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Dairy Made from Grass in a Fermentor (thosevegancowboys.com)
79 points by vincent_s 7 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 45 comments





A science fiction story about synthetic milk, rather funny and one of my favorites:

https://archive.org/details/Astounding_v62n06_1959-02_EXcite...


That was a fun read, thanks for sharing! Rather amusing to see how the 1959 story imagines money in 1996—Knox notes each researcher on the moon base costs “90 dollars a day” implying that that is a huge expense.

The world was effectively still on a gold standard back then. Wrapping the mind around inflation seems to be innately very hard to do.

The first thing I thought of was the Cloaca (poop machine) at MONA Hobart which is a functional digestive system. The output is not quite as palatable.

This story was my first thought when I saw the headline.

The promise of this headline is amazing. Sadly, the linked page appears to be a X-prize / Latitude prize type competition to find a way of doing it, rather than an actual product.

No they are a genuine lab with scientists; but I agree that the homepage is misleading.

But they still don’t seem to have anything.

This is complete nonsense right on the top of the page: "Those Vegan Cowboys strive for healthy products with less saturated fats, which are suitable for people with lactose intolerance. " Lactose is a sugar and has nothing to do with saturated fat. If they don't understand one of the most fundamental qualities of milk how can they ever hope to recreate it?

I noticed the same, but I think some benefit of a doubt needs to be given because the text was probably written by someone who is not a native speaker of English. I think the phrasing is off, and they meant "products with less saturated fats, and in addition which are suitable for people with lactose intolerance". As in, listing two distinct properties, not one property implying the other.

Exactly. The 'which' probably refers to 'healthy products', rather than to 'saturated fats'.

I think you're just reading this incorrectly. It should be read as "thing which has quality A, and quality B" (where A is low saturated fat and B is no lactose), not "quality A which implies quality B".

Looks like 'dutch english' or maybe even an automated translation - google translate makes the same mistake of using 'products xx, which can...' instead of 'products xx, that can...'

I would think cows eat more than one type of grass. I went to Mt. Mount Rainier and saw a mountain meadow for the first time, and was blown away how pretty and diverse it was in grasses.

So do Swiss cows in the Alps make the best milk?


Most North American dairy cows eat corn, wheat, barley, and oat plants. Everything from just above the ground, chopped and pickled (silage). Stalk, ears, silk etc. Sometimes food or brewing waste(1). Plus some vitamins and minerals and salts(2). Plus some palm oil(3).

1. https://www.usdairy.com/news-articles/do-dairy-cows-eat-food...

2. http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/themes/documents/PUB6/P620.htm

3. https://www.thetelegram.com/business/local-business/sylvain-...


It's pretty darn good milk, but there are many more differences besides feed:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24816367

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23474129

(I do note that the various cheese producers enforce restrictions on what their dairy suppliers feed, so I'm pretty sure that meadow biome is tastable even in processed form)


I grew up around dairy farmers in the Midwest. Anecdotally, yes - different grasses/plants cause changes in milk production/flavor. However, most is homogenized anyway so the differences don’t really matter unless it’s a specialty product.

You can really tell when your milk cow has discovered a patch of wild onions. Yuck.

Not necessarily. Look for something like this https://www.tasteatlas.com/heumilch which is about not feeding them with other stuff during winter, bad weather or such.

Which is more expensive, complicated (because storage requirements of dry hay).

But tastes good! Also for Yoghurt made from that. I absolutely prefer it over any other type of milk.


My mom grew up on a dairy farm and said you could always tell when the cows got into the wild onions. Diversity is good, but flavors do come through in the milk, so there are some things that you want to avoid.

That's an event in "Tess of the d'Urbervilles": a cow at a dairy has eaten some wild garlic and the entire batch of milk is ruined. Everyone has to go out and walk the fields in a line to root out any garlic they come across.

Full disclosure: I never finished the book (my attention wandered elsewhere), but I did get as far as this scene.

ETA: Around this part of the book the words "hagrid" and "dumbledore" appear, suggesting J.K. Rowling was reading this around when she named the characters in Harry Potter.


Pfft. Should have made https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayran from that and market it as a rare speciality :-)

It makes for a great marketing opportunity, yes.

An older effort for a somewhat similar goal: https://www.realvegancheese.org/

It will take a lot more than a single fungus to do the trick. Lactation and digestion in cows involve completely differently pathways. I am not sure why they insist on fungus, perhaps they are referring to genetically engineered yeast? Milk is primarily suspended fat in water. What is possible is to use a bacteria/microbe to convert plant matter to fat first and then use traditional industrial machinery to disperse it into water. However, you still need to find a way to remove the fiber that remains. Perhaps using a squeezer to extract the fats. All these will not truly replace real dairy, the result will be more akin to almond milk. Also, 2.5 million is absolutely peanuts. You need at least a magnitude higher funding unless you plan to outsource everything to India.

