Whether it's a melty grilled cheese or creamy foam on top of a coffee, animal-based dairy products provide a creamy texture that many of these craveable foods and beverages are known for.
The creamy feel comes from casein, a milk protein that creates a stable emulsion and prevents fat and water from separating.
As plant-based companies look to emulate these characteristics in products such as vegan nut milks, cheese and sauces, many of them lack the same smooth texture and none of them have been able to replicate both the nutritional and functional properties of animal-based casein.
Alternative protein company Pureture is looking tto solve this problem with the creation of their plant-based casein product.
Unlike its competitors, New York-based Pureture's product is non-GMO and completely plant-based, according to the company. A lot of its competitors in the space are taking a genetically modified approach to replicating the casein protein by altering sequences of animal-based casein's DNA, extracting it from an animal-based cell and putting it in a plant-based product, explained Daniel Yang, head of business development at Pureture.
“The biggest obstacle right now that we're facing with plant-based products is that the protein sources that companies are trying to add into their products are not binding with their base fat and their oil,” said Yang in an interview. “As a result, things like starches and gums are added to ingredient lists, and it’s a lot of additives going into the product that don’t have to be there.”
Turning yeast protein into melty cheese
Pureture sources its protein from yeast. After the yeast is cultivated in a 50-liter fermentation tank, it goes through an enrichment stage before the protein is separated. Then, the emulsification properties of the protein are tested before it goes through the company’s spray drying process. This turns it from a liquid to a powder.
Pureture’s three 30,000-liter tanks produce 24,000 tons of protein annually.
The entire multi-step process of yeast fermentation, protein recovery and emulsification is carried out continuously so that it can be priced 20% to 30% lower than the existing dairy ingredients, according to the company.
Because Pureture uses a traditional fermentation process, it doesn’t have to meet regulatory hurdles to enter the market. The product’s characteristics allow it to mimic the stretchability, meltability and creaminess of traditional dairy products, all while being completely plant based. This is a challenge other brands in the category have struggled with.
Nutrition labels of many nut milks often have lengthy ingredient lists. Oatly, for example, has ingredients such as dipotassium phosphate, calcium carbonate and tricalcium phosphate. Brands that avoid a lot of these additives create plant-based dairy products that have a tendency to be chalky in texture and easily separate, and Pureture is looking to mimic the texture, taste and nutritional benefit of animal-based dairy products, all while doing it at an affordable price.
“If you look at most of the CPG brands that are in the alternative protein space, and you look at the nutritional value, you will likely see zero grams of protein per serving size,” said Yang.
The company also has found a way to go through the spray drying process at an affordable price, which is typically costly. Because of a decrease in demand for baby formula in South Korea, where Pureture is manufactured, and its ability to leverage the country’s infrastructure in that region, the process comes at a cheaper price.
‘Bigger than our own brand’
Eventually, Pureture wants its plant-based casein product to be dominant in the plant-based dairy space.
“We’re in this industry to grow this market as a whole,” said Yang. “The value of this technology is much bigger than just our brand on its own.”
Pureture’s goal is to create a business-to-business model that allows other plant-based companies to use their casein product in order to replace additives and gums without sacrificing on taste, which entails making the product available for all brands in the sector.
Last week, the company went through a final round of taste testing with its investors. Pureture is nearing a partnership with a major dairy alternative brand, Yang said.
Pureture also has plans to collaborate with major dairy companies to co-brand its product as well as partner with global ingredients vendors to expand its usage and shape the industry, according to Yang.
“Most of our direct competitors at this time are not in sample or pilot stages yet, but we are already looking to scale on a commercial level within a year,” he said.