“As a vegan myself, I miss consuming honey,” says Darko Mandich, co-founder, and chief executive of MeliBio, wistfully.
It’s not unusual for vegans to miss certain foods. What is unusual, though, is Mr. Mandich’s solution: to make a kind of honey, just like the natural kind in every molecule, but produced without involving any bees in the least.
“When you check out honey and the way it’s made, it starts with bees collecting pollen and nectar from the flowers then converting that into the building blocks of honey, which are fructose and glucose,” he says.
“We are simulating that within the lab, using micro-organisms which do the work of building the initial blocks of honey.”
Over the previous couple of years, plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy became increasingly widespread. However, for many, they simply don’t come up to scratch in terms of flavor, texture, or simple use.
But now, a variety of start-up companies, like MeliBio, are looking to use fermentation to supply vegan products that are identical biologically to the important thing.
Through the method of fermentation, micro-organisms digest a food supply and excrete a useful product – yeast, for instance, is fed sugars and produces alcohol to form beer.
But by tailoring the micro-organism carefully and selecting the proper feedstocks, it’s possible to make a special outcome – anything from honey to egg whites, to milk.
One company taking this approach is the best Dairy, a London-based start-up developing milk and cheese through yeast fermentation.
“The way it works is that you can use yeast in the way that we use yeast for beer brewing – but we tweak the yeast so that instead of producing beer, it produces what we want it to produce,” says Jevan Nagarajah, co-founder and chief executive.
“So the technology is using yeast as a conversion platform from the input sugars and therefore the things that you’d usually feed it, and turning that into dairy, in our case.”
Similar techniques are getting used to supply egg whites, with San Francisco-based Clara Foods on the brink of production and hoping to become the world’s largest egg protein producer by 2028.
“Our proprietary fermentation technology allows us to regulate and even surpass the feel, taste, and culinary functionality of animal-derived egg counterparts,” says co-founder and chief executive Arturo Elizondo.
As well as making vegans happy, cultured products may have environmental benefits.
According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, meat and dairy between them account for about 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Meanwhile, the world’s appetite for honey is harming many species of bees, says Mr. Mandich.
“Commercial beekeeping is favoring a single bee species, the honey bee, all over the world to meet the rising demand for honey,” he says. “They are actively competing with wild and native bee species and pushing them back.”