Many of us can quickly list the delicious foods made from milk: cheese, yogurt, cream, butter, ice cream and more. But, from as far back as the days of the Egyptians, components of milk have been used to make inedible products, too: fabrics, paints, jewelry, plastics and adhesives; all thanks to a milk protein called casein. As research in the Food Science and AgTech industries expands, new innovative tools are allowing us to use traditional products, like milk, in new, exciting ways.

Did you know?…

Visual Arts

  • Fast-drying and water-soluble, casein paint resembles that used in oil paintings and has been used by artists since Egyptian times.
  • Since the Middle Ages, casein was used to bind panels and plates upon which artists could paint.

Musical Instruments

  • Casein is believed to have been used in the crafting of musical instruments that have lasted more than a century.
  • Some guitarists use casein plastic guitar picks because they’re durable and resemble the much-desired tortoise shell picks.
    • In fact, casein can be made to resemble more exotic materials such as horn, tusk, and semi-precious stones like amber.

Woodworking, Household & Crafts

  • Casein has been used extensively in woodworking, furniture-making, even in the building of early wooden aircraft such as the WW2 fighter plane, the Mosquito.
  • Casein glue is known to be strong, durable and water-resistant; and, it requires less energy to produce than wood glue and other synthetic glues.
  • Homemade casein glue is low-cost and non-toxic.
  • Casein filler is water-repellent, yet breathable, and provides effective, long-lasting repairs on interior or exterior walls prior to painting.
  • Casein has been used for years to color and polish leather because it retains leather’s “natural” look while achieving a uniform colour.

Plastics

  • “Galalith” means milk stone in Greek and was the first plastic material created, rapidly becoming the common name for hard casein.
    • Galalith is odourless, non-inflammable and resistant to acids and solvents. Like wood, it can be sawed, drilled, milled, glued or hand polished. However, its long drying times have made way for its competitor: polyester resins.
  • When introduced at the beginning of the 20th century, casein plastic was described as “the most beautiful of plastics”. It was easy to dye, took an attractive polish and could be produced in a wide variety of colors.
  • One of the first uses of casein plastics was in the production of buttons. Unlike other early plastic materials, casein buttons were resistant to washing, dry cleaning and the occasional brief contact with a hot iron.
  • Casein plastics have since been used for buckles, knitting needles, knife handles, fountain pens, beads, jewelry, the backings of hand-held mirrors, fancy comb and brush sets, manicure sets, low voltage electrical plugs and sockets; and the list goes on.

Food Packaging

  • In 2016, researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture developed an edible, food packaging bio-polymer from milk casein that is believed to keep food fresher than traditional plastics.

Fabrics

  • Bio-synthetic milk yarn is known for being very soft and durable.
    • When used in clothing fibre, the milk protein moistens, nourishes and lubricates the skin to reduce wrinkles and make it tender and smooth.