Lab-grown dairy is the future of milk: researchers
International desk || shiningbd
For decades, people on plant-based diets were restricted to soya-based options to recreate dairy, until veganism went mainstream and a clutch of palate-pleasing almond, coconut and oat-based alternatives emerged.
Last week, Swedish scientists launched a potato milk, equally lauded for its sustainability credentials and criticised for deriving from a humdrum carbohydrate. The holy grail now – according to researchers – is genuine dairy milk, made in a lab.
A growing number of startups from Silicon Valley to Singapore are rapidly joining the race to create the first imitation cow’s milk, based on artificially reproducing the proteins in curds (casein) and whey, that is suitable for mass market consumption.
Scientists say it will recreate dairy’s authentic mouthfeel and temperature resistance, and constitute the perfect texture for vegan cheese, capable of melting just like the real thing.
The quest is big business, with the dairy alternatives market among the fastest growing of all packaged foods, and worth £2.5bn in western Europe in 2020-21, according to new figures from Euromonitor. In the UK, the market has grown by 69% over the past five years, with non-soya-based milks increasing by 129%.
The barrier, according to Marite Cardenas, a researcher at Malmö University working on casein protein, is that mimicking the proteins found in cow’s milk to create lab-grown dairy is a “biotechnological challenge”.
It’s usually done by giving microorganisms a genetic code that enables them to produce real milk proteins through a precision fermentation process – but this is difficult to do on the large scale required for manufacturing.
Cardenas thinks recreating animal products will enable the food traditions many countries are proud of, such as cheese-making, to endure the societal shift to a more plant-based diet.
Mainstream consumers are also more likely to adopt plant-based products if they are as tasty as the real thing, said Mike Leonard, chief technology officer at Motif FoodWorks, which is working with several universities to develop better plant-based foods. “Most of our current options just don’t cut it in terms of an eating experience,” he said.
The only company to have brought protein fermentation-based products to market so far is Perfect Day, a Silicon Valley-based startup. It developed the first whey protein from cow’s milk, and now sells its products across 5,000 stores in the US.