Animal-free fermented fats and oils give alternative proteins a kick of flavour - evokeAG.

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Animal-free fermented fats and oils give alternative proteins a kick of flavour

Canberra-based food tech company, Nourish Ingredients is pushing the needle on how alternative proteins are made, using synthetic biology to create tailored, animal-free fats and oils. With seed funding from industry heavyweights, Main Sequence Ventures and Horizon Ventures, Nourish believe their specialty fats will have a massive impact on taste in the next generation of alternative proteins.

Photos by Rachael Lenehan Photography

Being able to see an opportunity and know how to bring it to life – is what makes a great innovation.

Scientists and Co-founders of Nourish Ingredients, Dr James Petrie and Ben Leita are two such innovators, who saw a gap in the booming plant-based protein market, where most products were using vegetable fats and oils, like palm and coconut oil. This lightbulb moment, while working at CSIRO, led to founding Nourish in December 2019.  

“Vegetable fats and oils will always have their place in the market, but the flavours that you get from animal fats and oils are essential in making the end product taste incredible,” explained Nourish Co-founder and CEO James Petrie. 

“By combining our science with the process of precision fermentation, we can tailor the overall taste experience of animal-free fats and oils. Our goal is to elevate the taste of plant-based food – giving them that delicious, meaty, flavour and a mouthfeel of the real thing. The process involves the customisation of the DNA of yeasts and growing them in specially calibrated environments, to develop animal-free fats and oils, drawing upon decades of the team’s combined experience in the lipid engineering world.”

By adjusting the yeast, not unlike the process of brewing beer, and adding ingredients, such as sugar-based feedstocks, Nourish can replicate familiar meat flavour profiles and textures. However, explains James, “We go beyond just providing the top notes of the experience. Nourish fats add a base flavour and aroma that distributes in the mouth, persists, and actually tastes just like meat.”   

Focusing on fats – not proteins – to build flavour

Fat molecules give proteins the taste, texture and aroma that we’ve grown to expect in delicious food – the experience simply isn’t the same without them.  

“If you look at a bowl of ice cream or a piece of grilled fish, you can see and smell it before you taste it. None of this is possible without fats.

“It’s not a philosophical issue for Nourish, it’s about feeding the 10 billion people on the planet. We know this can’t only be done through traditional agriculture, there has to be a shift,” said James.  

At the moment consumer trends indicate that alternative proteins are more broadly supported by vegans and vegetarians, however, Nourish is looking to target meat eaters and bring them along on the journey to help drive the growth of the plant protein market, tipped to reach AUD $25billion by 2030, according to CSIRO. 

“I eat meat. I don’t see alternative proteins replacing traditional animal agriculture, but as food demand grows, this is a way we can grow new export markets and create incredible value for Australian farmers. We’re looking to work together with producers to diversify food sources for a growing global population.”

The journey to founding Nourish

James and Ben were in the middle of creating another startup when their customer base kept asking if they could do something in the animal fat space. That’s when they asked each other, “Well, why can’t we do that?”  

“Running a company like Nourish has been a hell of a learning curve. We have the best team in place and we feel really confident about what everyone is doing but wearing all of the hats has been challenging, it’s so different to only being a research scientist.”  

Nourish is able to mimic the molecular structure of animal fats using synthetic biology to alter the flavour experience, without being constrained to the parameters of beef or chicken.

“We look at what makes an animal fat special and how we can build that in a yeast format. We’re starting to push the boundaries on how we can bring in new flavours and experiences using fermentation,” James explained.  

Driving further research and growth

With a team of 30 and growing quickly, Nourish has already secured AUD$14.4 million in seed funding from top-notch investment firms, Main Sequence Ventures and Horizon Ventures. James believes their partnership is built on an alignment of values and the need to build a better solution. 

Nourish looks forward to furthering relationships with with likeminded companies and individuals whose values link with their own. James added, “It’s important to understand the drivers behind what Nourish does.”  

And that goal is all about building a solution to sustainably feed the world, while making food taste great.  

For more information please contact [email protected] 

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