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Wilk makes yogurt using milk from cultivated cells

Dive Brief:

  • Israeli food tech company Wilk developed the world’s first yogurt made with cultured milk fat. The product, made with both traditional dairy products and dairy created by cultivated cells, was validated by external laboratories as meeting chemical and biological requirements to be yogurt, the company said.
  • The yogurt is a prototype to validate Wilk’s technological capabilities. It is most likely not a product the company will be developing on its own anytime soon. Wilk said in a statement that its main emphasis right now is creating cultured human milk fat to be used in infant formula. 
  • Wilk is one of a growing number of companies using cell culture technology to create dairy. Biomilq and TurtleTree are working to make human milk, while Opalia is concentrating on making cow milk.

Dive Insight:

Following the FDA’s letter on Wednesday affirming the safety of Upside Foods’ chicken, there have been a lot of discussions this week about cell cultivation as a way to make meat. But as this breakthrough from Wilk shows, there is a lot more to cell cultivation technology and additional ways it can be used to sustainably enhance nutrition.

Wilk, formerly known as BioMilk, grows mammary cells from cows and humans. When those cells have matured, Wilk has a patented process to get those cultivated cells to produce milk. It then separates the milk from the cells.

This is a completely different process than precision fermentation used by Perfect Day and other companies. They create dairy proteins by fermenting yeast with modified DNA. Milk produced by cultured cells has a wider array of nutrients, Wilk scientists told Food Navigator last year.

Wilk announced it was undertaking this yogurt project in July. In a statement released at the beginning of the project, Wilk CEO Tomer Aizen said milk fat helps blood absorb calcium and vitamins D and E. It also carries antioxidants and natural anti-inflammatory and cancer-preventing properties.

Rachelle Neuman, Wilk’s vice president of marketing and consumer affairs, told Food Navigator the only portion of the yogurt product coming from cultured cells would be the milk fat. 

Now that Wilk has translated cultivated dairy into a product, it shows this technology can create products that match the nutritional and functional profile of traditionally produced dairy. But this is the first step of many to create actual consumer products using cultivated dairy.

Wilk’s statements did not say how much yogurt it created, and it’s not clear how much milk the company can get out of the cells it cultivates. In April, The Times of Israel reported Wilk was focusing on creating a system to make larger volumes of product.

Large volumes are key. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 843 million tonnes (929.2 million tons) of milk was produced worldwide in 2018. It will take a massive scale to make even a small dent in that figure.

But once Wilk makes progress on volume, it may have a leg up on distribution. Coca-Cola Israel signed a strategic agreement with Wilk in 2021. The soft drink giant’s arm will invest a total of $2 million in Wilk and work with them to develop products from cell-cultured milk.

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