Israeli startup claims giant stride in race to animal-free dairy

Using precision fermentation, Israeli startup Imagindairy is ready to unveil its fast-to-market, highly functional animal-free dairy proteins.

We’re not talking about non-dairy “milk” beverages made of rice, nuts or soy, but rather dairy milk without hormones or lactose. The company is among several other players creating true milk proteins that it claims are indistinguishable from the real thing via a natural process of precision fermentation.

“We are aware of the global trend for more ethically-sourced ingredients. There is a growing population of ethically-conscious consumers that are actively making efforts to reduce consumption of animal proteins to protect animals and the environment, but at the same time are reluctant to give up the sensory enjoyment that comes from consuming real dairy,” says Eyal Afergan, PhD, co-founder and CEO of Imagindairy.

“We were founded with the purpose of filling this gap in consumer demand and to provide a solution to those seeking the familiar and much-desired taste of the real thing.”

Prof Tamir Tuller and Dr Eyal Afergan of Imagindairy

Recreating casein and whey

Imagindairy’s proprietary technology recreates nature-identical, animal-free versions of whey and casein proteins that can be used to produce dairy analogs – with the flavour and texture and, importantly, the functionality and nutritional value of their animal-based counterparts. 

This presents new opportunities to develop a full range of non-dairy products that mimic dairy versions yet contain no cholesterol or GMOs. 

They also are lactose-free, serving consumers with lactose intolerance or sensitivity. At the same time, the proprietary technology radically lowers the burden of dairy livestock on the environment.

“We use a proprietary technology that integrates AI, machine learning, microbiology system and molecular biology to design food-grade microflora strains to produce milk proteins.

“We assembled multidisciplinary expertise to create an advanced protein production platform that can significantly improve the production yield of milk protein and allows us to optimise every step of the production stages. Our technology is protected by a number of patents and is based on 15 years of research by a world-leading research group led by Prof Tamir Tuller, Imagindairy co-founder and CSO,” Afergan continues. 

He adds that dairy milk’s unique protein structure provides its characteristic texture, flavour, and nutritional value. Whey is a key source of highly biologically available protein, he says. 

“Imagindairy’s animal-free dairy products boast the same complement of nutrients, from protein content to mineral composition, including calcium,” Afergan notes. 

“No Cow” dairy revolution

Imagindairy’s work comes when environ-conscious consumers are shifting their dietary habits by reducing consumption of animal protein. 

In response to growing awareness of animal welfare and the environmental impact of animal farming, supermarket shelves have become buoyant with alternative plant-based milk and dairy analogs – and the space is set to grow further. 

In many respects, plant-based dairy alternatives fall short of meeting consumers’ sensory demands.

“Our vision was to deliver an animal-free version of the primary dairy proteins – whey and casein – that can allow product makers to match real dairy products in terms of protein concentration, nutrient profile, and the full sensory experiences of the animal-derived versions,” continues Afergan. 

“Ethical claim is one of the key drivers of our innovative solution. Consumers want the sensation of real milk, but at the same time, they don’t want to harm the animals. Our vision is to enable every dairy lover worldwide to enjoy tasty and nutritious dairy products while preserving the environment and protecting animals. Together, we can create a world where a dairy cow is just a cow nurturing her calf.”

Advancing protein production

Imagindairy was co-founded by a multidisciplinary team of prominent experts in microbiology, computational systems, and biotechnology with the support of the Israel-based The Kitchen FoodTech hub. The Kitchen is part of Straus Group, an international food and beverage company. 

The team, headed by Dr Arie Abo, a specialist in protein biochemistry, in collaboration with Dr Tamir Tuller, a professor at Tel Aviv University, to advance emerging technology to overcome production bottlenecks and create a commercially viable, guilt-free milk product, without forfeiting quality or functionality.

Imagindairy started operations at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, building its first applications lab in the home kitchen of one of its employees, a single parent who needed a solution that would allow her to work on development while tending her home-schooled children.

Imagindairy’s unique technology is based on 15 years of research by Tuller, channeling evolutionary genomics to advance high yield protein production. 

“We developed an advanced protein production platform that allows us to optimise every step in creating milk proteins,” notes Tuller, Imagindairy’s co-founder and CSO. “This allowed us to achieve the yield that is needed to achieve commercial production.”

Imagindairy’s technology can be readily integrated into existing dairy food production facilities. The start-up already raised $1.5-million in seed funding, led by The Kitchen FoodTech hub, with contributions from the Israeli Innovative Authority, CPT Capital, New Crop Capital and Entrée Capital, and will soon enter its A-round funding series.

What’s next?

“The next stage is a new prototype of a dairy product. The start-up is entering an A round in funding. The food industry is witnessing a burst of innovation in animal-free protein innovation. Combined with consumer awareness, I see a bright future for this category,” concludes Afergan.

Source: Imagindairy,