A tech startup is making convincing cow-free milk by genetically engineering yeast
[August 12, 2021: Chase Purdy]
A Silicon Valley food startup is looking to spill a lot of milk in grocery stores across America—by offering shoppers a replica of the real thing.
California-based Perfect Day is just one of several promising young companies aiming to upend animal farming using science and high-tech engineering to create the same types of foods that farm animals have traditionally produced: milk, eggs, and meat. If these new food-industry players find success in the marketplace, it could help shrink the animal agriculture significant environmental footprint; the United Nations estimates the livestock industry is responsible for over 14% of total global greenhouse-gas emissions.
The supermarket dairy aisle has already been disrupted by an array of plant-based milks. According to recent data from Nielsen, plant-based milks currently account for 9.3% of total milk sales in the US.
But Perfect Day hopes to offer something new. Its milk product is made by altering sections of the DNA sequence of food-grade yeast such that the microorganisms, once fed with certain nutrients, produce many of the proteins found in milk, including casein, lactoglobulin, and lactalbumin.
Perfect Day makes dairy protein that is “molecularly identical” to the protein in cow’s milk, says co-founder Ryan Pandya. That means it can be used to make dairy products such as cheese and yogurt as well. “We were interested in the question of what is in milk … that gives it incredible versatility and nutrition that is somehow missing from the plant-based milks,” says Pandya.
Perfect Day describes the process as akin to brewing craft beer. And it gives Perfect Day’s product many of the same properties as milk from a cow, like the ability to work in an emulsion and to give foods a softened texture. That means it can be used in much the same way to make dairy-driven foods like mozzarella cheese, baked goods that require milk, yogurt, and milk shakes.
In theory, it’s a lactose-free, environmentally friendly form of dairy that’s nearly as good as the real thing.
The dairy aisle is only the first battle in Perfect Day’s war on cow-based products. In a recent interview with Food Navigator, the company said it was fielding interest in its milk product from some of the world’s biggest food manufacturers. Those kind of potential deals could have huge implications for the future of food. It means food companies interested in incorporating nutrient-dense protein without turning to animals or plants will have an option.
“I honestly think that in five years I don’t know why anyone would use plant-based proteins in certain products anymore,” Perfect Day co-founder Ryan Pandya told Food Navigator. “Dairy proteins have the best amino acid profile and the best nutrition, so it’s a goldilocks product really.”
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