Today, Silicon Valley technology startup Perfect Day unveiled a first-of-its kind, lactose-free vegan ice cream made with real cow-milk proteins that are not derived from a cow. The 1,000-pint, limited-batch ice cream is available through Perfect Day in three flavors: Vanilla Salted Fudge, Milky Chocolate, and Vanilla Blackberry Toffee in a three-pint bundle for $60, plus shipping and handling. Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi—Perfect Day founders and biomedical engineers—are vegans who met while aiming to solve the same problem: creating next-level vegan dairy products, particularly cheese, that would be indistinguishable from cow milk-based varieties. In 2014, the pair was accepted into acclaimed incubator IndieBio, where they began to decouple whey and casein (the proteins responsible for much of the textural and behavioral elements of milk) from the cow. To do so, they print a cow’s DNA sequence as a blueprint that is inserted into yeast-based microflora—tiny living organisms used to make everyday items such as vitamins and probiotics. The flora then takes the place of a cow and undergoes an acellular (without animal cells) fermentation process producing an abundance of milk proteins. The end result is a tasteless base that can be used to make a number of animal-free products that are so close to traditional dairy that Perfect Day is legally required to include a statement that reads “contains milk protein” on its labels to address allergen and regulatory concerns.
“The FDA definition for animal products come from an era when there was only one way to make them, and therefore they are limited in scope,” Pandya told VegNews. “Today, that is no longer the case and the definition should be based on what the product actually is versus where it came from. With Perfect Day’s flora-based protein, we hope to educate consumers on the delicious possibilities of this protein, which will also be empowered by how we label it on products containing it.”
During a recent visit to Perfect Day’s headquarters, Pandya explained that the company’s choice to spotlight its innovation in the form of ice cream is because the frozen treat is “steeped in optimism and sparks joy.” Initially, Pandya and Gandhi planned to create consumer products but realized that they could have more impact in their lifetimes by becoming ingredient suppliers to existing companies which can make animal-free versions of foods such as cheese, baked goods, and ice cream using Perfect Day’s formula as a one-for-one input for cow’s milk. As such, it’s own ice cream—one that melts slowly and is not prone to the icy quality of existing vegan ice cream formulations—is a proof of concept. Gandhi explained that while the price of their vegan ice cream concept is steep, at scale, Perfect Day’s formula is 40-percent cheaper and much less volatile than milk derived from a cow making it attractive to consumer-goods manufacturers. On a grander scale, Perfect Day’s flora-based proteins can be a path to protein independence in countries, particularly island nations, that are tied to importing dairy products as creating milk and cheese in this new, sustainable way, would only require fermentation tanks in lieu of dairy farms. “One of the most exciting things we’re working on is the ability to establish domestic dairy production in these regions, which we envision could bring a ton of benefits to the world: cutting down on the emissions related to shipping so much dairy around, helping countries achieve protein independence, and perhaps, most importantly, addressing how we can make high-quality protein in an uncertain climate future,” Pandya said. “It’s a vision that goes far beyond our initial dream in 2014, and we hope we can make a big impact here.”