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The secret ingredient

FORMER CSIRO scientists Dr James Petrie and Dr Ben Leita, co-founders of Nourish Ingredients, are hard at work, researching and perfecting animal-free fats and oils for alternative proteins.

The pair founded the company in 2019 and have pioneered a yeast fermentation process that allows it to mimic the molecular structure of animal fats.

According to Petrie and Leita, this helps to create tastier, more sustainable, non-animal fats for plant-based and cell-based food products.

Petrie says that when it comes to alternative protein foods and plant-based meat “it’s all about the taste”.

In the last year, the team of two has grown to 20 and raised $14.4 million in seed funding, co-led by Main Sequence Ventures - CSIRO’s investment fund – and US fund Horizons Ventures, which also invested in Impossible Foods.

Leita says the funding is a reflection of the industry as a whole crying out for a solution in the alternative protein sector.

Petrie says many alternative protein producers are not happy with the fats they are using for their foods, with consistent messaging that “no one is satisfied with coconut oil”.

He says, “If you’re going to scale up coconut production to support the projections of where plant protein foods can go, that’s palm oil 2.0 right there.”

Fermentation is not new technology, but its purposes are evolving. The outputs are different, says Leita, in that instead of brewing up yeast to “spit out alcohol”, they are producing fats.

The fats can then be targeted for different purposes, so it could be to specifically enhance a plant-based product or perhaps a cell-based one.

One of the fats Nourish is working on is pushing the boundaries and is an exciting area for the team, says Petrie.

“We now have the opportunity to not make exactly the same type of fat in a fermentation level. We can tune it in whatever direction we want.

“We’re concentrating on a fairly narrow part of the supply chain and doubling down by saying we can be the best solution in this space for the whole industry.

“We want people to bite into these foods and be wowed. We want them to say, ‘Why would I not eat this? Why would I eat meat or dairy, when I can eat this because it’s just as good or better?’,” Petrie says.

Nourish Ingredients is now focused on building demo products to demonstrate the “ability of this type of ingredient to make these plant protein foods taste great,” says Petrie.

By the end of the year, Nourish has set its sights on another funding round to further accelerate its growth with technology, production and ingredients.

There is no denying that alternative protein foods and drinks are here to stay.

Major manufacturers are transforming traditional products into new lines, which are friendly-for-all, regardless of dietary, environmental or ethical factors.

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