Danone North America is partnering with Future Food Tech to launch an innovation challenge aimed at improving the properties of vegan cheese. Startups are invited to develop innovative solutions, including animal-free casein, to help solve for the functionality, including melt and stretch, of plant-based cheese alternatives.
Casein is a milk protein that gives cheese its stretching and melting properties. While many companies have tried to replicate its properties with plant-based ingredients, most attempts have fallen short.
Danone hopes the development of animal-free casein could be one solution to improve the quality of plant-based cheeses, though the company has no plans to change its current product manufacturing process. Precision fermentation technology has already made it possible to develop vegan versions of other milk proteins such as whey, and there are hopes that the same could be done for casein.
Development of vegan casein
Some companies are already developing animal-free casein — including The Fooditive Group, which claims its product will be the first available for applications in the food industry. Dutch company Those Vegan Cowboys is also working on vegan casein, while Nobell Foods has found a way to develop the protein by recreating the genetic code in soybean seeds.
Meanwhile, New Zealand-based New Culture has turned to fermentation to produce animal-free casein. The company has used the protein to create a vegan cheese that it claims is the first to truly stretch and melt.
“Plant-based cheese alternatives is one of the most technically challenging categories when it comes to dairy alternatives, especially when it comes to stretch and melt because casein is the only protein known to deliver those functionalities. I am very excited to partner with Future Food-Tech on new and innovative ways to solve this challenge collaboratively and to see the entrepreneurial ideas that come to the forefront,” said Takoua Debeche, Chief Research and Innovation Officer at Danone North America.