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Grocery Plant-Based Science Sweets

Can Ice Cream Made With Cow DNA Be 100% Vegan?

The plant-based and vegan industry has found some novel ways to create meat substitutes. Mostly, it’s been finding plant sources of some of the proteins and other molecules key to making meat, which is what companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have done. 

An emerging company, however, is taking a more direct approach to creating these proteins. They’re making products like ice cream that use real milk protein and cow DNA, yet still claims them to be 100 percent vegan.

Photo courtesy of Perfect Day

I know that phrase is going to generate controversy. Yes, it’s the exact same protein you get from milk. Yes, it does utilize the genes from a cow to make the protein. However, it doesn’t use any animals, any DNA extracted from an animal, or animal products whatsoever. 

This vegan milk protein comes from Perfect Day, who specializes in what they would describe as “fermented vegan dairy” that’s 100% animal-free. 

“The cool thing is we’re doing it with fermentation, so not a single cow is involved in our process,” says Nicki Briggs, Perfect Day’s VP of Corporate Communications.

Instead, Perfect Day uses a fermentation process that’s been widely used by various companies over the years. Briggs compared it to how proteins like insulin or rennet are made today in a conversation with Foodbeast.

Photo courtesy of Perfect Day

Rennet, the curdling protein for cheese, is traditionally harvested from a calf’s stomach. Today, 90 percent of it is vegetarian, made by getting yeast to ferment sugars into the exact same protein. According to Briggs, Perfect Day uses that exact same process to make their vegan milk protein. The result is a powder that can be used to make ice cream, cheese, yogurt, and more. 

For milk, it contains two predominant types of protein: casein and whey. The protein that Perfect Day is making, beta-lactoglobulin (BLG), is one of the primary components of whey protein. “We found that beta-lactoglobulin is the most nutritious and the most functional of all of the proteins in milk,” Briggs explained, indicating that BLG was the key one needed to create a functional alternative to getting milk from cows.

To get the yeast, called trichoderma, to make the milk protein, Perfect Day downloaded part of the genetic makeup of a cow into the yeast. Segments of DNA coding in any creature are used by cells to make different key components, including proteins. Adding that code into a yeast cell known for producing large quantities of protein was the key to making Perfect Day’s product. 

One could call this “genetic engineering,” but it doesn’t use a technique like CRISPR, which splices in genes from another creature’s cells. Instead, Perfect Day turned to a virtual source of DNA: Google. 

“We were able to, as silly as it sounds, Google it and find the sequence online,” Briggs explained.  “We were able to use this sequence to influence our microflora.”

The microflora can then grow the protein en masse in giant fermentation tanks. That is then turned into the powder that can be added to an ice cream mix or other vegan dairy products to give it a structure akin to real dairy.

Right now, there’s only two brands in markets that use this novel animal-free whey: Smitten, who teamed up with Perfect Day to make limited batches of “N’ice cream,” and Brave Robot, who heavily advertises the protein they use in their pints of frozen dessert. 

Brave Robot was locally available for me, so I secured some pints to sample and analyze. They use a blend of plant oils to replace the fat you would normally get in milk, as well as sunflower lecithin (a substitute for soy) to emulsify everything together. 

The result is an extremely creamy ice cream that, at serving temperature, is pretty spot on to the original. I would say it does freeze a little bit harder than regular ice cream, but is way closer than any other vegan substitute I’ve tried.

Because this ice cream alternative does use real milk protein, it’s not recommended for those with allergies to milk. Allergies are triggered by proteins, and while a different protein (called alpha-s1 casein) is a more common allergen trigger in milk, beta-lactoglobulin can still cause issues for those sensitive to milk. 

This, as well as the fact that it is a real protein, are some of the larger concerns some may have in calling what Perfect Day creates “vegan.” Yes, it doesn’t use any animals, but the structure of what’s inside it and real milk are identical. 

Briggs understands that, saying “We want the word vegan to be a helpful navigation tool to find products not named from animals, but don’t want to be misleading.” While she believes that Perfect Day’s product fits under the technical term for vegan, there’s a different phrase she would use as well.

“We see animal-free as the master name for this,” she said. As for terms like lab-grown, describing Perfect Day’s protein as that would be “inaccurate,” as it’s “less sci-fi than it seems.”

While Perfect Day is using a technology that’s not new, they are applying it in a new way by recreating an “animal-free” milk protein that can be used to craft ice creams nearly identical to the original.

Perfect Day does plan to create the entire lineup of milk proteins and other dairy products, but those will come down the line as the company continues to grow.

Categories
Plant-Based Science Sustainability

New Plant-Based Egg Alternative Makes Going Vegan A Lot More Accessible

Photo courtesy of Zero Egg

Switching to a plant-based diet, whether it be for ethical or environmental reasons, often comes with a cost increase. Outside of tofu, there’s not a lot of cost-effective vegan options out there.

Plant-based eggs is a category that’s particularly expensive. A bottle of JUST, equivalent to 8 eggs, costs $4.50 ($6 for a dozen). Follow Your Heart, a powder egg alternative, can cost $7 for a carton that’s equivalent to a dozen.

