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Supermarket shelves are filled with plant-based milk alternatives, including soy, almond, and coconut milk, that cater to the lactose intolerant or those concerned about livestock welfare and environmental sustainability. While the milk-free options work well with cereal or in coffee, they fail miserably when it comes to making derivatives like cheese or yogurt. However, these shortcomings may soon be a thing of the past thanks to California-based start-up Perfect Day, which has figured out how to create lactose-free dairy milk in a laboratory!
Perumal Gandhi and Ryan Pandya founded the company in 2014 after becoming increasingly frustrated with dairy-free alternatives, specifically, cheese. For Gandhi, who had made a conscious decision to reduce meat and dairy intake due to environmental and animal welfare concerns, the motivation to create a better alternative stemmed from his love of cheesy pizza. Pandya, who had turned vegan, was spurred into taking action after being forced to consume some “really bad” dairy-free cream cheese on his bagel.
The MIT biomedical engineering scientists decided to join forces to create a more realistic alternative to cow-based milk products The two began by obtaining a strain of yeast named “Buttercup” from the United States Department of Agriculture. They then used a 3D printer to reproduce a cow’s DNA sequence and inserted it in a specific location in the yeast. This enabled the yeast to ferment the sugars and produce casein and whey, the two main milk proteins. The final step of the process involved mixing the proteins with some plant nutrients and fats.
The animal-free milk not only tastes like the real thing but is also hormone, antibiotic and steroid free, has a longer shelf life and, most important of all, is Earth friendly. According to Perfect Day’s website, when compared to conventional milk production, their process uses 65% less energy, generates 84% less greenhouse gas emissions and requires 91% less land and an astounding 98% less water! Best of all, since it contains real milk proteins, the product behaves like the cow-produced version, which means consumers will no longer will have to contend with soggy cream cheese on their bagels or blobs of unmelted cheese on their pizzas!
The company, which plans to bring their creation to market later this year, will not call the lab-grown substitute milk because “it’s way more than that.” Also, their first product will most likely be cheese since there are already numerous good milk alternatives available to consumers.
According to Pandya, "There are cheeses that make sense because they have the biggest market, like mozzarella and cheddar, and there's also the kind of fancy cheese you have with crackers and wine. We want to do all of it, and we can do all of it.” The company co-founder also asserts that their intention is not to replace regular milk and put dairy farmers out of business but to provide consumers with a viable alternative to plant-based options.
As for the company’s name? That was inspired by a 2015 scientific study which revealed that dairy cows are calmer, happier, and produce more milk, when exposed to soothing music, like the Lou Reed song, “Perfect Day.”