Houston, TX-based proprietor Jennifer Thai of vegan and allergy-friendly snack company Awesome Bites recently partnered with chemistry students at Rice University to create a shelf-stable coconut-flaxseed milk. Thai created the dairy-free milk recipe that has the mouthfeel of whole milk but is made with plant-based ingredients. However, the quick separation prevented her from scaling the product commercially. Thai’s first batch maintained its integrity for seven days before separating, but the milk’s stability was unpredictable. Ideally, Thai wanted the product to stay homogenous on the shelf for two weeks to a month without the use of emulsifiers such as lecithin. Over the course of a semester, class members took on separate parts of the problem to test the mix of ingredients, how to process them, their acidity, and whether to grind the flaxseeds in advance. Students were required to strictly follow the scientific method and keep comprehensive notes throughout. At the end of the semester, they presented their recipes to Rice University, where they were able to cook and try their creations for the first time. “In the final presentation, they suggested relatively simple alterations they felt would prolong shelf life,” Rice University lecturer Michelle Gilbertson said. Those included changing the ratio of flaxseed to coconut and using a metal strainer in the place of cheesecloth. “This has been a win for me in every possible respect,” Thai said. Thai plans to incorporate the students’ solutions into her formula to create a new and improved milk that will be available at her Houston-based bakery and ice cream shop (which opens next month) in flavors such as original, unsweetened, and horchata. Once the new version is tested for shelf life and separation, Thai hopes to bottle and distribute it locally with a long-term goal to expand nationally.

Photo Credit: Jeff Fitlow

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