Americans are eating more dairy than ever, with consumption rising each year. But this love of cheese, yogurt, and ice cream isn't just reserved for items made from cow milk. Plant-based milks are increasingly popular, as well as a new category of dairy that you may not have heard of. These animal-free dairy products aren't made from almonds or soybeans but from protein produced in a lab. An increasing number of startups are using a process called precision fermentation to create milk proteins using yeasts or fungi instead of cows.
Once harvested, these lab-grown milk proteins can be transformed into all the dairy items we are already familiar with. As a plus, these proteins don't contain lactose, and concerns about the growth hormones or antibiotics found in cow milk protein aren't a factor. An added bonus is also the environmental impact. A lot of focus has been given to the toll that raising cattle takes on the environment. In fact, eating less red meat is one important way that anyone can help reduce their carbon footprint. But consuming less dairy is also an easy way to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.
Perfect Day is at the forefront of this technology. Founded in 2014 by two vegans who were left unsatisfied by traditional dairy alternatives, the company is leading the animal-free dairy charge. Chief executive Ryan Pandya was newly vegetarian when he began looking into the issue after being underwhelmed by his experience with vegan cream cheese.
“I had a bagel with vegan cream cheese that was so bad that it led me to investigate. What’s so hard about this? A lot of dairy alternatives are not made of food,” he recalled.
Pandya, who was studying chemistry and bioengineering at the time, then homed in on precision fermentation as the solution to the problem. Similar to the way that beer is brewed or insulin is produced, the process allows for the production of high-quality milk protein. The resulting food items have the taste and texture of regular dairy without the need for cattle.
Perfect Day is now supplying its lab produced-milk protein to major players in the food industry. General Mills has produced a line of cream cheese with precision fermentation protein from Perfect Day (they're now using a supplier from Israel). They've also partnered with Mars, Nestlé, Starbucks, and Graeter to supply protein for their products. Bravo Robot, a company based on cruelty-free, sustainable principles, uses Perfect Day milk protein for its ice creams.
While Perfect Day is the first company to hit the U.S. market, there are others on the way. Founded in 2020, Change Foods also produces milk protein through precision fermentation and is looking to supply the ingredient to others as well as create their own line of cheeses.
It will be interesting to see if animal-free dairy can take hold in the market, particularly in terms of cost. There will also be a hurdle in overcoming the public's suspicion about lab-generated food. But with the UN warning that greenhouse gas emissions must be slashed immediately in order to avoid catastrophic global warming, this technology certainly seems like the perfect way to make an impact.
Companies are using yeasts and fungi to produce milk protein that can be transformed into delicious, animal-free dairy products.
h/t: [Washington Post]