California company making ice cream with lab-made fungus ‘molecularly identical’ to real milk


As more consumers consider the environmental impact of dairy produce, a California start-up is using fungi to make a protein it says is ‘molecularly identical’ to the whey in cow’s milk.

The lab-made substance from Perfect Day can be used to make ice cream, cheese and other creamy delights.

While oat, soy and almond milk have become increasingly popular, co-founder Ryan Pandya told CNN he and business partner Perumal Gandh were looking for something with the ‘incredible versatility and nutrition that is somehow missing from the plant-based milks.’. 

They started out by identifying the genetic code for the whey protein in cow’s milk. 

They introduced the code into a fungus, Trichoderma reesei, that they grown in fermentation tanks, producing whey protein which is then filtered and dried into a powder.

Since 2020, Perfect Day’s fungal protein has appeared in vegan-friendly ice cream from Brave Robot, Nick’s, and Graeter’s in the US, and in Ice Age ice cream in Hong Kong.

Averaging just $5.99 a pint, it’s competitive with most store brands.

‘I liked it,’ Maille O’Donnell, corporate engagement coordinator at the GFI, told New Scientist, of Perfect Day’s faux ice cream. ‘Friends who tried also said it really tasted like dairy ice cream in a way plant-based ice creams haven’t yet.’ 

Perfect Day encodes a fungus with the  genetic code for the whey protein in cow’s milk, then grows the fungus in fermentation tank. The resultant whey protein is then filtered and dried into a powder, used in ice cream, cheese and other products

Perfect Day has raised $360 million in Series C funding, reports Crunchbase, more than half of all money invested in fermented alternative proteins in 2020, according to the nonprofit Good Food Institute.  

The company is looking for regulatory approval and business partners in Canada, India, Europe and elsewhere.

While Perfect Day bills itself as 100-percent lactose free, it still says it’s not suitable for those with milk allergies ‘because our protein is identical to the proteins from cows.’  

Pandya’s interest in lab-made dairy stemmed from a bad experience with vegan cream cheese back in 2014, ‘a runny substitute that had the texture and flavor of melted plastic.’ 

Perfect Day co-founders Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi with an assortment of dairy treats made their fungal whey protein

Perfect Day co-founders Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi with an assortment of dairy treats made their fungal whey protein

Perfect Day's version of animal-free cream cheese is expected to hit the market later this year

Perfect Day’s version of animal-free cream cheese is expected to hit the market later this year

Perfect Day’s own animal-free cream cheese is expected to hit the US market later this year, he says.  

Other fermented-protein companies, like Formo in Germany and New Culture in San Francisco, are concentrating on pizza toppings.

‘We’ve invented the world’s first real milk proteins made without animals,’ Perfect Day said in a statement on its website, ‘so you can enjoy the real taste, texture, and nutrition of dairy — but produced sustainably and without the downsides of factory farming, lactose, hormones, or antibiotics.’

More than 40 percent of habitable land in the US alone is used for livestock production, according to Bloomberg News—while much of that is for animals being prepared for slaughter, there are more than 40,000 dairy farms in the country.

A single dairy cow generates about 3.3 tons of carbon dioxide every year in the form of methane.

Perfect Day says its lab-grown whey protein is substantially better for the environment, producing 85 to 97 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than conventional dairy, mostly from electricity.

And the fermented fungus is also less cruel than traditional dairy farming.  

To produce milk year round, dairy cows must give birth to one calf a year, though its usually removed within 36 hours. The cow is then artificially inseminated again within three months of giving birth

To produce milk year round, dairy cows must give birth to one calf a year, though its usually removed within 36 hours. The cow is then artificially inseminated again within three months of giving birth

Dairy cows produces milk ‘only after she has given birth to offspring, so dairy cows must be kept in a constant cycle of pregnancy and lactation,’ writes Perfect Day spokesperson Kathleen Nay on the site. 

‘As anyone who’s ever been pregnant knows, this cycle can be hard on the body, and isn’t exactly comfortable.’ 

Calves are typically removed within 36 hours and the cow is artificially inseminated again within three months of giving birth.

If the offspring is male, it is usually killed or sold for veal. If it’s a female, it’ll likely follow the same path as its mother, with a lifespan of about five years,’ according to The Independent.  

‘The kindest thing we can do for animals is to not rely on their bodies for food,’ Nay writes. 

‘Animal-free dairy sidesteps the need to keep cattle for milk, by making the most nutritious, functional part of milk — the protein — through an animal-free fermentation process.’ 



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