If you want an exact replica of the cow mammalian milk production process that is molecule-to-molecule compatible then you need at least two dozen tissue engineers. This is slightly beyond what a "fungus" to do.


I think they might be referring to yeast. I know thats how Impossible "cracked the code" to making heme.

seems to be a very ambitious project but im hopeful!

This makes me want to do more research into how Perfect Day makes their Lab dairy.


[flagged]


Casein plays an important role in the meltiness of cheese[1] so it makes sense they'd want to replicate it (lots of almost-but-not-quite-vegan cheese alternatives like Trader Joe's almond cheese have ~1% casein in them for this reason).

1: https://www.finecooking.com/article/the-science-of-melting-c...


They are focusing on the wrong end of the problem. Why try to produce cow milk/cheese? If they want a make food, they should start trying to make human milk, or Matrix's Tasty Wheat. Once you can turn grass or some easy to grow vegetable into everything our body needs you can add flavoring/texture later.

That probably won’t work, and it will no be allowed to be marketed as milk in France (thanks to the loi relative à la transparence de l'information sur les produits agricoles et alimentaires). I hope EU and other countries have similar laws to protect their consumers.

This sounds cool, but ... it's a little mystifying to me why food is the area where people are willing to work the hardest to recreate traditional products developed in a period where reality was just very different. I've never heard of anyone working to produce a vegan wool sweater with plant derived components to recreate a fair isle sweater, or a vegan cordovan leather shoe that lasts decades. Why do we put so much energy into trying to recreate exactly the experience of traditional animal based food products?

I think most of us can be nostalgic for foods that didn't exist until the latter half of the 20th century. Pioneering chefs and restaurants create amazing experiences from flavors and textures that are new, unfamiliar, and surprising (maybe a point of comparison would be the fermentation experimentation that Noma got so much media for). So it's not that we can't really love new foods.

If this energy and innovative spirit was directed differently, I wonder what new things we might be enjoying which are very different from traditional concepts but in many ways better, and which the next generation will consider foundational?


>Why do we put so much energy into trying to recreate exactly the experience of traditional animal based food products?

Because until we stop using animals for food, those other things are kind of pointless? Who cares if you can buy vegan shoes that last decades, what's the end game? The cows are still going to be slaughtered for food, it'll just be one more thing that gets wasted instead of used.

>Pioneering chefs and restaurants create amazing experiences from flavors and textures that are new, unfamiliar, and surprising (maybe a point of comparison would be the fermentation experimentation that Noma got so much media for). So it's not that we can't really love new foods.

I think the number of "completely new and unfamiliar" foods created in the last 100 years can be measured on one hand. Sure people have taken known ingredients and mixed them in new ways, but that doesn't change the fact the underlying thing that we like is still there. Humans have had thousands of years to perfect food, why do you think someone in a lab working for a couple years is going to be able to upend that?

>If this energy and innovative spirit was directed differently, I wonder what new things we might be enjoying which are very different from traditional concepts but in many ways better, and which the next generation will consider foundational?

You're basically describing soylent, and the results are as expected. To pretend that there aren't people thinking about new ways of fueling humans is kind of unfair - it's happening, it's just HARD. People like "real" food.


> I've never heard of anyone working to produce a vegan wool sweater with plant derived components to recreate a fair isle sweater, or a vegan cordovan leather shoe that lasts decades

I mean, it's a while ago now, but nylon, rayon etc were very much sold as synthetic silk back in the day. And synthetic wood flooring and furniture products are extremely common (in the flooring case in particular, great effort is gone to to gloss over the fact that they even _are_ synthetic). People largely want things that are similar to things they're used to.

And it's possibly relevant that both of the things you mention are luxury products that most consumers would not have experience of anyway. Milk is not. If everyone wore extremely expensive shoes that lasted decades, there might be more of a demand for synthetic ones, but in practice that's not even a product where many people wanted the original.

There's also a market for novel stuff, of course, but it's generally a smaller market. And, like, vegan food that is not emulating animal-based food certainly _exists_; it's just a harder sell for the average person (at least in the west; your milage may vary elsewhere). Though it's rarely entirely novel; just adaptations of existing food that isn't meat-based and can have any animal ingredients swapped out easily (a lot of Indian food works well here; often contains dairy products in its traditional form, but they can be swapped out quite easily).


