Babybel maker Bel Group to develop cheeses incorporating ‘postbiotic cultured protein’ from ‘best-in-class’ startup Superbrewed Food

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Babybel maker Bel Group to develop cheeses incorporating ‘postbiotic cultured protein’ from ‘best-in-class’ startup Superbrewed Food

Related tags Babybel Laughing Cow Boursin Cheese Superbrewed Food Fermentation postbiotics

Bel Group – the multinational firm behind cheese brands Babybel, The Laughing Cow, and Boursin – has teamed up with Superbrewed Food, one of a clutch of startups in the biomass fermentation space, to develop cheeses for the US market incorporating its ‘postbiotic cultured protein.’

With a neutral taste, natural white color, excellent pH and temperature stability, and good emulsification properties, Superbrewed Food's protein-packed Non GMO ingredient (an as yet undisclosed bacterium commonly found in the human gut) is grown in fermentation tanks using a fraction of the inputs required to produce plant- or animal-based protein, according to CEO Dr Bryan Tracy.

Given its high protein content and sensory qualities, ​it's attracting interest from companies making everything from ​milks, cheeses and creamers to yogurts and ice cream, claimed Tracy, who recently secured self-affirmed GRAS status for the ingredient: "Before you dry it, it looks just like milk."

Bel Group​ - which launched a dedicated plant-based cheese brand called Nurishh​ ​early last year and a plant-based version of Babybel​ cheese earlier this year – said it had found Superbrewed to be "best in class" ​in the biomass fermentation space, and now plans to “develop a full range of cheeses with this ingredient," ​which will be ready to ship from Superbrewed Food’s Delaware facility in the first half of 2023.

Cheese.... without cows

Bel launched a plant-based version of Babybel earlier this year made from modified starch and coconut oil. Image credit: Bel Brands USA

While the dairy-free cheese market is growing (US retail sales were up 7% to $291m in 2021 according to SPINS, and several foodservice chains are now adding it to menus as they introduce plant-based meats), it is still a tiny part of the overall cheese category.

Right now, plant-based cheeses are currently divided into three groups: oil and starch-based products (Daiya, Violife, Follow Your Heart etc); cultured nut products (Miyoko's, Kite Hill, Treeline, Nuttin Ordinary etc); and seed-based products (Spero, Grounded Foods, Miyoko's etc).

Many of these products have incredible flavors and textures in their own right, but don't necessarily replicate the functional properties of dairy cheeses such as Cheddar or Mozzarella, which come in part from the casein proteins found in mammalian milk. 

As a result, several startups are now developing bio-identical 'real' dairy proteins using microbial fermentation (rather than cows), with cream cheese products containing animal-free whey already on the market (BOLD CULTR, Modern Kitchen), and harder or more stretchy cheeses containing animal-free casein expected to hit the market in 2023. 

Bel: 'From our early investigation we found that this ingredient could bring a long-lasting covering effect in low-fat formulas'

So what type of cheese products is Bel developing with Superbrewed Food?

"It​ [Superbrewed Food's postbiotic cultured protein] won’t be exclusively used in dairy-free products," ​Bel Group research and application director, Anne Pitkowski told FoodNavigator-USA

"The protein will not necessarily replace casein in dairy cheese, it will become a complementary element of the cheese formula."

Asked what attracted Bel to the protein, she added: "From our early investigation we found that this ingredient could bring a long-lasting covering effect​ [a creamy, fatty mouthfeel] in low-fat formulas. We will keep our options open through our collaboration and evaluate the benefits of this protein for many cheese categories: from improving the nutritional composition, to helping to simplify the recipe or reduce carbon emissions."

In terms of flavor, said Pitkowski, "Superbrewed’s postbiotic cultured protein is very neutral and thus fits several applications without compromising on taste."

Image credit: Superbrewed Food
'Before you dry it, it looks just like milk...'

Superbrewed Food’s Postbiotic Cultured Protein has a neutral taste, natural white color, excellent pH and temperature stability, and good emulsification properties, claims CEO Dr Bryan Tracy. “Before you dry it, it looks just like milk.”​

As for application opportunities, he says: “The initial thrust is animal-free milks, cheese, creamer, yogurt, ice cream, nutritional beverages, healthy snacks and baked goods​" ​where it can be used to replace eggs in brownies and dessert breads, or to create high protein tortillas, for example.

The company has also “demonstrated that the protein can be extruded in multiple formats such as simple texturized protein and high-moisture meat analogs as both a primary protein and in combinations with other plant proteins and ingredients."​

According to Tracey, 30g of Superbrewed Food’s postbiotic cultured protein meets FDA requirements for being a good source of five B-vitamins, including a full day’s supply of B12, and a good source of six essential minerals including iron, phosphorus and magnesium. 

'Per the ISAPP definition, our protein ingredient is exactly a postbiotic'

Its functional, environmental, sensory and nutritional appeal notwithstanding, will consumers understand an ingredient that doesn’t technically fit into the ‘plant-based’ space (Superbrewed Food’s ingredient is a de-activated bacteria, and is not made from plants)?

According to Tracy, the ingredient meets the definition of ‘postbiotic’ laid out in the recently published ISAPP (International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics) consensus paper​​ (‘a preparation of inanimate microorganisms and/or their components that confers a health benefit on the host​’).

“Per this definition, our protein ingredient is exactly a postbiotic.”​

And while ‘bacterial’ protein might seem like a tough sell, the notion of consuming bacteria per se has become very well established thanks to probiotics (live microorganisms that confer a health benefit), although the bacteria Tracy is growing are not ‘live,’ but fully deactivated, and non spore-forming, he stressed.

While most consumers are not yet familiar with the term ‘postbiotic,’ if they see the word on pack or in marketing communications, they will probably make a connection with probiotics and prebiotics (which have positive connotations), he speculated: “We are completely transparent that our protein ingredient is a postbiotic of bacteria origin, and we've observed that potential consumers are responding positively.”​

'We purposefully avoid processing, as we want to preserve the extra nutrition components'

Labeling in the US is a work in progress, he said, although the company has started using the term ‘postbiotic cultured protein’ in its marketing communications: “We describe it to consumers as a natural, whole food protein ingredient that is less processed compared to any other protein ingredient with comparable protein levels, e.g. soy protein isolate, pea protein isolate and whey protein isolate​.

“We purposefully avoid processing, as we want to preserve the extra nutrition components such as the five B-vitamins and the six essential minerals (not including sodium).  It also includes significant amounts of healthy biogenic amines.  This additional nutrition is in very bioavailable form, such as our B12, which is in the most bioavailable form called methylcobalamin as opposed to cyanocobalamin.​”

“[This collaboration] is testament to our pioneering role and acceleration on disruptive technologies. As a family business, we are also proud to have adopted an ‘open collaboration’ model with over 100 partners, including start-ups, to stimulate and scale up their innovations and so prepare the future of food.”

Caroline Sorlin, chief venture officer, Bel Group

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