The start-up was founded by four food technologists, two from Spain and two from Greece, who met while studying a master of science in food technology at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU).
The founders shared a common objective: to reduce global food waste and increase the availability of nutritious, plant-based food.
Food waste is indeed a growing concern. Roughly one-third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted each year, which equates to around 1.3bn tonnes. In developed countries, the majority of this food is wasted at home.
At the same time, food insecurity is at an all-time high, with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimating that 14m adults and 4.7m children suffer from severe food poverty. Science-based pressure to reduce animal proteins in favour of plant-based alternatives, for both human health and for the health of the planet, is also gaining momentum.
The technologists’ solution was to develop a sustainable, cashew-based vegan ingredient mix that empowers consumers to transform their liquid food waste into a plant-based cheese. In the medium-term, CheeseItYourself will also target the restaurant and foodservice sector, so that they too can make cheese analogues from their own food waste.
“Everyone generates liquid food waste at home, such as water from chickpeas or beans [aquafaba]. As do businesses, whether that be hummus producers and manufacturers of plant-based analogues. Meat analogue producers also obtain liquid side-streams that can be revaluated,” CheeseItYourself co-founder Carmen Masiá told delegates at the World Food Summit last month (August 2019).
To upcycle this waste, which is otherwise washed down the sink, the international team developed an ingredient mix in a powder format. Consumers simply cook the powder in with the liquid for five minutes, before placing the solution in the fridge for a couple of hours. The result is a firm, sliceable cheese that keeps between four and five days, Masiá explained.
The powder is a ‘basic mix’ with a long shelf-life, meaning that consumers can personalise the product with herbs or spices for different flavours as they please.
From a health standpoint, the start-up says the product offers a nutritious alternative to already commercialised vegan cheeses available in standard supermarkets, which can contain less than 1g of protein and are largely coconut oil-based.
And in terms of sustainability, CheeseItYourself’s product has a 60% lower carbon footprint than its conventional whole ready-to-eat cheese counterpart. The mix is sold in plastic-free biodegradable paper bags.
“We are currently looking for partnerships with industrial players in order to scale up our production and be able to meet the demand we are already facing, not only from individual consumers but also from businesses (e.g. restaurants),” the co-founder told this publication.