as a wetting agent to help products dissolve. The alpha-lactose crystals stay separate and hydrate easily.

Baby formula products generally contain lactose to provide carbohydrates – if that lactose is in the alpha anomer, it will dissolve easily.

Protein powders made from whey have much less lactose, so do not have this inbuilt wetting agent, and form dry clumps due to surface tension.

The alpha-lactose anomer can convert to the beta-lactose anomer when exposed to moisture. The beta-lactose forms a agglomeration of lactose crystals, which **clumps** together. This is why lactose-containing products can go hard when exposed to moist air, and become lumps that are much harder to dissolve.

One of my final year chemistry projects (bachelors degree, many years ago) was to see if I could determine the amount of beta-lactose in a lactose sample – this information is really important in the milk-processing industry, who use specialized drying techniques to maximise alpha-lactose crystallization when making lactose and milk powders. I made no headway on the project – I suspected at the time that some sort of IR Polarimetery or X-ray crystallization method might be required, but I didn’t have those sort of resources. It looks like NMR has also been used successfully.

[The measurement of the β/α anomer composition within amorphous lactose prepared by spray and freeze drying using a simple (1)H-NMR method](https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21901569/)

Not an answer but I’ve noticed that different types of protein are more or less easy to dissolve. For some reason vegan protein (rice and pea) dissolves best, followed by casein and then whey. All four from MyProtein with more than 80% protein, only a few percent carbs and no additives. It could also just be a manufacturing difference, the vegan protein powders are extremely fine (like dust).

I’ve found that protein blends which contain an emulsifier (soy Lecithin) dissolve (unsurprisingly) nicely as well. I guess one could add an emulsifier to protein powder to make it dissolve better?

It can also have to do with temperature of water as most baby formulas are heated up to feed. While the very thought of a warm peanut butter and chocolate protein shake makes me want to gag.

Question is based on a flawed premise. I have first hand experience with baby formula and can confirm that it does indeed clump.

I would also venture a guess that baby formula is packaged in smaller amounts with a shorter shelf life than protein powder and may contain less stabilizers.

Baby formulas are suckled through a rubber nipple with just a few tiny holes. If the baby formula clumps and blocks any of those tiny holes, the result will be a vary unhappy baby, and then shortly, very unhappy parents.

This means “no clumping” is a MUST-HAVE feature for baby formulas. The same incentive does not exist for adult protein powders.