Alt-dairy: Time-Travelling Milkman laps up funding, poised to scale plant-based fat ingredient
07 Jul 2021 --- Dutch start-up Time-Travelling Milkman (TTM) is scaling up its plant-based fat ingredient for creamier, healthier dairy alternatives following new funding from Oost NL and SHIFT Invest.
The TTM’s unsaturated fat ingredients are made through technology that extracts fat droplets from seeds, such as sunflower seeds, for sustainable production of fat that is texturally similar to milk.
The processing technique was developed at the Netherlands-based food innovation hub Wageningen University & Research (WUR), where TTM was conceptualized. The company says that with this technology, it is well-positioned to become a dominant B2B fat ingredient provider.
“We use European seeds, water and our proprietary processing technology to produce ingredients that add an irresistible mouthfeel in dairy alternatives,” says Dimitris Karefyllakis, CEO and co-founder of TTM.
“Creaminess comes from fat, not protein. Alternative protein sources are abundant, but the importance of the fat element has been overlooked. Without this, there will be no protein transition.”
Support from Oost NL and SHIFT Invest will come in the form of knowledge, network and capital to help TTM scale up and bring the product to market. The specifics of the funding have not been disclosed.
Room for plant-based fat to grow
Karefyllakis points out that few market alternatives can provide sustainable, healthy and texturally appealing milk fat substitutes.
“Current fat ingredient alternatives do not give the required consistency, creating mushy unappealing structures, or they are saturated fats, like palm and coconut oil. These can also be unsustainable as they come from the tropics,” says Karefyllakis.
Inside plant seeds, fats are organized in naturally occurring fat droplets covered by proteins, called oleosomes, which have a high potential as milk fat equivalents, he explains.
Clean label processing
Based on its heritage at WUR as a spin-off, TTM says it knows how to give oleosomes “the right twist” and format.
Dr. Remko Boom, food process engineering, at WUR highlights that he has discovered better ingredients can be made when the natural structure is kept intact.
“We can [extract fat droplets] without the need for traditional solvents, but simply by using water. I hope that this will usher in a new phase where we can move toward more sustainable production of our food.”
WUR also recently announced two fundamental work packages, which aim to deliver new scientific insights cleaner label processing.
Researchers will be examining how to reduce additives in dairy and meat alternatives while keeping top sensory qualities.
Accelerating the move to sustainable
WUR is constantly seeking new avenues for sustainable processes to accelerate the protein transition. The research institution estimates that 30 to 40 percent more protein will be needed to feed the world by 2050.
In efforts to seek solutions, WUR recently wrapped up the second edition of the ReThink Protein Challenge. This year’s winning team developed a milk-fat substitute based on precision-fermented yeast.
The competition brought together teams of students from 41 universities worldwide to come up with the most innovative ingredients to tackle sustainable protein production.
Improving texture for sustainable foods
The importance of fat for replicating meat’s mouthfeel was also highlighted by Belgium-based start-up Peace of Meat last December.
The company focuses on replicating real fat cells from animals for use primarily in plant-based applications to yield optimal texture to meat substitutes.
MeaTech 3D, which acquired Peace of Meat, announced it would harness the start-up’s cultured fat to produce hybrid products with cultured chicken fat in plant-based protein products by 2022.
About the investors
Oost NL invests from the Innovation Fund ION+, an innovation fund for SMEs in Gelderland.
“The protein transition is a major challenge of our time,” says Carl Heijne, senior investment manager Food at Oost NL.
“But existing plant-based dairy alternatives still have many disadvantages. TTM has an innovative solution on its hands.”
Meanwhile, Bram Ledeboer, partner at SHIFT Invest, says: “The main focus of TTT is to support early-stage companies that are emerging from scientific research and development into start-ups with the potential to disrupt the industry.”
By Missy Green
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