The BBC reports that a number of startups are trying to produce honey, milk and eggs – or products that are molecularly identical to them – without any animal components at all.
Over the last few years, plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy have become increasingly widespread. However, for many, they simply don’t come up to scratch in terms of flavour, texture or ease of use.
But now, a number of start-up companies, like MeliBio, are looking to use fermentation to produce vegan products that are identical biologically to the real thing.
Through the process of fermentation, micro-organisms digest a food supply and excrete a useful product – yeast, for example, is fed sugars and produces alcohol to make beer.
But by tailoring the micro-organism carefully and choosing the right feed stocks, it’s possible to create a different end product – anything from honey, to egg whites, to milk.
One company taking this approach is Better Dairy, a London-based start-up developing milk and cheese through yeast fermentation.
“The way it works is that you can use yeast in the way that we use yeast for beer brewing – but we tweak the yeast so that instead of producing beer, it produces what we want it to produce,” says Jevan Nagarajah, co-founder and chief executive.
“So the technology is using yeast as a conversion platform from the input sugars and the things that you’d usually feed it, and turning that into dairy, in our case.”
Similar techniques are being used to produce egg whites, with San Francisco-based Clara Foods on the brink of mass production and hoping to become the world’s largest egg protein producer by 2028.
. . .
Meanwhile, the world’s appetite for honey is harming many species of bee, says Mr Mandich.
“Commercial beekeeping is favouring a single bee species, the honey bee, all over the world to meet the rising demand for honey,” he says. “They are actively competing with wild and native bee species and pushing them back.”
. . .
One issue with commercialisation will be labelling – are these products really milk, eggs or honey? The companies are hopeful that the authorities will see it that way.
“It is molecularly identical, so it should be the same,” says Mr Nagarajah. “But if we have to choose a different name, so be it.”
There’s more at the link.
This is really intriguing. Something like Beyond Meat and its competitors aren’t meat at all. They’re a mish-mash of ingredients and processing that produces something tasting like meat, but chemically and molecularly very different from it. I have no intention of trying them, because I have no idea what their ingredients and processing might do to my body in the longer term. However, a product that’s molecularly identical to the animal-sourced original . . . that would be a real game-changer. It would mean you could cook two products side-by-side on the same stove or grill, one animal and one artificial, and not be able to distinguish them from each other, scientifically or otherwise.
That could provide real environmental benefits, getting rid of egg “battery farming” and allowing apiaries to serve a conservation function as well as food production. The latter case is of particular interest to me, thanks to my friendship with Sean of Killer Bees Honey in North Carolina (of which I’ve written in these pages before). He – or, rather, his bees, whom he refers to as his “ladies” – makes the finest honey I’ve ever tasted, so much so that Miss D. and I are regular customers. It’s won national and international awards and recognition.
Clint Barden, the wildlife conservation biologist (District 8 – Division of Wildlife Management) has been guiding us in developing our property into a sustainable wildlife refuge for insects and their vertebrate forest brethren.
It’s been a journey. Back In 2016, we began utilizing the US & NC Forest Service for controlled burns on our property. Over the years we have employed mechanical fuel reduction strategies to clear invasive plants like rhododendron, and replace them with several thousand native plants. Hopefully at the end of this year our 75 acres will qualify for the WCLP. We are doing this to be a better steward of the land, to be a way station for migrating pollinators and birds. A better place not just for visitors like us, but a home for generations of insects and animals that pollinate 90% of the surrounding Pisgah Forest and the adjacent Southern Appalachian Mountains.
Again, more at the link.
I sent Sean the link to the BBC article quoted above. He applauds the idea as a way to satisfy demand without overstraining our bees or our natural resources. He’ll still go on producing some of the finest honey in the world, of course, for the premium market; but if high-quality honey can be made more accessible and more affordable, it may help end the large-scale adulteration of honey that presently threatens our health. (If you go on a tour of Killer Bees Honey, Sean and his wife will show you how to tell pure honey from adulterated. It’s an eye-opener.)
At any rate, this development will bear watching.