The famous California dairy company is behind a Silicon Valley-based biotech start-up. The industry is hoping that their genetically engineered yeast will be able to produce dairy alternatives better or at least as good as those produced by the cows. After the recent plant-base alternative meat and dairy startups, Muufri (pronounced as Moo-Free) was founded in May of 2014, and implies a different idea to develop the products.
The aim is to develop alternatives in lab that will be similar to the real things in taste, texture, mouth feel, look, flavor and cooking properties, using the plant based food startups. Up till now no one had attempted to replicate one of the most basic and universal foodstuff of all, that is milk.
Co-founder and CEO Ryan Pandya says that it’s one of the reasons he and CTO Perumal Gandhi stepped into the emptiness with Muufri. The renewed vegans will also lead other industry names by going down this road, that is, feeding a population expected to hit 9 million, which is still growing by 2050 and that too in a justifiable manner. 3 percent of greenhouse gas emissions along with the often inhumane treatment of the cattle can be credited to dairy production, according to the UN.
“There are just such so many problems with the food industry,” says Pandya, who is a bachelor in chemical and biological engineering from Tufts University, “and the way to address those problems with inefficiency is to remove animals from the equation as much as we can.”
According to Pandya, synthesizing milk can be an ideal process, with less than 20 components that include almost 87% water and proteins, enzymes, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. The process of manufacturing of the company will include six key proteins that will hold the structure and help in function and eight key fatty acids, for flavor and richness. To replicate the curdy backbone, Muufri is bioengineering yeast to produce authentic milk proteins, instead of using cashews and almonds like other cheese makers do. They believe that this will give the same taste and nutrition as the regular milk gives.
Muufri’s GMO process is started by adding sequences of cow DNA into the yeast cells. Optimal temperature and concentration conditions are set to grow the cultures in, the resulting milk proteins are then ready for harvest. It is also planned to put the plant-derived fats through the biotech process to replicate the flavour and make-up of milk fats, while minerals and sugars like calcium will be separately included. For greater health benefits, the recipe can easily be tweaked, like using alternate sugar for lactose for people who are lactose-intolerant, or getting rid of cholesterol altogether. Goat milk, buffalo milk, whole milk and skimmed milk – are also a viable option.
Pandya explains that there are a number of advantages to using yeast. It’s a common organism in the food industry and a component in wine making, bread and beer and is easier for consumers to take, while quite a few strains have been considered safe by the FDA. Growing it is easy with a fast amount of time in a wide range of temperatures, and Pandya can more easily connect their milk-making process to brewing beer, that is by usage of similar looking vats. For those who are concerned about the vast GMO produced, Muufri has the yeast engineered to die within hours after production.
The goal of Muufri is to produce a product as good as milk if not better and provide it to the consumers cheaper. Muufri may initially be twice the price of cow milk, but without the bacteria that is found in milk, there will be no need for pasteurization. Hence Muufri is bound to have a very long shelf life. The synthetic milk is still in development and is predicted to hit the market by the summer of 2015.