Almost everyone is now well aware that it is good for your overall health and the environment to eat less meat. Meat substitutes are becoming increasingly popular. But what is often overlooked is that seemingly animal-friendly products such as cheese and milk also contain animal proteins (casein). The Dutch start-up Fooditive has now developed an alternative that is completely comparable: vegan casein. This makes it possible to replace cow’s milk in dairy products, without sacrificing flavor, texture or quality.
Founded in 2018, Fooditive is dedicated to developing healthy, plant-based and affordable products that counteract food waste. Previously, for example, the company launched an upcycled natural sweetener made from apples and pears. “The provision of sustainably produced and animal-free ingredients is the main key to a sustainable future,” says Moayad Abushokhedim (27), founder and CEO of the Rotterdam-based Fooditive Group.
Abushokhedim is originally from Jordan, a poor country where nothing was ever thrown away. Everything was reused. In late 2015, Abushokhedim came to the Netherlands and it was quite a shock for him when he saw that a lot of food here just ends up being binned in the trash. This food waste, he believes, can be curbed by developing more and better options for food waste. Abushokhedim – in his heart a ‘real Dutchman’ no – has a background in food science and over time, he has learned more and more about food fermentation. This process is the basis of the products that Fooditive develops. “All this had basically been in my head for eleven years already,” he explains passionately. “Fooditive has really grown along with me.”
One big family
In addition to its successful calorie-free sweetener, which produces fructose from apple and pear waste streams, the company has six more products in its portfolio. These include a preservative made from carrots, a thickener made from banana peel, an emulsifier from potato waste streams and a fat substitute made from avocado seeds. That the products are catching on is obvious from the amount of support Fooditive is receiving. “We have a lot of partners and around 175 investors,” Abushokhedim says with a sense of pride. “We’re kind of like one big family. Without them, we couldn’t have done any of this.”
And now a new product is on its way: vegan casein. This can justifiably be called revolutionary. Abushokhedim: “We didn’t have the courage to announce it at first. Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, have a lot to do with this. We are very aware of the controversy surrounding this subject. But a lot has changed in the area of GMOs and we are keen to show people those changes. It is entirely possible to create healthy, affordable and sustainable products using this approach.”
Vegan casein is intended to serve as a replacement for cow’s milk in dairy products. Casein is one of the main animal proteins in milk. It gives milk its unique texture, flavor and function. By again relying on precision fermentation, Fooditive was able to develop the plant-based casein. The genetic modification is primarily found in the engineered yeast.
The goal of the company is to be able to meet the demand for milk in the coming years and to eliminate the disadvantages of intensive farming, lactose, hormones and antibiotics. “We believe in making milk protein a bit better for everyone,” Abushokhedim says.
Revolution for humankind and industry
There is no question of mass production just yet; certain formalities have to be completed first. But according to Fooditive, precision fermentation promises to be a real game-changer for the food industry. Abushokhedim: “With this, we can effectively make an exact replica of any animal protein. And nothing changes in terms of taste, texture or quality. For example, most people are not enthusiastic about plant-based cheese because it just doesn’t taste as full and delicious as cheese made from cow’s milk. Our plant-based casein will change that. So, it is not only a revolution for the industry but also for people themselves. The choice for vegan and sustainable products becomes much easier this way.”
Competition with the dairy industry
Fooditive is not worried about negative reactions from the dairy industry. On the contrary: “We do not see each other as competition. We actually support each other. Offering a healthier, plant-based alternative does not mean that people stop drinking or eating dairy. You can see that in the plant-based alternatives to meat. However, it does create more balance and a different mindset,” explains Abushokhedim. “We’re not against the industry as it stands. We just want to offer people healthier food choices.”
Abushokhedim says there is a great deal of interest in the products from Fooditive: “The response has been overwhelming.” With new investments, the company hopes to build its own production facility in the Netherlands come 2023. The aim is to actually launch the vegan casein on the market around that time.