Marité Cárdenas, a professor at Biofilms Research Center for Biointerfaces, is being funded by Novo Nordisk.
The project, ‘Nanocapsules and recombinant proteins for nutritious vegan cheese making’, aims to mimic dairy cheese, and go further by improving on its nutritional values.
“There are a lot of dairy products, which of course are produced from milk, and milk is a difficult material to mimic,” Cárdenas said.
“So the idea is to work out how to mimic it so we can produce dairy products that are plant based. I realize that there is a growing concern in the world, so we need to find ways to be more sustainable. Cheese is a very important food — it certainly is on my table — and if you want to eat the vegan cheese which is currently available in the supermarkets, you might be disappointed.
“The current vegan options are not really mimicking dairy cheese production, they are doing something completely different and that is because there is a great technological limitation.”
When cheese is made, bacteria or enzymes react with the proteins in milk, such as caseins, but Cárdenas said the process is difficult to mimic without the specific proteins, which only exist in animals.
“A lot of companies are trying to produce them recombinantly using yeast for example, this is something which is done by a molecular or synthetic biologist,” she said.
Cárdenas intends to use her background as a physical chemist to formulate milk from plant-based proteins.
“If we are going to make it from scratch, we don’t need to do it the way nature does it. Nature designed milk because it needed the milk, it didn’t need cheese! We can make it the perfect milk for cheese making.
“We can add things in the milk which are good for the body, such as vitamins and minerals which are lacking in a vegan diet, and formulate them in such a way that they will remain in the cheese. This increases their chance to actually be adsorbed in the body.”
In addition to the Novo Nordisk grant – given to projects that aim to improve the lives of people through better health, education and the development of a knowledge-based sustainable society – Cárdenas is receiving advice from the Danish biotech company, Chr. Hansen.