A new dairy-free cheese from Superbrewed Foods joins a growing list of foods that are not derived from animals or plants but rather through microbes and the magic of anaerobic fermentation. It’s another layer in the “alternative” food and protein category that could actually prove to be more readily accepted by consumers than cell-based meat, and more environmentally friendly than alternatives that rely on plant-based proteins.
Superbrewed Foods says its anaerobic fermentation process can be used for both meat and dairy alternatives but their first products will be cheese. The company plans to launch a line of cream cheese, cheddar cheese, and mozzarella later this year. Co-founder Dr. Bryan Tracy says that as manufacturing capacity increases, the company could also offer its microbial protein as a branded ingredient to other food and beverage companies.
The protein powder itself is derived from a microbe extracted from the gut lining of an undisclosed herbivore animal. As weird as that sounds, Tracy says the microbe is commonly found all around us and even in our own gut microbiome. Superbrewed says their process differs from others in the fermentation field because their microbes are found in nature, whereas competitors like Clara Foods and Perfect Day are using synthetically engineered microbes. The microbes are “fed” plant-based sugars (corn right now) to help them multiply. It’s essentially the same process as making beer or sauerkraut.
Tracy says the company decided to start with cheeses because the protein powder they produce is white in color with an already creamy texture. He claims that using Superbrewed’s powder provides superior properties like stretch and meltability when compared to the oils and starches typically used in plant-based cheeses. The powder itself boasts an 85% protein content and around 25% of the daily recommended serving of B12. The high B12 level is expected to appeal to vegetarians and vegans that often need to take supplements. Superbrewed Foods has raised $45 million in funding from private investors and is about to open its first round to outside investors in order to launch its products.
Those that back fermentation technology to provide meat alternatives believe it will be an easier sell to consumers than cell-based products as people are already familiar with the concept. The process is already used in numerous popular products like yogurt and kombucha. Cultured meat has also proved very difficult to scale so far, whereas fermentation methods are commercialized today. The technology is also being more and more embraced due to its sustainability potential. Lindsay McCorkle, part of Rabobank’s food and agriculture innovation network, says most of the fermentation technologies require even less resources than plant-based proteins, meaning they don’t require extensive use of farmland or water, and energy use is relatively low.
In 2020, global funding for alternative protein companies tripled to $3.1 billion, with fermentation companies accounting for $837 million of that, second to plant-based alternatives that reaped $2.1 billion but more than cultured meat, which hauled in $360 million. Fermentation companies are also working on food ingredients for things like colorants and flavorings, as well as nutrients. (Sources: The Spoon, Food Navigator, TechCrunch)