‘Creamy’ ingredient developed from plant seeds targets alt dairy: ‘Sunflower fat is highly similar to milk fat’

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

The Time-Travelling Milkman has developed a new fat ingredient for the B2B alt dairy market made from sunflower seeds. Image: ArtistGNDphotography
The Time-Travelling Milkman has developed a new fat ingredient for the B2B alt dairy market made from sunflower seeds. Image: ArtistGNDphotography

Related tags Dairy alternatives Sunflower seed

A Wageningen University spin-off is developing a plant-based fat ingredient from European-grown sunflower seeds, designed to boost alt dairy’s nutritional and sustainability profile, as well as mouthfeel.

According to the Dutch start-up, named the Time-Travelling Milkman (TTM), fat is the key to unlocking a complete plant-based transition.

“The best way for us to contribute [to a shift away from conventional dairy] is to bring sustainable creaminess to plant-based products,” ​said the company’s CEO and co-founder Dimitris Karefyllakis.

“Fat is the answer.”

TTM’s solution is a new fat ingredient for the B2B alt dairy market made from sunflower seeds. “The more this fat is included…the nicer the texture and [better] the nutritional profile at the end,” ​Karefyllakis told delegates at this year’s Food Ingredients Europe (FiE) event in Frankfurt.

Spotlight on sunflower seed fat

The start-up’s ingredient is founded on sunflower seed fat, which it discovered shares similarities with milk fat.

When sunflower seeds are put under the microscope, one can see their fats are organised in naturally occurring fat droplets covered by proteins, known as oleosomes.

sunflower Akira Kaede
TTM sources its sunflower seeds from Europe. GettyImages/Akira Kaede

The presence of a very compact membrane makes oleosome droplets ‘highly creamy’, noted TTM, in a similar way to milk fat droplets. Due to these similarities, oleosomes have a high potential as milk fat equivalents, the CEO explained.

“This is the champion of ingredients. We believe we have found the [conventional dairy] equivalent in the plant-based kingdom in oleosome fat droplets from sunflower seeds.”

TTM extracts the droplets – all the while preserving their qualities – in a water-based, chemical-free process. “There are no petrochemicals used, nor solvents, in our processing matrix,” ​the CEO continued. 

The result is two ingredient formats for dairy alternative manufacturers: a cream and a powder.

While the powder, for example, is made up of 60% oil, Karefyllakis stressed the ingredient does not contain sunflower oil as a raw ingredient. “It’s emulsified,” ​he explained. “It’s protected in the droplets, which is the natural technology we’re using.”

Sustainable and nutritious?

When incorporated into plant-based matrices, TTM says its ingredient ‘flows’ on receptor buds, providing a ‘nice creaminess’ sensation. The ingredient is suitable for a variety of applications, from plant-based whipped cream to cream cheese, yoghurt, and vegan sausage.

Other benefits lie in the ingredient’s sustainability profile, which Karefyllakis argued scores higher than other plant-based fats on the market.

“Not every fat is the right answer,” ​he told delegates, pointing to sustainability concerns surrounding palm and coconut oil production. Others, like sunflower and rapeseed soil, also come with their own ‘disadvantages’, we were told. “None of these ingredients tick all the boxes [considered] significant for fat: sustainability, texture and health.”

TTM’s Europe-sourced sunflower seed fat is ‘mostly unsaturated’ – unlike coconut- or animal-based fat.

TTM also believes its seed-based ingredient makes for shorter, ‘cleaner’ ingredients lists.

“Other ingredients, such as sunflower oil and rapeseed oil, need to be emulsified and stabilised inside products,” ​meaning a greater number of ingredients on the nutritional label, said Karefyllakis.

The start-up’s solution, on the other hand, can be listed as ‘sunflower cream’, with no additives or E-numbers. It is also protein-rich and a source of vitamin E.

whipped cream Magone
TTM's ingredient is suitable for a variety of applications, including plant-based whipped cream. GettyImages/Magone

TTM was founded in January 2020. Since then, the business has filed patents, conducted customer pilot projects, and is moving into pilot-plant trials.

It expects to enter the market and kickstart upscaling in the coming year to fill the gap for plant-based dairy ‘indulgence’.

“We believe that fat has been neglected as an ingredient,” ​said the CEO, “but it is [what] makes a product more indulgent – so that they will buy it again and again.

“We have seen from several surveys out there that indulgence and mouthfeel is the no. 1 reason why…consumers and professionals alike [adopt] these products in their diets…”

Karefyllakis continued: “People are paying a high price for these products and they really need to enjoy them in order to buy them again.

“To have a healthy plant-based transition, you have to have the right fat ingredients.” 

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