Food giant Unilever is planning to make dairy ice cream without using milk that comes from cows, instead using a process called precision fermentation to produce milk proteins in a lab.
The company, which owns Ben & Jerry’s, believes the ice cream could launch in about a year.
Unilever is the largest company to enter the precision fermentation market.
Smaller food technology companies are also experimenting with the process: the U.S.-based company Perfect Day has created a lab-made milk protein, which they say is identical to the real thing. Perfect Day has partnered with other companies, like The Urgent Company, to launch ice cream, whey protein powder, and milk.
How it Works
The process aims to offer a cruelty-free and greener alternative to dairy products, eliminating the methane which is produced by cows on farms.
Precision fermentation multiplies microbes to replicate other products, encoding dairy DNA on yeast or fungi before fermenting it. In about two weeks, the process yields milk proteins like whey or casein.
The technology has been around for decades, and is most famously used to create insulin.
In the Guardian, columnist George Monbiot writes that the process could offer us new staple foods, in turn freeing up vast swaths of land which are currently dedicated to agriculture.
Re-wilding that land could present an opportunity to “stop the sixth great extinction and draw down much of the carbon we have released into the atmosphere,” he notes.