A major breakthrough – this is how Wilk CEO Tomer Aizen described his company’s latest foray in cell-based dairy. The Israeli foodtech startup says it has developed a first-of-its-kind product by leveraging its proprietary cell-cultured milk fat; it’s a proof that the company’s technology can be successfully deployed to produce food, Wilk claims.
The product – a low-fat yogurt – contains a single cell-based ingredient – the cultured milk fat that Wilk produces. “Mammary cells are extracted from bovine udder tissue and cultivated in bioreactors in our laboratories to produce the fat components, which can then be extracted for use in dairy products,” Aizen told us. “The other ingredients contained in the yogurt were 100% plant-based, with our fat components being the only dairy-based ingredients.”
The cultured ingredient is said to provide ‘the full nutritional benefits found in real milk fats’. The component is essential for dairy products, as it provides distinctive flavors and textures unique to foods such as yogurts. As for how Wilk’s yogurt was made, Aizen told us that the company partnered with a food technologist to produce the concept product ‘in a way that is comparable to traditional yogurt manufacture’.
To determine if Wilk’s yogurt meets essential chemical and biological benchmarks, the it was sent off to be examined in external laboratories, the company revealed. Then, public tasting followed.
“Tasting [was] conducted by one of the leading TV shows in Israel, which brought a nationally-recognized chef to personally try the yogurt,” Aizen explained. “He confirmed that in taste, texture and consistency, it is comparable to regular yogurt.
“We have been receiving positive consumer feedback for our ability to produce real authentic milk ingredients in an independent manner, that does not harm animals or negatively impact the environment. There is genuine excitement for our ability to manufacture ingredients that provide the required taste, texture and nutritional benefits in a sustainable manner for generations to come.”
So how does Wilk’s technology compare to, say, precision fermentation? “There are certainly many different technologies working to solve the global challenges around the availability of milk ingredients,” Aizen reflected, “and we are happy that there are a lot of players in the ecosystem working together to overcome these.
“While these all have their merits, cell-culturing technology is the only way to produce 100% genuine milk ingredients, as they come from real milk producing cells. Therefore, we are not producing another milk substitute, but real milk produced in laboratory conditions.”
Next up: Hybrid infant formula?
Wilk is also specializing in technologies for producing cultured human breast milk. The company holds patents on laboratory production processes that replicate the milk-producing cells of humans to create bio-identical milk and milk components.
Now, Wilk is ‘directing the majority of its resources’ to develop cell-cultured human milk fat for infant formula. The ingredient will be used to replace vegetable fats currently present in formula and deliver improved nutrient profile.
“We are simultaneously working on developing human milk components for use in infant formula,” Aizen admitted, adding: “We must clarify however that we are not looking to, nor could we, replace real breast milk. Nevertheless, this will be a game-changer for infant nutrition, as we can use these ingredients to optimize the nutritional benefits of formula that is currently available to significantly improve infant development.”