Israeli agrotech startup pulls in $6m for cow-free milk and cheese made from lettuce

Israeli startup Pigmentum is jumping into the no-cow milk space, saying its gene-modified plant-based technology is able to create milk proteins from lettuce that are just like the real thing and can be used to make cheese.

Founded in 2018 by Tal Lutzky, who serves as CEO, and Amir Tyroler, who is the COO, the startup on Wednesday announced that it has raised $6 million from a seed round led by a group of investors that includes Kibbutz Yotvata, Israeli venture capital firm Arkin Holdings, American and Israeli family offices, and other private investors. Kibbutz Yotvata and local food giant Strauss group jointly own Yotvata Dairy, one of the largest producers of dairy products in Israel.

Existing investors such as Israeli food company Tnuva, local beverage company Tempo, and Israeli VC company OurCrowd also participated in the round.

Based in Kiryat Shmona in Israel’s north, Pigmentum says its technology can recreate nature-identical, animal-free versions of milk proteins for the production of dairy duplicates. The startup has developed a mechanism to genetically modify the components of plants using lettuce as a host which is then, irrigated or sprayed with a special fertilizer. Once the crop is harvested, the lettuce is squeezed to yield a juice that is mixed with natural ingredients for taste and smell to mimic a milk-like drink.

What’s different from the flurry of non-dairy milk alternatives such as soy, almond, oat, and coconut, available on the market is that the startup’s genetically modified lettuce can produce casein, the protein found in milk that is needed to make cheese. Cow’s milk contains a number of proteins, 80% of which are casein proteins, found in the curds.

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