Fats and mouthfeel are the ‘next frontiers’ in food ingredient development, proclaimed Zurich start-up Cultivated Biosciences, as the industry seeks suitable alternatives to tropical oils and fats as demand shifts away from animal fats. Hard vegetable fats like palm, coconut, shea and cocoa can only be grown in the tropics and bring health and environmental sustainability concerns.
Oils that come from plants grown in milder European climates such as soya, sunflower and canola that can be converted into hard fats. But that involves hydrogenation, which can produce dangerously unhealthy trans fats. Solutions are therefore needed.
Cultivated Biosciences has just raised $1.5 million in a pre-seed round to its scale up development of its fat ingredient, made via a non-GMO yeast fermentation process, which boasts a colour and texture ‘indistinguishable’ from dairy cream.
“We are beyond excited to build a solution that will elevate the mouthfeel of the plant-based dairy category and ensure that it’s simply better and cheaper than its factory farmed equivalent,” beamed Tomas Turner, CEO & Co-Founder.
The funding will enable the growing team to further optimise its production processes, research food applications and start product development with their first clients. “Our ingredient does need to go through Novel Food Approval in the EU and GRAS in the US,” Turner told FoodNavigator. “We will start doing test launches in 2024 in the US, expand in Europe in 2025 and continuously expand commercialization as we scale up production.”
Fats are crucial for mouthfeel and as a flavour carrier
Fat alternatives are ripe for innovation, he added. “Currently the majority of effort has gone in researching alternative proteins, their functional properties and interactions in food matrixes,” he explained. “Fats have been neglected for the moment and there are very few options.
"Product developers today can choose from many protein sources such as soy, gluten, pea, fava bean, and potato. But in terms of fat we usually find only sources such as palm, coconut, canola and rapeseed. Fats also are crucial for mouthfeel and as a flavour carrier. The little choice of fats doesn't allow food producers the mouthfeel and flavour they want as they are constrained by the limits of current options.”
How is it made?
Cultivated is developing a fat ingredient from oleaginous yeast, which offers the creaminess needed for plant-based dairy. The ingredient further boasts a clean label and sustainable production process, according to the company.
Cultivated’s process involves feeding sugars to a replicated non-GMO yeast to produce fat molecules. These are then extracted via a proprietary process which creates a creamy fat.
The process can be optimised to improve mouthfeel in target applications, from sauces to cheese and chocolate ganache.
The ingredient has the same texture and colour as dairy products, low lipid oxidation and natural emulsification properties, the biotech start-up claimed. It is cholesterol-free and the nutritional value is relatively similar to dairy cream. Intriguingly, the company hopes to soon begin collaborating with clients on the development of savoury products, such as cheese, butter and cream cheese. The company currently have access to 50L bioreactors and is in discussions to produce in larger capacities.
“We grow our GMO-free yeast to accumulate a high amount of fat: like making yeast obese,” explained Turner. “We have a unique process to extract fat structures which allow them to have a creamy mouthfeel.”
Currently the yeast is fed with simple sugars. “Medium term we are looking at molasses, a by-product of the sugar industry,” revealed Turner as the company looks to circular economy solutions to assist is scale-up and commercialisation. “Long-term we want to expand to other side-streams not valorised right now.”