Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Plant-based cheese breaks down walls

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Riddet scientist wins NZ leg of global pitching contest with dairy-free innovation.
Dr Debashree Roy won the Falling Walls Lab Aotearoa New Zealand competition with a presentation on dairy-free cheese.
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The “irresistible pleasure of cheese” is a step closer for everyone thanks to a breakthrough in making plant-based cheese by the Riddet Institute.

Lead researcher on the project Dr Debashree Roy, from Massey University, recently won the Falling Walls Lab Aotearoa New Zealand competition in Wellington with a presentation on the new technology.  

She will now represent New Zealand in Berlin in November after her presentation about creating the plant-based cheese was named best, sweeping aside 21 other participants from around NZ and the Pacific Islands who pitched their breakthrough ideas at the competition.

“Imagine a world where the irresistible pleasure of cheese is not limited by dietary choices,” Roy said.

The technology, created by the Riddet Institute food innovation team, can be used to make a range of different cheese types using a variety of plant-based proteins such as from pea or soy. The technology is scalable and cost-effective. 

Falling Walls is an interdisciplinary pitch competition to showcase the next generation of students and early-career professionals. 

In a three-minute presentation, participants present their innovative research, business model, or initiative, showcasing a breakthrough that creates a positive impact on science and society. 

It is inspired by the world-changing event of the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, with a question asked at every Falling Walls gathering: Which walls will fall next?

Roy’s presentation was on breaking the wall of plant-based cheeses, based on the Riddet Institute’s patented technology for making protein-enriched plant-based cheeses with comparable protein content to dairy cheeses.

Roy, a food technologist, said there was a large and growing worldwide demand for plant-based cheeses but currently these products consist of a starch-fat matrix and have little or no protein, in contrast with dairy cheeses. 

Given that protein is an important part of a nutritious diet, she said, and that cheese is used to impart a lot of flavour and texture in dishes, making a non-dairy cheese that is both more nutritious and functional is a highly desirable outcome. 

Awarding Roy first place, jury chair Professor Phil Lester said the project was a “big breakthrough” with large potential for global impact and that Dr Roy had delivered an engaging presentation. 

Roy has won the chance to represent the region and compete at the Falling Walls Lab Global Finale in Berlin on November 7. 

Riddet Institute director, Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh, congratulated Roy.

“Winning Falling Walls is a great achievement,” he said. “It is further recognition of the scientific quality of Dr Roy’s research and the Riddet Institute’s track record in training future leaders.” 

Roy said she was grateful for the support, training and mentorship that the Riddet Institute and Massey University have provided in developing her leadership and communication skills. She was humbled to have the opportunity to represent Aotearoa NZ on a global stage. 

“I am thankful to the entire Riddet Institute innovation team for their exceptional contributions and commitment to the project. 

“Falling Walls NZ has been an incredibly enriching experience, and I am looking forward to learning and connecting with a diverse community of interdisciplinary innovators working toward addressing some of the world’s most pressing challenges.” 

Roy joined the Riddet Institute as a postdoctoral fellow in 2021, after completing her PhD in Food Technology at Massey University. Her research focused on the fundamental understanding and development of novel technologies to design structurally and nutritionally superior future foods. 

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