Image copyright Kathy Grannan Image caption Amy was created in the laboratory at East Kent University in 2013
Experts in dairy science have to take extra care when examining whether a new product has actual milk or just been sprayed with another chemical.
No matter how potent the new product may be, there is always the opportunity that it could be an animal secret.
But all too often they are caught with their hands in the lemon juice as the new product is a milk substitute.
So in 2014 a scientist at East Kent University took on a challenge from a mother who wanted a new alternative for her baby that was healthier than baby milk.
Five years later, the team at the university have created Amy, a liquid that you could drink but looks and tastes like liquid milk and looks a lot like the regular stuff too.
What is called a ‘formula’ is extracted from the peas of a stock-like plant called Lactobacillus casei.
If you can bear to breathe, there are powerful vapours at the centre of the clear container.
“I thought I was going to breathe the nothingness, the mist, the noxious fumes of the plant itself,” explains Kathy Grannan, who invented the liquid and fellow East Kent University scientist, Eryn Cox, is currently experimenting with a smoother, heavier version of the liquid in an attempt to create the next “different” milk product.
Image copyright East Kent University Image caption What looks like milk… and tastes like this
They are quick to point out that you can’t buy Amy at Tesco or elsewhere.
The food safety rules of the EU state that the product must contain some dairy.
“I started the research to find out why babies don’t take well to cow’s milk,” explains Dr Grannan.
“As a nutritional chemist I realised it was missing essential amino acids like bromelain, was low in calcium, was low in vitamin A. Those things are critical for good brain function.”
Image copyright East Kent University Image caption The half-life of the caffeine in the liquid is 3.3 days
After a few months of research, she discovered that stock-culture is the best way to extract the plant extract from the peas.
“I knew we were onto something important with ours,” says Dr Grannan.
And in 2014, she sent the product to UK’s Food Standards Agency for approval.
Sharing a bottle
In August 2017, the FSA said the drink was safe to be marketed as “lactobacillus casei juice”.
But as there is nothing to suggest that Amy drinks it, it has to be labelled as “effectively milk” and share a bottle with its “butternut squash”.
There is also the chance of their ingredient being marketed as “butternut squash juice”, for that element of authenticity.
The REBSA said the product was safe, because milk is milk.
“I thought ‘Why is this milk at all?’, but is this plant really good for the brain?” says Dr Grannan.
Image copyright East Kent University Image caption Amy is up for approval by the European Food Safety Authority
Their label now says that Amy is “effectively milk”, although it does not say “lactobacillus casei juice”.
It will take a few months for the European Food Safety Authority to give Amy its approval.
Dr Grannan is enthusiastic about what the company could do with Amy.
The work is aided by a 50-year-old-organ with properties of a butterfly and the genetically modified embryos that have been spun out of it.
It is easy to imagine different brands of Amy – to tuck into, or even to bottle up a child.
“We have an opportunity to re-invent milk,” she says.
Dr Grannan is also interested in what adds to a baby’s health. She is testing the acidity in Amy and says the drink has never been unpolished by a mass market because it is a secret ingredient that has not yet been widely sold in the UK.
She says “a lot of people would be interested” if they knew Amy was made from normal peas.