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Humans and technology

A biotech startup is making cow-free ice cream. Would you eat it?

Perfect Day says it’s figured out how to make ice cream that’s creamy without any animal protein.

July 12, 2019
woman holding ice cream cone
woman holding ice cream coneItafurm, Creative Commons

A company called Perfect Day has announced that after five years and $60 million in venture backing, it’s created ice cream made of whey protein harvested from genetically modified yeast.

The scoop: The market for non-dairy ice cream has exploded over the past few years; in 2017, Nielsen expected that demand for dairy-free ice cream was expected to climb 50%, thanks to the growth of veganism and the increasing availability (and popularity) of non-dairy ingredients like oat, coconut, and even chickpea milk.

What makes Perfect Day allegedly different? Anyone who’s tasted non-dairy ice cream knows it sometimes seems sandy, chalky, or just … not like the real thing. That’s because one of the things that make ice cream so, well, creamy is the whey protein that is prevalent in cow’s milk. Cashew and coconut milks come close because they, like their bovine-derived counterparts, contain plenty of fat, which helps give frozen treats their silky texture. But they’re not the same. Perfect Day, however, engineered yeast to produce whey proteins, which means it possibly created the ultimate compromise between vegans, the lactose intolerant, and everybody else.

Is it genetically modified? Yes and no. On its website, Perfect Day says the yeast is genetically modified to turn sugars into whey and casein. But the company says only the “pure” whey makes it into the ice cream.

Does it hold up? Still unclear. One writer from The New Food Economy, a vegan, found the product creamy enough to stand by its dairy-free cousins. But the verdict is still out on how it compares in taste with ice cream made from old-fashioned cow’s milk.

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