‘Lab-grown’ dairy replaces cows with yeast

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(Photo: Engin Akyurt/Unsplash)
The last few years have seen a big increase in the number of milk alternatives on supermarket shelves. Where cow’s milk once sat alone, there are now soy, almond, oat, macadamia, coconut, hemp, cashew, and even pea milks. But while these products aim to replicate the creamy texture and slightly sweet taste of cow’s milk, most are far from the “real thing.” Consumers who love the experience of drinking cow’s milk but want to avoid the product for environmental, animal welfare or dietary reasons have yet to find their perfect partner.

Thanks to a new form of milk synthesis, that could change. Australian startup Eden Brew has been hard at work perfecting a way to create “cow-free dairy” using yeast. Rather than relying on cows, which require a lot of land and emit greenhouse gases, Eden Brew uses a process called precision fermentation to produce milk protein in the lab. The result is a product that matches the taste, appearance, mouthfeel and heat stability normally boasted by cow’s milk.

(Photo: Eden Brew)

Eden Brew scientists begin by using synthetic DNA to genetically program yeast and other microorganisms to produce specific proteins. Cow’s milk contains about 20 different proteins, which are either considered casein or whey proteins. These give cow’s milk its color, texture and ability to withstand high heat, the latter of which is essential to prevent curdling when added to coffee or stovetop meals. Eden Brew synthesizes six of these proteins in the lab, then dehydrates them to sell to dairy companies. Once a dairy company gets these proteins, they can rehydrate them and blend them into a marketable product. Minerals, vegetable fats and a small amount of sugar make protein a cow-free (and lactose-free) competitor to what some now consider an obsolete product.

American startups like Perfect Day and New Culture use similar precision fermentation processes to make proteins used in cow-free cheeses, yogurts and ice cream. In fact, they’re so popular that you may have eaten yeast-based dairy without even realizing it: many frozen desserts, chocolate bars, whey protein, and other products advertised as “lactose-free.” » use these companies. protein in their recipes. Like animal-free “meat” products, lab-grown dairy products are even popular with consumers who are indifferent to animal welfare and environmental concerns, but find the novelty of the products intriguing.

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