Climax Foods Debuts ‘World’s First’ Plant Casein: ‘One of the Most Important Scientific Breakthroughs’

4 Mins Read

AI food tech startup, the Bay-Area-based Climax Foods Inc., has debuted what it says is the world’s first plant-based ingredient that mimics the functionality, flavor, texture, melt, and stretch of the dairy protein casein.

The new innovation positions Climax Foods as the plant-based pioneer in successfully reproducing the utility, consistency, and flavor of the primary protein in animal milk for use in a range of applications, namely cheese. Climax’s plant-based casein is devoid of hormones, antibiotics, and the top eight food allergens. In addition, Climax Foods’ groundbreaking “precision formulation” technique enables the sustainable production of this protein at scale, price-wise equivalent to traditional animal-based casein.

Recreating the complexity of dairy

Existing plant-based dairy alternatives are typically mixtures of oil and starch that can disappoint conventional cheese fans in terms of nutrition, texture, and performance. Climax says that despite more than $1.5B of funding invested into multiple companies aiming to manufacture a casein substitute through precision fermentation, significant scalability, and regulatory issues persist. Climax’s scientists, utilizing AI and plant-based ingredients, have discovered an alternative approach by identifying abundant and naturally occurring plant proteins capable of imparting genuine 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,” Climax CEO and Founder Oliver Zahn, a Harvard-trained astrophysicist, and alum at both Google and SpaceX, said in a statement. “Our production process uses 500 times less water at our current pilot scale.”

climax cheese
Climax is bringing its vegan cheese to market | Courtesy

According to Daniel Westcott, Head of Protein and Texture at Climax Foods, the company can achieve this without the need for genetic modification as well — a major barrier to entry in key markets including the European Union.

“An immeasurable range of protein diversity and combinations already exists; we simply use data science and machine learning to pay very, very close attention,” Westcott said. “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.”

Climax Foods’ “precision formulation” process combines data science with machine intelligence to uncover ideal ingredient and process combinations that maximize the potential of plant sources. Compared with the centuries-long trial and error methods traditionally used in food innovation, Climax Foods’ AI-enabled precision formulation process condenses this procedure into mere weeks.

New Culture, another Bay Area company working to replicate casein, just made its market debut at Nancy Silverton’s Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles. Unlike Climax, though, New Culture taps precision fermentation, a novel tech that uses microbes to recreate the dairy protein. While that cheese can serve as a stand-in for dedicated dairy lovers, it brings with it the allergen risks common with conventional dairy.

Zahn says Climax is able to offer “a better way to everyone, especially hardcore cheese lovers,” through its tech.

“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,” Zahn says.

‘One of the most important scientific breakthroughs in food in the last six thousand years’

“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.”

Climax is working to revamp Bel Group’s vegan cheese | Courtesy

Climax’s vegan casein-based cheeses have already earned the support of Michelin-starred chefs including Dominique Crenn and Jean Georges Vongerichten, as well as plant-based chefs Tal Ronnen, and Matthew Kenney. Major cheese manufacturers such as The Bel Group are also excited by the potential; Climax Foods has in aiding the redesign of Bel’s French staple cheese products into plant-based versions.

“Caseins are involved in all dairy transformations including cheese, yogurt, cream, and others,” said Anne Pitkowski, Bel Group’s Director of Research and Applications. “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.”

While the company’s current focus is on dairy products, Zahn says that Climax Foods’ precision formulation process holds potential for the replacement of any type of animal-based food in the future.

“This is one of the most important scientific breakthroughs in food in the last six thousand years,” Zahn said, “but we are only getting started.”


You might also like