Plant-based cheese innovation wins competition

Monday 11 September 2023

Dr Debashree Roy has won the Falling Walls Lab Aotearoa New Zealand competition with her presentation of a new plant-based cheese technology.  

Dr Debashree Roy with her winning ticket to present in Germany in November.

Last updated: Monday 11 September 2023

The irresistible pleasure of cheese is a step closer for everyone, thanks to a Riddet Institute breakthrough in making plant-based cheese.

Lead researcher Dr Debashree Roy from Massey University won the Falling Walls Lab Aotearoa New Zealand competition in Wellington on 5 September.

She will now represent New Zealand in Berlin in November after her presentation about creating the plant-based cheese was named best innovation, beating 21 other participants from around New Zealand 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,” Dr Roy says.

The new 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 9 November 1989, with the question at every Falling Walls gathering being 'Which walls will fall next'?

The event was held by the Royal Society Te Apārangi, with support from the German Embassy in Wellington, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Catalyst: Leaders Fund and EURAXESS Australia and New Zealand.

Dr 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.

Dr Debashree Roy with the plant-based cheeses.

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

She says, given that protein was an important part of a nutritious diet, and that cheese was used to impart a lot of flavour and texture in dishes, making a non-dairy cheese that was both more nutritious and functional was a highly desirable outcome.

In awarding her 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.

Dr Roy has won the chance to represent the region and compete at the Falling Walls Lab Global Finale in Berlin on 7 November. As part of her prize, European innovation and research platform EURAXESS Australia and New Zealand will offer her science communication and mentoring support to make sure she will get the most of out her trip to the Falling Walls Lab and Science Summit in Berlin.

She will compete to become the Breakthrough Winner of the Year in the Emerging Talents category. Over 100 innovators worldwide will present their research and technology to solve some of the world's most pressing problems.

Riddet Institute Director Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh congratulates Dr Roy on the win.

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

Dr Roy says she is grateful for the support, training and mentorship that the Riddet Institute and Massey have provided in developing her leadership and communication skills. She says she was humbled to have the opportunity to represent Aotearoa New Zealand 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 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.”

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

The Riddet Institute is a Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE), hosted by Massey University, which focuses on fundamental and advanced food research.

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