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2021-02-01

Interview with Raffael Wohlgensinger, Co-Founder & CEO, LegenDairy Foods

Milk without cow - How do you obtain the raw material from which your dairy products are made?
Purely plant-based foods are not able to perfectly imitate the taste, texture and functionality of animal products. At the same time, we urgently need to reduce the production and consumption of animal foods to minimize the negative impact on our environment. Legendairy Foods uses microorganisms to produce real milk proteins (casein and whey protein), which we then process into cheese by our food design team. Just like a cow converting nutrients from feed into milk components, our microorganisms convert nutrients from a plant fermentation medium - primarily carbohydrate and nitrogen - into milk proteins. 

What are the advantages of your product?
The keyword is conversion efficiency: While cows convert nutrients with an efficiency of 4 to 14 percent, microorganisms can achieve an efficiency of 40 to 80 percent in a fermentation. Consequently, real dairy products can be produced more resource-efficiently (less land, water and energy) with the help of our technology. There are also a number of other advantages. On the one hand, any ethical problems of production are eliminated, as no animals are used. On the other hand, we can develop products with an optimized nutritional profile that also contain no lactose, antibiotics or hormones.

Can the production facilities also be located in cities?
Another advantage of our technology is indeed that production is no longer tied to large pasture areas, but can be decentralized. Production plants can be built where the products are also consumed. In the future, it will be important to position fermentation plants so that they are close to consumers on the one hand and can be well supplied with nutrients on the other. This means that dairy products can also be produced locally where, due to climate change, traditional cow husbandry is not possible or only possible with difficulty. For example, we no longer need to ship thousands of cows from New Zealand to China to meet the growing demand for dairy products in the Asian market, we simply replicate our fermentation process locally.

Will the "molecularization" of food continue?
I don't know if "molecularization" is the right word, to be honest. After all, many journalists and "experts" still talk about products from the laboratory. This is actually a complete misconception; of course the technology is being developed in a lab (like many other technologies). However, the production itself takes place in large fermentation plants, as we know them today from beer production, for example. For me, the word "molecularization" goes in the same direction and makes the consumer believe that food has been produced in a fundamentally different way up to now. Whether it's an udder cell in a cow, a yeast cell in a fermenter or a plant cell in the field - the structures and processes remain the same, cells of all kinds convert molecules into nutrients. But if we understand the word "molecularization" to mean that smaller and smaller organisms produce our food, i.e. away from mammals to fungi, yeasts and bacteria, then my hypothesis is clearly "yes". The reason is obvious: If we want to feed ten billion people in 2050 and continue to enjoy products that are part of our identity and culture, then we need more efficient production. Humans have been domesticating animals for thousands of years - we are simply taking this evolution one step further and domesticating microorganisms.