A new alternative, Zero Egg, has just emerged onto the market and hopes to make vegan eggs a lot more accessible. Their product, a mix of potato, pea, chickpea, and soy protein, costs 11 to 18 cents per egg, or just over $2 per dozen. It claims to have price parity to a dozen cage-free eggs, which sell at retail for about $3-$4 per dozen.

Photo courtesy of Zero Egg

Zero Egg comes in two varieties: a formula ideal for egg replacement in scrambles, and another meant to substitute into baking mixes. The brand’s big selling point is texture, as it claims to be more fluffy than other egg alternatives available. However, it also is more versatile, as not all egg alternatives can be used for both scrambling and baking.

Nutritionally, Zero Egg’s product contains about 40% of the protein of an egg per serving (roughly 2.5 grams), but is a complete protein source. Environmentally, it uses 93% less water to produce than standard eggs.

As for cost, Zero Egg was able to bring that down through working with co-packers. They didn’t need a novel new factory process to make their substitute, making it easier to produce at scale.

Any restaurants that use Zero Egg will have ways to make it identifiable, including toothpick flags that can be stuck into sandwiches, akin to what Impossible Foods did with its initial burger launch.

Zero Egg will be available to restaurants via Gordon Food Service starting on World Egg Day, October 9th. A retail product will be hitting stores some time in the next couple of years, but there is also a “Home Store” option for any consumers who want to try to access the vegan egg through there.

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Food Policy Grocery Health Packaged Food Science Sweets

Berkeley Passes ‘Healthy Checkout’ Bill, Clearing Junk Food From Checkout Aisles

Photo: David Tonelson // Shutterstock

The checkout aisle of grocery stores isn’t home to just a cash register; there’s also a variety of candies, chips, and sweets you can pick up. This front of store promotion is often where kids of all ages can get their sugar cravings satisfied, but also helps push and market junk food products.

If you could change the products available in the checkout aisle to be less caloric and sugar-laden, it might have an effect in helping combat obesity. The city of Berkeley is willing to give that a shot, as they became the first city to pass a “healthy checkout” bill.

The new law, as reported by the San Jose Mercury News, applies to grocery stores larger than 2,500 square feet. It restricts products available at the checkout stands to those with no more than 5 grams of added sugar or less than 250 milligrams of sodium per serving.

Junk food itself isn’t banned in these stores, and could be found in the regular candy, chips, or snacks sections. This law just takes that prime product placement section and has stores give better-for-you options a shot in that area.

Policymakers hope that the new ordinance helps redefine what “treating yourself” means when picking up convenient snacks on the way out of the store. Replacing candy bars and the like with better-for-you snack bars, fruits, nuts, and more could help encourage healthier snacking habits.

Berkeley is known for establishing precedent for laws involving nutrition and sustainability that get passed elsewhere. Their 2014 soda tax, for example, has led to similar actions in other parts of the United States.

How this law will change snacking habits, and whether it catches on nationwide, will be seen when it goes into effect in March 2021. Enforcement via health inspections will begin in 2022.

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Drinks Science What's New

Pepsico’s Newest Beverage Is Supposed To Help You Sleep Better

Photo courtesy of Driftwell. Background by Sander Dewerte // Unsplash

When you think Pepsico, the first thing that comes to mind is likely caffeinated soda beverages that help spike your energy. While those would tend to keep you up at night, their newest drink is all about helping folks sleep better.

Called Driftwell, this brand of canned “enhanced water” contains aromas and compounds that can help us chill out, relax, and get to sleep after a stressful day.

In terms of aroma, Driftwell’s first flavor uses blackberry and lavender, a soothing fragrance commonly used for relaxation.

The beverage itself is fortified with 10% of our daily needs of magnesium. It’s not just to get us the essential mineral: a 2018 study found that increasing dietary magnesium intake in the long term can help women sleep better. However, it was unable to establish a causation for this, and it couldn’t say the same thing for men.

Driftwell also contains 200 mg of theanine, which is found in green tea and other foods. Theanine has been found in research to increase levels of “feel-good” neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine in the brain.

Since the drink itself contains a variety of compounds that help relax us, it’s natural that it should also provide some aid in sleeping. While we haven’t seen data yet that proves the functional beverage itself does the same, it definitely has the science to back it up.

10-packs of Driftwell will be available starting in December 2020 at stores nationwide. Each pack will cost $17.99.

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Alcohol Drinks Products Science

Climate Change Will Affect The Taste And Price Of Our Favorite Beers

As climate change continues to have profound effects on the weather around us, will what we eat and drink be affected as well?

One researcher from North Carolina State (NC State) University is arguing that in the case of beer, both the taste and the cost may be significantly affected.

Imagery from Dave Weatherall, Josh Olalde, and Jason Blackeye // Unsplash

In a guest post for the NC State News, associate professor of molecular and structural biochemistry Colleen Doherty discussed how the changing climate and extreme weather patterns we’re witnessing will affect the flavor compounds we find in beer.

When it comes to cost, a 2018 report from Nature has already shown that rising temperatures and drought frequency may increase the price of barley and hops, the two key agricultural ingredients in beer production.

