Throughout my half-decade of working at Well+Good, I’ve become an accidental alternative milk connoisseur. Avocado milk, barley milk, pili nut milk, and chia milk have all made their way into my fridge at some point. So when I got a tip about yet another vegan option hitting store shelves, I had to admit, I was skeptical. Does the world really need another alt-milk?
Jeff Bezos is betting on the answer to that question being yes. The Amazon CEO is backing a new product called NotMilk, created by NotCo, known as the “Impossible Foods” of Latin America. Available in select Whole Foods locations across the U.S. starting today, the creators of this latest alternative promise that it’s the most like cow’s milk in terms of taste, smell, and texture. You can even choose between buying whole or 2 percent versions.
Unlike other alternative milks that primarily focus on one ingredient (like almonds, soy, or oats), NotMilk was created by using artificial intelligence to understand what cow’s milk truly is at the molecular level—then recreating it with completely plant-based ingredients. But what’s actually in this milk, and how exactly is it made? We asked the brand’s founder to find out.
Why create another alternative milk?
NotCo may be new to grocery stores in the U.S., but it’s big-time in Latin America. Founded in 2015, the tech-food company has already used AI to create plant-based meat, ice cream, and condiments. In September, it secured $85 million in funding to launch here in the States, starting with its milk products.
Founder and CEO Matias Muchnick compares the alt-milk options out now to the subpar soy patties of the ’90s. “They were flavorless and just didn’t cut it,” he says, adding that this is what led to the success of brands like Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, and, yes, NotCo. “With milk, it’s exactly the same,” he says. He believes that every non-dairy option on the market now falls short of traditional milk in some way. Hence why the company decided to move from making plant-based meat to plant-based milk.
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What is NotMilk and how is it made?
Muchnick says that the first step to making NotMilk was figuring out what exactly cow’s milk is like at a molecular level. “What molecules make it look, taste, and behave the way that it does?” he asks. “We had to understand it before we could replicate it.”
This is where AI technology comes in. Muchnick says that the company created an algorithm (nicknamed Guiseppe) that is able to analyze an extensive list of plant-based foods and pinpoint what sources have molecules that behave the same way as the molecules in milk. The findings are surprising: pineapple juice concentrate and cabbage juice concentrate are all crucial to the end result. “They really replicate the taste of cow’s milk, which may sound [strange] but it’s true,” Muchnick says. “The combination of these ingredients together generates lactones that are similar to what milk has. Chicory root and coconut have this effect too,” he adds, naming two other ingredients that are used in the NotMilks.
Then came the formulating and testing phase, which Muchnick says took two years to perfect. Part of the reason it took so long, he says, is because NotCo wanted its milk to be similar nutritionally to cow’s milk as well. The company fortified the product with vitamin D and B12 (common among alt-milks), and pea protein is also a primary ingredient (also common to plant-based milks). Another reason the process took two years, Muchnick says, is because NotCo wanted to experiment with using the products in all the ways people use cow’s milk—such as cooking, baking, and frothing—to make sure it was a truly comparable substitute however someone planned on using it.
If the launch goes well here in the States, NotCo hopes to expand by offering more of its products, namely its condiments, ice cream, and plant-based meat. But they have to convince consumers of the need for one more alternative milk first. Given the high-tech concept, our guess is that NotMilk will soon fill the cereal bowls and Bulletproof lattes of the Silicon Valley set from here on out.
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