Last year, The Vegetarian Butcher founders Jaap Korteweg and Niko Koffeman created Those Vegan Cowboys, a company aimed at producing real milk without the cow. Now, they say they’re developing animal-free casein.
Casein is one of the key proteins in cows’ milk, but it isn’t found in plants. This makes it challenging to produce a vegan version. But Korteweg and Koffeman have found a way — precision fermentation.
It’s a relatively simple concept. Cows eat grass, which is then fermented by microbes in their bodies to produce the proteins in milk. So theoretically, this process could take place without the cow, as long as the right microbes are used. Most rennet used in cheese is already produced this way.
There are complications, like selecting a suitable starter culture — last September, Those Vegan Cowboys offered a €2.5M reward to anyone who could find one. But now, the company says it has started developing animal-free casein.
So far, it’s unclear how far it has progressed. Project director Will van den Tweel told FoodIngredientsFirst that developing and scaling the casein was a challenge, and that the cost would need to be competitive with conventional casein to make a real impact. He added that gaining regulatory approval, which can take two years in Europe, was another challenge.
However, the company has already partnered with Dutch cheesemaker Westland Kaas to develop a plant-based cheese line, suggesting that progress is good.
Those Vegan Cowboys has stressed that its casein is identical to the conventional variety and functionally very similar. With that in mind, it may not be long before the company achieves its goal of completely removing cows from the dairy production process.
“We together with our partners are committed to contributing to a more sustainable dairy industry,” van den Tweel told FoodIngredientsFirst.