The most consumed vegetable oil in the world is also a leading driver of deforestation. As a result, palm oil production is also a known contributor to biodiversity loss and climate change. And yet, industry has largely been unwilling to turn its back on the controversial ingredient.
Being neutral in colour and flavour, palm oil is well suited to food formulation. The global palm oil market remains strong: it was valued at an estimated $50.6bn last year and is expected to reach $65.5bn (€62.55bn) by 2027.
If industry is unwilling to compromise, what is the solution? According to UK-based Clean Food Group (CFG), the answer lies in microorganisms. The start-up is fermenting yeast to develop a lab-grown, bio-equivalent alternative to palm oil, which has attracted the attention of ingredients major Doehler Group.
How is lab-grown alt palm oil made?
CFG makes its palm oil substitute from yeast grown in a lab. The start-up has developed a proprietary yeast strain which has evolved, using a ‘natural process’, from a strain of yeast commonly found on the surface
of grapes used in organic winemaking, explained co-founder and CEO Alex Neves in an interview earlier this year.
“Our yeast strain has been developed over eight years by Christopher Chuck [Professor of Bioprocess Engineering at the University of Bath’s Department of Chemical Engineering] using a natural processed called ‘Directed Evolution’, which is a non-genetically modified process similar in many ways to plant-breeding.”
The fermentation process is fuelled by food-safe waste as a feedstock and renewable energy as an energy source. The oil is then extracted from the oleaginous yeast.
The result is a bio-equivalent to the real thing in terms of nutritional profile and fatty acid make up. “It is neutral in taste and colour – as with palm oil from palm, its natural colour is orange/red but can be made colourless by a simple refining process,” Neves told this publication. “It performs the same
way as palm oil.”
Palm oil substitute backed by Doehler
The start-up aims to bring its palm oil replacement to market in the UK and Europe, where it is considered a Novel Food.
Doehler’s investment arm, Doehler Ventures, is investing in Clean Food Group to support the scale up of CFG’s technology, including demonstrating production at commercial scale and manufacturing product batches required for market approval.
CFG co-founder and CEO Alex Neves said the start-up was ‘delighted’ to be partnering with Doehler Group.
“With Doehler Group’s support, we are excited to accelerate the scale-up of our ground-breaking technology, which will allow us to bring our sustainable palm oil alternative to market more quickly.”