Cheese Alternatives

Climax Foods Announces Major Discovery of Plant-Based Casein Replacement

AI food tech startup Climax Foods announces it has discovered the “first ever” plant-based ingredient that replicates the functional performance of dairy casein. By combining artificial intelligence with a proprietary formulation process, the company says it has created a seed-based protein source that melts and stretches like animal-based casein. 

“This is one of the most important scientific breakthroughs in food in the last six thousand years”

With this discovery, Climax Foods states it is the first company to successfully replicate the functionality, texture, and taste of casein using solely plant-based ingredients. Casein is a critical molecule in the production of cheese and other dairy products – and until now, was thought to only exist in animal-based milk. 

Climax Foods pizza
© Climax Foods

According to Climax, its plant-based alternative is free from hormones, antibiotics, or any of the top 8 allergens. In addition, the company’s precision formulation process allows them to produce the protein sustainably at scale, with price parity to animal-based casein.

“While our work is based on a deep scientific understanding of plants, we don’t have any need to genetically engineer plants to create our unique proteins,” said Daniel Westcott, Head of Protein and Texture at Climax Foods. “An immeasurable range of protein diversity and combinations already exists; we simply use data science and machine learning to pay very, very close attention.

“This gives us the ability to model and verify formulations at the microscopic level in a fraction of the time that it would take a traditional approach. And while we love learning through data science, we generate our data by making cheese, which means that the busiest half of our lab is the kitchen.”

Avinash Stretching pizza cheese
© Climax Foods

Speeding up innovation

Climax says the discovery was made possible through precision formulation – a process that uses data science and AI to dramatically increase the speed of discovering optimal ingredient and process combinations with plants. Whereas traditional food innovation could take centuries of trial and error, Climax says, its AI-driven platform “dramatically” increases the rate of innovation. 

Currently, most plant-based dairy alternatives are made from a combination of starches and oils, but don’t meet consumer expectations for taste, texture, and performance, the company states. And while a growing number of food tech startups are working to produce real casein using precision fermentation methods, Climax believes that approach will be encumbered by “significant scalability and regulatory issues.”

Climax Blue Cheese

In contrast, Climax says it has identified plentiful, naturally occurring plant proteins that can bring true melt and stretch to plant-based cheeses. 

“As foodies and scientists, we have a profound appreciation for the complex flavors and textures of dairy products, but also recognize their vast inefficiencies—such as requiring 700 gallons of water to make one pound of cheese,” said Climax CEO and Founder Oliver Zahn, a Harvard-trained astrophysicist, and alum of Google and SpaceX. “Our production process uses 500 times less water at our current pilot scale.”

Offering a better way to cheese-lovers

“Caseins are involved in all dairy transformations including cheese, yogurt, cream, and others, “ said Bel Group’s Director of Research and Applications, Anne Pitkowski. “They are directly responsible for the product texture, stability, and, moreover, bring the very unique property of stretchability. Those properties are linked to the specific micellar structure of the casein assemblage that, until Climax Foods’ discovery, had not been met anywhere else in nature.”

“Our goal is not just to give vegans better options – we are offering a better way to everyone, especially hardcore cheeselovers,” Zahn explains. “To do this, we committed ourselves to understanding, on a microscopic level, what makes animal-based foods so craveable, and used that understanding to determine the precise steps needed to get that same exact performance from plant sources like seeds.”

Climax Vegan Cheese Board

He adds, ”We’re not changing any ingredients genetically; we’re using what is already there. The difference comes from our depth of knowledge of the rich biodiversity of the plant kingdom down to a cellular level. Plants can impart all of the same texture, taste, and performance of animal-based ingredients – our AI-enabled Deep Plant Intelligence platform takes away the guesswork. For our casein replacement, our AI platform and precision formulation process helped us uncover a mechanism in specific plant proteins that imparts indistinguishable melt and stretch and mouthfeel from casein while also dramatically improving nutrition.”

Zahn concludes, “This is one of the most important scientific breakthroughs in food in the last six thousand years—since humans invented animal agriculture – but we are only getting started.” 

Climax is initially focusing on dairy products, but says its technology can be applied to other animal-based foods. 

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