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Climax Foods Inc unveils plant-based casein replacement made with AI precision formulation

June 14, 2023

The award-winning Climax Foods, an AI food-tech startup using data science and machine intelligence to create animal-free products from plants, has announced the discovery of the first-ever plant-based protein ingredient replicating the functional performance, in particular the melt and stretch of the dairy protein casein.

With this discovery, the company claims it has become the first to successfully replicate the functionality, texture, and taste of the major protein in animal milk using only plant ingredients. This alternative to animal-based casein is completely free of hormones, antibiotics, or any of the top eight allergens. Furthermore, Climax Foods’ 'precision formulation' process allows the company to produce this protein sustainably at scale, with price parity to traditional animal-based casein.

Precision formulation uses data science and AI to dramatically speed up the discovery of optimal ingredient and process combinations that fully harness the power of plants. While food innovation historically has taken centuries of trial and error, Climax’s AI-powered precision formulation process dramatically accelerates innovation and discovery.

"While our work is based on a deep scientific understanding of plants, we don't have any need to genetically engineer plants to create our unique proteins," commented Daniel Westcott, Head of Protein & Texture. "An immeasurable range of protein diversity and combinations already exists. We simply use data science and machine learning to pay very, very close attention. 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."

Today's plant-based dairy alternatives are blends of oil and starch that fall short on nutrition, texture, and performance. More than US$1.5 billion in funding has been poured into over a dozen companies trying to produce a casein replacement in microbes through a process called precision fermentation. Unfortunately, these attempts continue to face significant scalability and regulatory issues. Climax's scientists, aided by AI, have found an alternative solution by identifying plentiful and naturally occurring plant proteins that will bring true 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," explained Climax CEO & Founder Oliver Zahn, a Harvard-trained astrophysicist and alum at both Google and SpaceX. "Our production process uses 500 times less water at our current pilot scale.

"Our goal is not just to give vegans better options – we are offering a better way to everyone, especially hardcore cheese-lovers," Zahn continued. "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. 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."

Plant-based cheeses made with Climax’s casein replacement have already won acclaim from Michelin chefs such as Dominique Crenn and Jean Georges as well as plant-based chefs Tal Ronnen and Matthew Kenney. Leading cheese manufacturers such as Bel Group also see Climax Foods’ vast potential in helping reformulate and refashion their core cheese products into plant-based versions.

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

Although the company is starting with dairy products, Zahn says that Climax Foods’ precision formulation process can eventually be applied to replace other animal-based foods as well.

"This is one of the most important scientific breakthroughs in food in the last six thousand years – since humans invented animal agriculture – but we are only getting started," Zahn added.

If you have any questions or would like to get in touch with us, please email info@futureofproteinproduction.com

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