Consumers looking for plant-based options to dairy milk have an abundance of choice available from oat, almond, soy and rice to even macadamia milk.
But a product geared to taste almost exactly like dairy milk that would be shelf-stable for up to three years could soon hit the market.
It’s milk made from sugar cane, and scientists say the proteins in it are similar to animal proteins.
So, what is it?
University of Queensland professor of food microbiology Mark Turner explained that the sugar from cane, molasses, and other by-products would be consumed by yeast, which would in turn produce a protein bioidentical to dairy milk.
Professor Turner said many startup companies in Australia and overseas were competing in this area.
And while the research is continuing, he’s confident it’s now at the critical stage where it could be successful.
Is it good for you?
Professor Turner said the product would provide an excellent source of protein due to its similarity to animal proteins, including cow milk or eggs.
He said while it would depend on the other ingredients included in the milk, the protein produced by the precision fermentation could be incorporated into various foods to boost their protein content.
Whether milk made from sugar cane would have similar health benefits compared to other plant-based milk, Professor Turner said it would depend on the final formulation.
Cow protein, or casein, is a high-quality protein that contains all essential amino acids and is highly bioavailable.
Who will make it?
The product is set to be manufactured through a world-leading Future Foods BioHub in Mackay in collaboration with the Queensland government and Asia-Pacific fermentation company Cauldron.
The state government has stumped up $528,000 to get the project off the ground, and Cauldron was waiting on regulatory approvals to proceed.
Cauldron chief executive Michele Stansfield said canegrowers and scientists were bringing their expertise to the table to develop the new product.
“We’re not looking to replace the food chain, we’re just looking to complement or supplement it into the future,” Ms Stansfield said.
She said they were creating an alternative value stream for the sugar industry.
“Protein costs a lot more than sugar,” she said.
“We’re hoping it will take some of the fluctuations out of [sugar] pricing and it will ensure the continued use of sugar going forward in a volatile nutritional market.
“We don’t want to be stealing from an industry. We want to be adding to an industry.”
Will it grow farmers’ wallets?
Mackay Sugar chief executive Jannik Olejas said the project would likely see a reduction in sugar exports, but he was confident the industry would see an economic boost and crop growth.
“Any good businessman would say it’s great to have the opportunity either to sell to your next-door neighbour or to export, whatever pays the best,” Mr Olejas said.
He said selling products in Australia rather than exporting would reduce international transport costs for growers. Mackay canegrower Kevin Borg says the new technology could be beneficial to the industry.
President of Canegrowers Mackay Kevin Borg said the cane industry was in the box seat for this new technology and he saw a strong appetite from consumers.
“In the past, there’s been no government support in place, but today, we’ve got a government that’s hell-bent on introducing these projects,” he said.
“But, if we can afford to just put it over the fence into a plant that’s producing protein, I think there’s a premium that needs to be paid.
“I’ll supply the cane. They can work the science out.”
A spokesperson for dairy advocate eastAUSmilk said the organisation had spoken to representatives and all parties agreed further discussion would be beneficial.
Ms Stansfield said international milk companies were investing in new technologies to shore up their supply chain.
Source : ABC net Australia Sep 1st 2023