Cotton in German, Baumwolle, literally means tree-wool.

That said, I agree, especially concerning food.

Recreating meat dishes doesn't make much sense to me, it's not as if there's a lack of options on the vegetable side.

That said, I do miss cheese sometimes, it's very tricky to replace.


> There's also a market for novel stuff, of course, but it's generally a smaller market.

See, that's the part I don't agree with; it's just that when the market gets big, we stop seeing them as novelties. Cheese puffs, instant ramen, pringles, chex -- in the last century multiple generations of novel mass produced manufactured food was invented in part around techniques that were newly available.

> People largely want things that are similar to things they're used to.

And yet new things, which are similar but also markedly distinct can be hugely appealing (e.g. cronuts). Foreign goods can become popular when introduced to a new market, and eventually become unremarkable and ubiquitous (I can buy multiple kinds of premade kimchi at my local chain supermarket).

If you're in a position to food-science vegan cheese-adjacent products, why not pursue directions that mix and match familiar and unfamiliar aspects to create something the old-school dairy can't?

- the flavor of cashew cheese and nutritional yeast, but the texture of salmon roe that pops in your mouth.

- a salty + umami product that starts with a crisp texture like parmesan tuiles, but melts when warmed. Sprinkle thin flakes over hot dishes.

- the salty funky hit of blue cheese in a fibrous chewy form like beef jerky. The nose hit is extended as you try to pull off a chunk with your teeth.


> This sounds cool, but ... it's a little mystifying to me why food is the area where people are willing to work the hardest to recreate traditional products developed in a period where reality was just very different.

Two reasons, broadly speaking:

First, you get to co-opt existing preferences, instead of trying to displace them by establishing new ones.

Second, to some extent, existing animal-based products are best-in-class due to decades, centuries, or even millennia of survivorship bias. Some of those may represent a local maxima, but discovering that often requires some out-of-the-box thinking, such as Herman Miller's Pellicle as first demonstrated via the Aeron chair, which IMO is superior in practically every respect than traditional chair upholstering methods and materials, no matter how high-end, but absolutely isn't a one-to-one replacement for them.


To me one of the more compelling reasons to develop substitutes that closely resemble animal-produced originals (chemically, not just superficially) is the staggeringly huge number of recipes that depend on animal products.

There are substitutes that work as a technicality right now, but it's usually trivial to tell the difference between a recipe using original ingredients vs. a recipe that's been "veganized" (most often, the result is more crumbly, less rich, has wrong texture, etc).

Innovation in vegan food is a good thing that should be encouraged but it needn't come at the cost of large chunks of cultural heritage in the form of food. Vegan substitutes that are close analogues of animal-produced originals lets us have the best of both worlds.


Cheese tastes good.

Industrial cheese production requires impregnating cows, separating the calf from the mother soon after birth, milking for about a year and repeat.

Industrial animal products involve a huge amount of pain and suffering for the animals, low wages and injury for the humans, and impacts on the environment.

Certainly, if people greatly reduced their consumption of animal products there would much less of the negatives. Plant based products are one approach.


>> recreate traditional products developed in a period where reality was just very different.

Ever see a house with the Tesla solar roofing shingles? There is a line of thought that for customers to accept a new product it must be as externally similar as possible to a preexisting one, even if doing so means degrading the performance or practicality of that product.


It's easy to forget that old designs are not necessarily bad designs. The "original" shingles are wooden shingles, clay half-pipes, and slate shingles. These have some good things going for them:

- Modular design makes transportation, storage and installation simple.

- Modular design makes it easy to replace just a small section.

- Simple design means it's easy to understand edge cases and failure modes.

- Simple, standardized shapes make it easy to replace parts even if the original manufacturer is out of business.

I can replace a shingle on a 100-year-old roof, no questions asked. What will people do when one or two of their custom Tesla roof shingles fail in 20 years? 30 years?

Newer (or fancier) is not always better.


iirc they have a life warranty, that kind of addresses your concern.

One thing to think about: most companies don’t last a full human lifetime. Such a warranty isn’t as good as advertised.

To piggy back this I get really annoyed when trying to meal plan using vegan/vegetarian ideas and they're operating on the standard expectation of meat & potatoes, but replacing it with a "meaty" vegetable.

I don't want to replace the meat, I want a meal without meat.


> Pioneering chefs and restaurants create amazing experiences from flavors and textures

We already have vegetarian/vegan restaurants that are beyond "beef burger but not beef". There's not really much to pinoeer here except just "bring them to near you"?


They do make vegan leather shoes and they're pretty much indistinguishable from the real article when done well.



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