Two companies are using brewery methods to produce vegan versions of gelatin and cow milk—not alcohol. The proteins Geltor and Perfect Day Foods are raising in labs are chemically identical to their animal-based counterparts. But they're also 100% vegan.
In the process, both companies are disrupting an industry that depends on animal proteins for products such as milk, cheese, gummy bears, Jell-O and marshmallows. All of which can now be produced without any animal whatsoever. Here’s how.
Gelatin is an animal protein used in all kinds of products people use every day: cosmetics, medicines, shampoos, photographic film, anything administered by gel cap, and food like puddings and candies. To extract gelatin from an animal (usually a cow or pig), one must first boil down its bones, ligaments, skin and tendons.
There are vegan replacements for gelatin already on the market, such as agar-agar, which is processed from seaweed. Except agar-agar’s texture doesn’t quite measure up to gelatin. In a blind taste test, you’d probably know something wasn’t quite right about the food in front of you. Geltor is angling to change that with a synthetically created gelatin that works exactly like the real stuff. And to do that, the company needs to create something molecularly identical.
I’ll have the milk—hold the dairy
Berkeley-based Perfect Day Foods began in 2014 with a mission of two men who had a passion for cheese, the environment, and the well being of animals. Multiple chefs, nutritionists, scientists and engineers later, the team is growing proteins, casein, and whey with a yeast the team calls "Buttercup," and hope will taste exactly like dairy.
The vegan products Perfect Day Foods is creating are allergen-free, and will likely retail for cheaper than their animal-based versions. You can imagine what a difference this will make for people who are allergic to dairy, lactose intolerant, or avoid it for ethical or dietary reasons.
The protein of the future
Geltor and Perfect Day Foods utilize yeast-based fermentation methods to create their proteins in a method not entirely unlike brewing beer, but with very different results.
The method both companies are using has been around since 1990 in the production of vegetarian rennet, an enzyme used in cheese making to separate curds and coagulate milk. First, protein genes are introduced to yeasts that then ferment and create a desired protein. Microbes are added, fed, and then reproduced many times over. Yeast is filtered out at the end of the process, and engineers are left with the final product: foods that are chemical twins with egg whites, gelatin, and milk.
You read that right: From a molecular standpoint, what the companies make is exactly the same as the animal-based original. And some may be coming to a store near you as early as next year.