Climax Foods is using data science to make plant-based cheese

Climax Foods is using data science to make cheese from plants.

Finding new ways to make plant-based foods that look and taste like their animal-sourced counterparts is a hot space for startups to be in right now. Climax Foods is hoping its unique approach can take the industry by storm.

Its founder, Oliver Zahn, began his career as an astrophysicist. Now, he wants to use data science to perfect the art of making plant-based cheese. It sounds like an overly complex approach. However, it might just work.

Climax Foods has raised $7.5 million from a variety of investors that believe in its journey.

Deindustrializing the Food Chain

It’s no secret that current methods of food production are unsustainable. With Earth’s population on the rise and its natural resources being stretched thin, it is only a matter of decades before feeding everyone is impossible. Fortunately, it isn’t too late to change.

Zahn says, “We are at a pivotal time where industrialization enabled explosive population growth and consumption of animal products. Today, more than 90% of all mammalian animals and more than 70% of all birds on the planet exist for the sole purpose of metabolizing plants and being turned into food.”

As for the environmental impact, Zahn notes, “This industry is complex and wasteful, creating as much climate change as all modes of transportation combined, and using more than a third of the earth’s water and usable land. By speeding up food science innovation, Climax Foods is able to convert plants into equally craveable foods without the environmental impact.”

Part of the startup’s urgency comes from the COVID-19 pandemic and the many realizations it has forced upon society. For instance, it may be possible to decrease the risk of future pandemics caused by pathogens jumping from animals to humans by decreasing our reliance on animals for food.

Data-Centric Approach

Recreating animal meat and dairy products with plant materials isn’t easy. It takes years of research to replicate a delicious burger patty or chicken nugget. Climax Foods wants to speed up the process by using data science.

The startup is examining traditional foods at the molecular level to figure out what makes them delicious. Then, it uses sophisticated machine learning networks to determine which combination of plant resources could recreate the food.

Sanjeev Krishnan, one of the biggest investors in the plant-based food space, says, “They [Climax Foods] are using data science to produce a new category of foods that will not merely compete with, but has the potential to out-compete, traditional proteins in terms of taste, nutritional density, and price.”

“The machine intelligence approach Climax Foods is pioneering is critical for harnessing the vast number of ways raw ingredients and natural processes can be used to create the ultimate digital recipes,” Krishnan adds.

Climax Foods’ $7.5 million seed round will help the startup accomplish a few major goals. It will be able to research taste, flavor, texture, and nutrition in several animal-based food categories. The first food that it will tackle is cheese.

Notably, this differs from the approach of many plant-based food startups that typically start with a burger or meat product.

Leah Volger of Manta Ray Ventures, one of Climax’s new investors, says, “Aged cheese has been a challenging category but the data-driven approach of Climax Foods has created prototypes like nothing I’ve ever tasted on or off the market.”

This startup is worth keeping an eye on. The next decade will likely see widespread adoption of plant-based foods as people look for new ways to reduce their environmental footprint. Climax Foods could be amongst the leaders in the industry thanks to its data-driven approach.


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