Opinion

Intellectual Property Law Expert Emily Nytko-Lutz Discusses the Chemistry of Non Dairy Cheesemaking

Emily Nytko-Lutz, Senior Associate at intellectual property law firm Reddie & Grose, handles patent work in the chemical and general mechanical fields. Emily advises a range of domestic and international companies. She is experienced in patent drafting and global patent prosecution, conducting due diligence and European freedom-to-operate assessments and European oppositions and appeals.

Emily completed a PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Inorganic Chemistry with a focus on the development of frustrated magnetic materials.

Can non-dairy cheese melt barriers and conquer our tastebuds?

By Emily Nytko-Lutz

Consumers are increasingly seeking alternatives to dairy-based cheeses due to environmental, animal welfare, and personal health concerns. Producing a plant-based cheese that melts and stretches similarly to dairy cheese, however, represents a significant technological challenge.

Casein, a key protein component in dairy milk, is responsible for the melting and stretching properties of dairy cheese. In plant-based cheeses, casein is absent, and instead, a network of starch, protein, or a combination of both is used. While these cheeses may hold their shape at room temperature, they lack the complex 3D structure provided by casein in dairy cheese when heated.

Whole pizza in close up with New Culture cheese melt
© New Culture

Several innovative companies are working to overcome this challenge and produce meltable, stretchable non-dairy cheeses. Some are using precision fermentation to produce casein without using cow’s milk, while others are attempting to replicate the functional performance of casein using plant-based proteins.

“The development of meltable, stretchable non-dairy cheeses is a promising area of innovation with the potential to significantly expand the market for plant-based dairy alternatives”

Precision fermentation and plant molecular farming are processes that use the genetic machinery of fungi and bacteria (precision fermentation) and plants (plant molecular farming) to produce target proteins, such as casein. Startups using precision fermentation to produce meltable, stretchable non-dairy cheeses include New Culture, Change Foods, Real Deal Milk, Remilk, Better Dairy, Daisy Lab, and Those Vegan Cowboys. In the area of plant molecular farming, Nobell Foods uses soybean plants to produce casein and Pigmentum uses lettuce plants.

Climax Food cheeses
Image courtesy of Climax Foods

Other companies are producing recombinant casein as a raw material. These include Fooditive Group, ProProtein, Zero Cow Factory, and Perfect Day. Recombinant caseins are novel foods, and regulatory food safety hurdles must be met before they can be marketed.

For consumers avoiding casein, whether due to a food allergy, intolerance, or personal preference, innovative companies are seeking to produce meltable, stretchable non-dairy cheeses without using casein. Motif Foodworks uses prolamin technology, using a corn protein (zein), to produce vegan cheese, while Climax Foods uses AI to uncover plant proteins that mimic the functional performance of casein.

The development of meltable, stretchable non-dairy cheeses is a promising area of innovation with the potential to significantly expand the market for plant-based dairy alternatives. This consumer looks forward to a future with a wider variety of delicious and sustainable cheese options.

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