Skip to main content

Forget nut milk: Fungus-based dairy is real milk without the cow

Nut milks are everywhere. The nut beverage’s 2010 arrival in dairy cases helped lead to a 13% growth in milk alternatives, though it had been available in shelf-stable varieties for years. Now it’s easy to find oat, hemp, and cashew milks in a normal grocery story. Perfect Day hopes to spark a similar trend with its flora-based foods.

Co-founders Perumal Gandhi and Ryan Pandya were unenthusiastic vegans, whose dairy cravings never quite subsided. They went looking for a substitute that could allow them to enjoy cheese, milk, and ice cream again.

Unlike plant-based beverages, the flora-based products are made from the same proteins as cow’s milk, only without the cow. It’s made by fermentation, with a boost from bioengineering. Artificial casein and whey genes (which are found in milk) are combined with a fungus, Trichoderma, that thrives on plant sugars, so the protein-creation process is animal-free.

Perfect Day Flora-Based Dairy Ice Cream
Perfect Day co-founders Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi want to create a new kind of dairy. Image used with permission by copyright holder

“We then carefully separate these milk proteins and combine them with plant-based sugar, plant-based fats, and nutrients to produce a product that has the identical taste and texture of cow’s milk, but packs in more nutrition with no food safety or contamination concerns,” Pandya told Digital Trends in 2016. Because Perfect Day is creating real milk proteins, those allergic to those them will still have to steer clear of its products. The goal is to create a product with the creaminess that comes with milk protein (that plant-based products have difficulty mimicking), while using fewer resources, like water and land.

Gandhi knows people are going to be confused, and possibly skeptical, at first. “We need to come up with new vocabulary for this field in general, because this isn’t plant-based. It’s also not animal-based,” he said during a panel at the Smart Kitchen Summit in Seattle on October 7. “It’s sort of its own third category.” While he’s hoping “flora-based” will catch on — and become widely adopted — the process could also be referred to as “fermentation-based.”

Another issue is that the Food and Drug Administration dictates what products can be called ice cream. The dairy industry has objected to plant-based varieties being called milk. Though Perfect Day said it would have products on the shelves within a year back in 2016, the rollout has been much slower — and expensive. Perfect Day provided its first proof-of-concept product with $20 pints of animal-free ice cream. To bring down the cost, the company plans to partner with other manufacturers to make other (more affordable) flora-based dairy products over the next couple of years.

Another startup, New Culture, is also attempting to make animal-free mozzarella through a similar process. Gandhi thinks these animal-free, fermented substitutes will play a role in feeding a growing population more sustainably, but to really make an impact, they can’t do it alone, he said.

Jenny McGrath
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Jenny McGrath is a senior writer at Digital Trends covering the intersection of tech and the arts and the environment. Before…
Digital Trends’ Tech For Change CES 2023 Awards
Digital Trends CES 2023 Tech For Change Award Winners Feature

CES is more than just a neon-drenched show-and-tell session for the world’s biggest tech manufacturers. More and more, it’s also a place where companies showcase innovations that could truly make the world a better place — and at CES 2023, this type of tech was on full display. We saw everything from accessibility-minded PS5 controllers to pedal-powered smart desks. But of all the amazing innovations on display this year, these three impressed us the most:

Samsung's Relumino Mode
Across the globe, roughly 300 million people suffer from moderate to severe vision loss, and generally speaking, most TVs don’t take that into account. So in an effort to make television more accessible and enjoyable for those millions of people suffering from impaired vision, Samsung is adding a new picture mode to many of its new TVs.
[CES 2023] Relumino Mode: Innovation for every need | Samsung
Relumino Mode, as it’s called, works by adding a bunch of different visual filters to the picture simultaneously. Outlines of people and objects on screen are highlighted, the contrast and brightness of the overall picture are cranked up, and extra sharpness is applied to everything. The resulting video would likely look strange to people with normal vision, but for folks with low vision, it should look clearer and closer to "normal" than it otherwise would.
Excitingly, since Relumino Mode is ultimately just a clever software trick, this technology could theoretically be pushed out via a software update and installed on millions of existing Samsung TVs -- not just new and recently purchased ones.

Read more
AI turned Breaking Bad into an anime — and it’s terrifying
Split image of Breaking Bad anime characters.

These days, it seems like there's nothing AI programs can't do. Thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence, deepfakes have done digital "face-offs" with Hollywood celebrities in films and TV shows, VFX artists can de-age actors almost instantly, and ChatGPT has learned how to write big-budget screenplays in the blink of an eye. Pretty soon, AI will probably decide who wins at the Oscars.

Within the past year, AI has also been used to generate beautiful works of art in seconds, creating a viral new trend and causing a boon for fan artists everywhere. TikTok user @cyborgism recently broke the internet by posting a clip featuring many AI-generated pictures of Breaking Bad. The theme here is that the characters are depicted as anime characters straight out of the 1980s, and the result is concerning to say the least. Depending on your viewpoint, Breaking Bad AI (my unofficial name for it) shows how technology can either threaten the integrity of original works of art or nurture artistic expression.
What if AI created Breaking Bad as a 1980s anime?
Playing over Metro Boomin's rap remix of the famous "I am the one who knocks" monologue, the video features images of the cast that range from shockingly realistic to full-on exaggerated. The clip currently has over 65,000 likes on TikTok alone, and many other users have shared their thoughts on the art. One user wrote, "Regardless of the repercussions on the entertainment industry, I can't wait for AI to be advanced enough to animate the whole show like this."

Read more
4 simple pieces of tech that helped me run my first marathon
Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar displaying pace information.

The fitness world is littered with opportunities to buy tech aimed at enhancing your physical performance. No matter your sport of choice or personal goals, there's a deep rabbit hole you can go down. It'll cost plenty of money, but the gains can be marginal -- and can honestly just be a distraction from what you should actually be focused on. Running is certainly susceptible to this.

A few months ago, I ran my first-ever marathon. It was an incredible accomplishment I had no idea I'd ever be able to reach, and it's now going to be the first of many I run in my lifetime. And despite my deep-rooted history in tech, and the endless opportunities for being baited into gearing myself up with every last product to help me get through the marathon, I went with a rather simple approach.

Read more