Jaap Korteweg and Niko Koffeman are on the hunt for a fungus. And not just any: a fungus that can convert grass into milk. That is the missing puzzle piece to make vegan dairy products. They are offering a bounty of 2.5 million euros to those who can deliver what they are looking for. “We can’t wait to meet your fungus,” they write on their website.
Milk substitutes based on soy, oats or almonds are already available, but Koffeman and Korteweg want to go a step further: make milk straight from grass without the intervention of a cow. The principle is simple: Those Vegan Cowboys want to mechanically mimic how a cow digests grass. The ruminants have a system of four stomachs that break down the grass with the help of micro-organisms into separate building blocks. The cow eventually converts that into milk. Koffeman and Korteweg are looking for a fungus that can do the same. Put it in a kettle with grass, let it ferment and after a while the components of milk will come out.
Korteweg and Koffeman are not the only ones developing utter-free dairy. In fact, Perfect Day’s synthetic milk has been on the market for several years. The American company also makes yogurt, cheese and ice cream.
Perfect Day has developed a genetically modified yeast that converts vegetable sugars into milk proteins. An additional benefit: their milk does not contain lactose, so people with lactose intolerance can drink it without any problems.
Korteweg also wants to make animal-free, lactose-free dairy, but with grass. “Grass is very sustainable. It grows by itself. You can harvest it and it just keeps growing. Without fertilizers or pesticides, ”he told BN DeStem in 2019. The production process of Those Vegan Cowboys requires at least five times less grass than the current way of making milk with cows, says Korteweg, who already dreams aloud about a new layout for the Dutch landscape: giving back unneeded grassland to nature.
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