Soon it will be possible to do without cows for milk production, scientists say. Such a product will theoretically be more useful and suitable for everyone, without exception. Moreover, several companies have recently announced the production of plant-based meat analogues. Next in line is cheese.
The active trend towards abandonment of animal products has led to a boom in the production of analog products that have the same shape, color and taste as animal products.
Recently, a number of companies have announced the production of plant-based meat analogs or natural meat substitutes made from plant-based rather than animal-based materials. Meat analogs usually correspond to certain aesthetic qualities (such as texture, taste and appearance) or chemical characteristics of certain types of meat. Many analogues are made from soy or gluten, but now they can also be made from pea or mushroom protein.
We talked about meat, but that's not all that animals give us. Many bioengineers are eager to find analogues of one of the most popular animal products - milk. Of course, there are different types of plant-based milk, including soy milk and coconut milk, but in this article we decided to talk about milk production, which has the same characteristics as animal milk.
Search for dairy substitutes
The American company "Perfect Day" is considered the most advanced laboratory dairy products market. She is looking for plant-based alternatives to dairy products of animal origin.
It all started in 2014, when company founder Ryan Pandya decided to make a cream cheese cake. Pandya tried to make a cream cheese for a cream from herbal ingredients - soybeans. But his attempt failed, as the cream cheese turned out to be too light and airy.
Ryan Pandya became a vegetarian as a teenager, concerned with animal welfare and the environmental impact of meat production. When switching to a vegetarian diet, he faced a serious problem - Pandya was an ardent fan of dairy products.
After a failed experiment with cream cheese, he began looking for a way to make his favorite dairy products without cow's milk. In 2014, Ryan Pandya and his friend Perumal Gandhi, who were looking for a solution to the same problem, together formed Perfect Day, which revolutionized the dairy market. The company used "precision fermentation" technology to produce lactose-free products containing casein and whey proteins that are no different from those found in cow's milk.
Precision Fermentation - Revolutionizing the Dairy Industry
Precision fermentation is a technology that allows microorganisms to be programmed to produce animal products, the most famous of which is currently milk. The main components found in animal milk are casein and whey proteins. So producing milk with these two components and without using the animals themselves means that we get milk that is closer to animal milk, but we do not take it from the cows.
Of course, microbial fermentation is not a new technology in the food industry. Since ancient times, people have used the fermentation process.Bread, cheese, yoghurt, beer, and wine are the main types of fermentation in food. It is the process of processing food with various types of yeast and bacteria.
The new method uses genetically modified microorganisms (often fungi of the genus Trichoderma). Scientists alter the sequence of nucleotides in their DNA chains to make them produce certain types of proteins (casein and whey proteins).
These genetically modified microorganisms are grown in bioreactors, where they convert the carbohydrates found in sweet corn into plant proteins, not animal proteins. They are then separated from genetically modified bacteria so that they have the same aesthetic and nutritional properties as their animal counterparts. These proteins can be dried and used as ingredients in a variety of dairy products that contain milk protein.
The technology of genetically modifying microorganisms to produce specific proteins and enzymes has been used since the 1970s, when biotech companies used genetic engineering to make chymosin from bacteria or yeast. Chymosin (or rennin) is one of five digestive enzymes produced in the gastric glands of young calves. It is responsible for protein digestion and milk coagulation. The laboratory production of chymosin began to develop rapidly due to the deficiency of this enzyme, which caused problems in the cheese industry.
How is the production of artificial meat different from milk?
Artificial milk is easier to produce than meat. Animal stem cells are used for meat production. They are placed in a nutrient medium and placed in a bioreactor, where the formation of muscles, adipose, and sometimes connective tissue occurs. Milk is simply a mixture of biomolecules partially dissolved in water and therefore easy to produce.
Milk consists of only six proteins, four of which are different types of casein, and two are whey derivatives. Milk also contains fats, sugars and minerals that are suspended or partially dissolved in water. Most fermentation companies nowadays focus on the production of milk protein components rather than whole milk.
Perfect Day produces whey proteins using Trichoderma reesei. This protein is used as a milk replacer by three brands of vegan ice cream currently sold in the United States. Simply put, there is no need to produce whole milk, but the milk components can be easily produced and used in products that must contain milk.
Vegan ice cream is competitively priced at $ 5.99 per pint. This low price is in stark contrast to the expensive vegetarian meat. A few slices of vegan chicken can cost as much as a gourmet dinner with real steak.
The reason is that fermentation is a common technology in the food industry, so no one needs to change or invent new production processes. Moreover, there is no need to convince the relevant authorities that these products are edible because they are produced using microorganisms and processes that are considered safe. When Perfect Day asked the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for permission to produce whey protein in 2020, it got it right away.
The most important difference in the production of plant-based milk using this technology is that it is theoretically healthier than real milk.It is made without some of the ingredients found in regular milk, such as antibiotics or hormones, which sometimes have negative effects on the body. In addition, plant-based milk is less likely to transmit foodborne and natural dairy infections.
In addition, plant-based milk is made lactose-free, which is suitable for people with lactose intolerance. It can also contain healthy fats and other nutrients. But for now, this is all in theory. We are waiting for this type of milk to appear on the market to find out what the specialists were able to achieve with the help of this technology. Ice cream is the only product on the market that contains vegetable milk or some other dairy product.
Cheese in line
The German company "Formo" specializes in the production of cheese. Casein and whey proteins are produced by fermentation and then converted in the traditional way into mozzarella and ricotta cheese. This is good news for those who want to stop eating animal products but cannot give up cheese.
The German company has developed several prototypes of herbal cheese and plans to present them at a special event in Berlin with the participation of tasters later this year.
With plant-based ice cream and plant-based cheese prototypes on the market, it is expected that the next product bioengineers will work on will be whole milk for drinking or adding to tea and coffee. Its implementation is a big problem, but not because of technological limitations, but because of the so-called "milk wars".
In European countries, for example, dairy producers have successfully lobbied laws to ban the use of the words "milk" and "yogurt" for plant-based dairy products made from oats and nuts. The European Parliament extended the ban on the use of names for dairy products, but last May it reversed the decision due to pressure from a coalition of environmental, consumer and animal protection organizations. Thus, their position continues to be difficult.