When you think of dairy alternatives, you probably think of cartons of soy, oat, or almond milk. But one company is pioneering a new process to create “real” dairy products without the help of plants — or cows.
Now you might wonder: If you don’t have plants and you don’t have animals, how do you make dairy products? The answer is ‘in a lab.’ California-based startup Perfect Day says its product — which contains no hormones, cholesterol, antibiotics, or lactose— “tastes, scoops, and spreads the same” as traditional dairy products.
It sounds hard to believe, but … this milkshake suggests otherwise.
Scientists at Perfect Day use a process called “precision fermentation” to churn out protein powder that can make ice cream, milk, and cream cheese. First, the scientists 3D print the compounds found in whey protein. Then they mix it with special fungi, called microflora, that quickly multiply. Once this happens, the mixture is put in a large vat (similar to ones you’d find at a brewery) where they add sugars, minerals, and vitamins. The microflora eat the sugars to produce the dairy protein normally found in cow’s milk.
Making dairy without the help of cows or plants has plenty of benefits. For one, it avoids most of the harmful pollution that comes from raising gassy dairy cows (up to 97%!). Americans eat so much dairy every year that more than 9 million cows are needed to produce it all. That means a lot of cow burps that overheat our planet!
On the other hand, typically it requires a TON of water to produce plant-based alternatives like almond milk. In fact, to make a single glass of almond milk can take more than 23 gallons of water. And as the Western U.S. experiences a historically bad drought, dairy options that use less water are critical.
Since the dairy that Perfect Day produces is lactose-free, those of you who normally avoid pizza and ice cream are in luck. And, pound for pound, this dairy has more protein than traditional protein powders.
The company is scaling fast, too, estimating that it will produce 15 times as much dairy by 2026.
As the world changes, the way we grow and make our food is changing, too. Now more than ever, we need innovative and sustainable options. But it’s also important not to sacrifice taste when doing so. By bringing on culinary experts, Perfect Day is making sure that its dairy is sustainably produced and tasty.