If you try to avoid dairy products, you’ve probably tried ice cream made from soy milk, or coconut milk, or oat milk. They can be good, but the reality is that it’s hard to make plant-based ice cream or cheese or yogurt that truly tastes like real dairy. That’s why the startup Perfect Day uses real milk proteins in its products—but it grows the proteins with fermentation, not cows.
“We grew up eating everything: dairy, eggs, meat,” says Perfect Day cofounder Perumal Gandhi, who started the company with Ryan Pandya shortly after graduating from MIT in 2014. “Like many of our friends, we gave up meat to go vegetarian when we started college, and then finally made the leap to a fully plant-based vegan diet. We realized that being vegan is actually pretty difficult, because all the alternative products that were available either didn’t taste that great, or didn’t have a lot of nutrition in them, or just cost a lot more money.”
The keys to better taste, they realized, were the milk proteins whey and casein, which are responsible for giving dairy a creamy texture. “From a functionality standpoint, that stretch in your mozzarella cheese, or the ability to bind to air to give you that creamy texture in ice cream, that’s all the protein doing its magic,” Gandhi says. By taking the genetic code that cows use to make the protein and introducing it into microorganisms, it’s possible to begin producing identical dairy proteins in bioreactors, similar to the tanks that breweries use to make beer.