Real dairy butter... minus the cows? Perfect Day expands its animal-free microbial fermentation platform

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Perfect Day co-founders Ryan Pandya (left) and Perumal Gandhi (right)
Perfect Day co-founders Ryan Pandya (left) and Perumal Gandhi (right)

Related tags Perfect Day Microbial fermentation

Perfect Day, a startup producing milk proteins via microbial fermentation (minus the cows) plans to expand into animal-free milk fat and other new-to-the-world fats that could replace coconut and palm oil in plant-based burgers and other products.

Berkeley-CA-based Perfect Day​ ​– which teamed up with ingredients giant ADM last year​ to further develop and manufacture its whey and casein proteins on a commercial scale in the US – first started exploring producing milk fat from microbes when it was contemplating making dairy milk back in 2014, but put the project on the backburner as it concentrated on milk proteins.

“From day one the goal was to find a way to make milk without cows, and that’s about more than just protein,"​ co-founder Ryan Pandya told FoodNavigator-USA. "We’ve started building out a team to focus on fats and the goal is to be out there on the market in 2021 in a big way.”

Flora-made-fat: ‘Microbes are surprisingly efficient at producing fat’

While some firms are producing long chain omega-3 fatty acids (eg. EPA and DHA) and high-oleic cooking oils from microalgae (eg. Thrive culinary oil), most new players in the microbial fermentation space are focusing on protein, sweeteners/flavors/colors, or on-trend ingredients such as CBD, rather than fats, said Pandya, who is exploring which microbes (eg. algae, yeast, fungi) can produce fat most efficiently.

“There’s a best host for a given product, so we’re working with a couple of different hosts. It’s about finding organisms that are already really good at making fat and giving them just enough instructions ​[via synthetic biology] to get what we want.

“Algae are excellent ​[at producing lipids] but there are also yeasts and fungi that can do this, which is why we like to talk about ‘flora’ more broadly. Microbes are surprisingly efficient at producing fat, and I think this should be faster to get off the ground than the protein platform.”

‘What’s exciting about our platform is that it’s tunable’

The team is now exploring the fatty acid profile of milk fat – which is incredibly complex with multiple triglycerides and hundreds of fatty acids – and determining what are the essential components when it comes to delivering key attributes, from flavor, to functionality, said co-founder Perumal Gandhi.

Thrive oil
Thrive high oleic cooking oil is made from microalgae

We're looking at a combination of texture and flavor, so it's probably not super important to create all the triglycerides in milk fat, and so without sharing our secret sauce,​ there's a kind of 80:20 rule in place here." 

Pandya added: "We want to make something that is indistinguishable from dairy fat or even better, so we’d be making the pure lipid fraction of milk, and that can be combined with proteins to make cream, which you can whip to make animal-free butter ​[a water in oil emulsion that requires some milk protein as an emulsifier].

“But what’s exciting about our platform is that it’s tunable, so we can change the nutritional profile or the melting characteristics.”

We’re really excited about meat alternatives

Impossible foods burger
Most plant-based burgers use coconut oil in their recipes (the Impossible Burger also uses some sunflower oil, while the Beyond Burger also uses some canola oil).

As for applications opportunities, Perfect Day’s milk fats could be used in combination with its proteins to make animal-free milk or cheese, said Pandya.

We are driven to make the full dairy experience animal-free - a mission that requires the complex delicious flavor of milk fats too.”

In the longer term, however, Perfect Day is looking at producing a variety of fats with different properties that could be used instead of palm or coconut oil in applications such as plant-based burgers, he said.

“We’re really excited about meat alternatives because that’s a category that’s really been taking off, but one thing that starts to worry us a little bit is that most of the products from companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods use coconut oil.

“If you think five, 10 years in the future, if this​ [plant-based meat movement] takes off, the amount of pressure on coconut and palm plantations is substantial and is that really the future we want to be building towards? How sustainable is that?”

There could also be exciting opportunities to supply fats to the new cell-cultured (a.k.a. 'cultivated') meat industry, he said.

Asked whether Perfect Day's Dairy fat would contain CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which is claimed to have health benefits, he said: "We could make it but I suspect it's not important for structure or flavor. Like lactoferrin on the protein side, it's high value but low volume - we're more interested in making large quantities of critical food components that move the needle on global demand and sustainability."

Perfect Day has secured self-determined GRAS status for its proteins and had submitted its determination to the FDA, so is now waiting for a no objections letter. It will go through a similar process for its fats, said Pandya.

Perfect Day recently unveiled a limited edition ice cream made with its animal-free whey protein

Perfect Day​​​ dairy proteins (and in future fats) are cleaner, greener and kinder than those produced via industrialized animal farming, claim co-founders Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi, but they also represent a new supply of animal-free ingredients that deliver the unique functionality and nutrition of dairy so that formulators do not have to compromise.

Perfect Day – which raised $24m in early 2018​​​​​ - uses microbes (which the company describes as ‘flora’ – which could cover fungi, yeast, or bacteria) and adds DNA sequences (which can be 3D printed using synthetic biology techniques) which effectively instruct the microbes to produce the proteins and fats found in milk.

The microbes feed on sugars and other nutrients in big fermentation tanks and secrete the protein into the broth from which it can be harvested.

The fats – made using different microbes – are intracellular (contained within the cells of the microbes), said Pandya, but added: "However, our team is also interested in pushing the cutting edge in secreted fats.​"

Read more about the process HERE​.

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