Doherty argues that climate change today is also leading to alterations in daily and seasonal weather patterns that can effect various properties of both barley and hops.

One of the major reasons, according to Doherty, is that environmental changes will affect the terroir of hops. Similar to what you would find in wine, long-term temperature changes will alter a hop’s life cycle and influence to produce differing amounts of defensive compounds, including those that produce aromas in beer, that will change its flavor composition when added to the beverage.

Likewise, that effect on terroir can also change the ratio of protein and starch in the barley used to brew beer. This will change the quality of the extracted malt at the core of the brewing process, meaning that sweetness, carbohydrate count, protein content, and more could be affected too.

It is unclear exactly how the taste of different beers will change over time, there’s just scientific evidence that they will change. Doherty is researching that as part of her work at NC State, and as time goes on, we’ll be able to taste the difference too.

Imagery from Josh Olalde // Unsplash

Professor Doherty does note that not all changes in the taste or quality of beer in the future will be due to climate change; in fact, beer itself has been changing as processes and technology around it have changed over thousands of years.

However, climate change can and will cause changes out of our control that alter beer’s flavor and may increase its cost as well.

Categories
Fast Food Science What's New

KFC Is First Major Chain To Announce Research Into Lab-Grown Meat

With the search for more sustainable meat options in fast food expanding, KFC has taken a pivotal step in getting major chains to consider lab-grown meat as a potential solution.

KFC’s global team announced in a press release that they were looking into making nuggets that utilize chicken cells as part of the process, making them the first major to chain to publicly announce that cellular agriculture could be an option for them.

These nuggets are being developed in conjunction with 3D Bioprinting Solutions, a Russia-based company known for creating prosthetic organs. The resulting nuggets will use some plant material, but also use cells from chickens to “reproduce the taste and texture of chicken meat almost without involving animals in the process,” according to the release.

KFC will provide spice blends and other ingredient needs to make the nuggets taste like their signature chicken, while 3D Bioprinting will come up with the blend of meat/plant cells needed to get the texture down right.

Lab-grown meat, also known as laboratory-produced, cellular, or cultured meat, has been proposed as an alternative to factory farm-raised meat because it has the potential to scale to global meat consumption levels while reducing environmental costs.

While companies claim that lab-made meat reduces land use, water use, and methane emissions, research has also shown that the technology could increase carbon dioxide emissions. All of this research is still speculative, however, since none of these products have been produced at a commercial scale yet.

Several companies in the United States, including Memphis Meats and JUST, have begun making breakthroughs on lab-grown meatballs, nuggets, and more in recent years. Although there’s still regulatory issues surrounding the technology, the appetite for lab-grown animal products has increased globally, with meat giants like Tyson backing brands working on cellular meat products.

KFC plans to test a prototype of this collaboration in Moscow as early as Fall of 2020.

Categories
Health Science

Study Suggests Eating Kimchi Could Help Protect Against Covid-19

As scientists have been scrambling for potential treatments and vaccines to combat against the COVID-19 pandemic, some have begun testing different unique foods that could play a role in disease prevention.

One food, kimchi, has shown in an early study to be a possible food that could help protect against COVID-19 when consumed.

The pre-printed study took a look at data of death rates from different countries and found that those that eat fermented vegetables, including fermented cabbage products, tended to have a lower death rate. The countries surveyed in this study were European ones, but authors noted that this could be similar for other countries with lots of fermented vegetables in their diets, which includes kimchi.

One could infer from these results that kimchi, sauerkraut, and other fermented cabbage products could help in protection against the disease as a result.

Scientifically, the theory behind this is that fermented vegetables like cabbages have high antioxidant activity, and can inhibit an entry point for coronavirus into the cells called the ACE-2 pathway. ACE-2 is a protein on the membranes of cells that some coronaviruses, including the one responsible for this outbreak, can enter the cell through.

Could eating more kimchi and other fermented cabbage products help prevent you from getting COVID-19? It’s possible, but this study was done to establish some possible hypotheses on how diets could affect the spread of the pandemic. That means that while the possibility is there, now is the time for massive epidemiological research to prove that it’s actually the case.

Categories
Grocery Health Science

Walmart Requiring Face Masks To Enter Starting July 20th

Walmart has added on to the growing list of retailers implementing face mask requirements for customers to help limit the spread of COVID-19 in the United States.

Photo: ungvar // Shutterstock

Starting on July 20th, all Walmart customers will need to be wearing a face mask to gain entry into stores to shop. Walmart will be deploying trained “Health Ambassadors” to remind guests of the new requirements.

At Walmart’s Costco-like subsidiary, Sam’s Club, complimentary masks will be available for members, who can also purchase face masks inside of the store.

Walmart has cited the CDC in their decision to add this policy, saying that “face coverings help decrease the spread of COVID-19, and because the virus can be spread by people who don’t have symptoms and don’t know they are infected, it’s critically important for everyone to wear a face covering in public and social distance.”

The new policy was announced the same day that Starbucks’ own face mask requirements are scheduled to take effect. It also comes shortly after CDC Director Robert Redfield stated that if everyone wore face masks and practiced social distancing, COVID-19 could be controlled within 1-2 months.