Photo: Mikal Schlosser

Students invent eco-friendly vegan cheese

Thursday 29 Nov 18
A team of master’s degree students receive an award for an innovative product that reduces food waste and has minimal impact on climate.

If you have ever used chickpeas to make houmous or the like, you probably drained off the water.

In recent years, the vegan food community has become aware of this unnecessary food waste, however, and the many qualities of chickpea brine or ‘aquafaba’ in the form of proteins and minerals—not to mention its qualities as a binding agent in cooking. It can be used in vegan cooking as a kind of egg substitute.

Four international students on the Master of Science programme in Food Technology have taken this a step further and come up with a vegan cheese. Or, more precisely, they have come up with a product so consumers can make their own cheese at home.

The product has been given the name 'Cheese it Yourself', and has gained considerable recognition in the form of a first prize at Green Challenge and subsequently EUR 3,000 at the international competition Ecotrophelia, which was held in Paris in October.

The team members—Panagiota Dima and Ioanna Anagostara from Greece and Carmen Masiá and Hernan Gómez from Spain—met each other on a course aimed at creating a product that could be presented at Ecotrophelia.

“We looked at the market and saw that among vegans there was a demand for quality cheese as part of their diet. A number of vegan cheeses already exist in the market. They are most often spreadable and based on coconut oil and water. They have a low protein content and nutritional value—an obvious drawback given that vegans need the proteins they don’t get from meat. In addition, many consumers think current options taste artificial, with the quality leaving something to be desired. In other words, there’s a market for a new, unique product,” says Carmen Masiá.

The solution was a mixture of plant-based ingredients which the team experimented with in the new DTU Foodlab to find the best composition. The ingredients are packed in a bag which the consumer buys, brings home, and mixes with water from the chickpeas.

It needs to cook for about five minutes and then be left to cool. The result is a firm, sliceable cheese which consumers can add their favourite spice or other ingredients to—e.g. olives or nuts—to tweak the flavour and consistency to suit their individual taste. The finished cheese keeps four to five days, as there are no additives to extend the shelf life.

“The team’s approach to both the development process and the product has been a holistic one,” explains Hernán Goméz.

“We wanted a product that to the greatest extent possible aligned itself with the intentions of the UN’s sustainability goals. In terms of our product, this primarily means reduced food waste—but it doesn’t stop there. Since there is no water in the product, it also has a low weight, which in turn has a positive impact on transport and thus climate footprint. We had four parameters to live up to: Environment, food waste, nutrition, and price. And we’ve succeeded with all four aspects.”

Market potential
Looking ahead to summer 2019, when they complete their MSc Eng programme at DTU, the team is now also continuing with the work of achieving full market potential for their product. They are currently part of Ignite, a DTU Skylab programme, which supports start-ups. This provides help and advice in the ongoing work of establishing their business.

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