The quest for tastier, more sustainable vegan cheese has led Swedish food company Cassius AB to take a closer look at cheese protein structures. Using synchrotron X-rays at MAX IV, Cassius are searching for the perfect scientific recipe for plant-based cheese.
When regular cheese is produced, the milk proteins react with rennet and form a cheese curd. These specific proteins, formed in a certain structure, are unique to mammalian milk, which makes them difficult to mimic.
Cassius AB:s research project focuses on getting a deeper understanding of how the proteins in regular cheese form structures spontaneously. It also investigates whether this could happen with mammalian milk proteins produced by genetically engineered microorganisms, in a process called precision fermentation.
Since mimicking all proteins in regular cheese is not necessary, Cassius is concentrating on two of the protein types that play a key role in how cheese coagulates.
Cheese gel balls as protein samples
Using Small-Angle X-ray Scattering techniques (SAXS), the research team studies different types of protein samples in the form of micelles – spherical protein aggregations that resemble gel balls – and how different conditions affect their shape and size. For example, when mixed with different amounts of salt, or when the pH value is changed. The team also investigates if these proteins coagulate into a curd structure in the same way that mammalian milk proteins do.
Read more on the MAX IV website