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animal-free whey: cows in field

Animal-Free Whey Protein Exists—Here’s How It’s Made

Whey protein has been the go-to for many a fitness enthusiast for pretty much forever—and a slew of qualities, including high amounts of the branched-chain amino acids leucine, valine, and isoleucine (which are crucial for muscle repair and growth) and quick digestibility, make it pretty darn perfect muscle fuel.

That said, the fact that whey protein is made from cow’s milk might take it off the table for some health fanatics as more and more folks make moves to cut back on the animal products in their diet, often in an effort to minimize their impact on the planet. (Livestock account for 14.5 percent of current greenhouse gas emissions.)

Now, thanks to science, though, you can reap the muscle-building benefits of whey protein—and enjoy its famously creamy texture—without a single cow being involved. Oh yeah, animal-free whey is officially a thing that exists, and it promises to change the protein game forever. 

Animal-Free Whey: The Basics

Made by health and wellness brand Natreve, this first-of-its-kind animal-free whey protein is appropriately called Mooless. It’s slogan? “No cow, all science.” 

By cutting the cows out of the equation (more on how they do that in a second), Mooless promises a significantly lower environmental impact than your average whey. In fact, the brand reports that its production process boasts a 60 percent reduction in energy usage, a 99 percent reduction in water usage, and a 97 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Pretty impressive.

Read More: Dietitians Answer The Top 5 Questions About Plant-Based Diets

Mooless is made with Perfect Day, an animal-free whey that’s molecularly identical to the stuff cows produce but is instead created using fermentation—no animals involved. Like traditional whey, every serving offers high amounts of protein (20 grams) and BCAAs (4.6 grams). And since there are no cows involved, it’s automatically free of lactose, antibiotics, and hormones.

The Science Behind Animal-Free Whey

So, uh, how exactly do you make whey protein using fermentation? Put on your lab coats, folks, it’s time to play scientist. 

The short of it: Fungi are “taught” to produce whey protein as they consume their food, which is sugar. (This sugar-eating process is called fermentation.) Then those bacteria are filtered out and, BAM!, you’ve got cow-free whey. 

The details: It all starts with two bioengineers who created a company now called Perfect Day with the mission of creating animal-free milk protein after going vegan and being deeply disappointed by the lameness of most dairy alternative products out there. And they did it!

The process they created starts with a specific type of microflora (microscopic organism) that’s proved to be good at turning sugar into proteins. Scientists developed a breed of this microflora—which just so happens to be a fungus—that would churn out whey protein when given that DNA (which basically functions as biological building instructions).

And, no, the gene the fungus needs to produce that whey protein doesn’t have to come from a cow. Scientists can build it from scratch!

So the scientists have a bunch of fungi that love to produce proteins and a whole lot of whey protein genes. They introduce the two and some of the microflora add that whey protein gene to their own genetic code, meaning they (and all of their offspring) now know how to produce whey protein. (This same process is also used to make insulin, among other things.)

Those whey-making fungi then go into a tank filled with a liquid that contains sugars and nutrients. As the fungi feed on the sugar, they multiply, pumping out whey protein in the process. (This is fermentation in action.) Once that’s all said and done, the whey protein is filtered out, dried, and turned into the deliciousness that is Mooless.

Your Post-Workout Shake, Brought to You by #Science

Thanks to fungus, fermentation, and a whole lot of science, lovers of whey protein’s creamy mouthfeel can now enjoy it sans the cow. Whether you opt for the Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Cookies & Cream, Vanilla Bean Cupcake, or Strawberry Shortcake flavor of Mooless, you’ll never know that the rich, delicious fuel was made without a single animal—but the planet surely will.

Read More: 8 Ways To Make Your Daily Routine More Earth-Friendly

Just keep in mind that Mooless isn’t a plant-based protein and does contain milk protein, which is important for those with milk protein allergies to take note of. That said, if you strive to minimize the animal products in your diet and aren’t a fan of plant-based options, animal-free whey could be just the protein you’re looking for.

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