A Little Magic Turns Potatoes Into Cheese
Potatoes can make it through just about anything, apocalyptically speaking, save for potato-specific bio threats like Phytophthora infestans, the water mold that caused the Irish Potato Famine. When we have all perished from this earth and our alien overlords or possibly robots are munching on our corpses, they’ll be able to do so with a delicious topping of Chato—a creamy, meltable “cheese” made from potatoes. Australian food scientist Andrew Dyhin claims to have developed a way of liquefying potatoes—with no added ingredients—to form a substance that can be used in cheese, custards, ice cream, and other dairy-based dishes. His goal: Saving the planet.
Dyhin has been developing Chato (a portmanteau of “cheese” and “potato”) for the past 12 years in the hopes of creating a product that will be gentler on the planet than current dairy production. A statement on the PotatoMagic website expresses Dyhin’s desire for “pure, natural, sustainable and environmentally friendly” food, and his company’s commitment to “sustainability and eco friendly processes from the paddock to the consumer to lower the food chain carbon footprint.” The upshot of this is a carefully-guarded method for taking whole potatoes and transforming them into liquid, blocks, and bars that can pass for lactose-free, dairy-free cheese.
Chato can be melted, grated, or cubed like regular cheese, Dyhin claims. It can be made from potatoes that would otherwise have been discarded because they’re not physically attractive enough to consumers, and aren’t the right shape for standard processing equipment—typically around 25 percent of a crop. Plus, as he notes in a 2013 YouTube video, “You don’t need a cow to produce this cheese.” Dairy cows, while no doubt delightful and charming beasts, create a heck of a lot of waste and environmental hazards in the form of manure and methane, and use up a tremendous amount of natural resources, which make them less than ideal sources of nutrition, should an environmental doomsday come to pass (hastened, perhaps, by all that water usage and methane gas). The product, Dyhin says, is shelf-stable and could easily be dropped into disaster relief zones where any potable water would be better used for drinking than cooking.
But how does Chato taste in comparison to real dairy? Unclear. Dyhin has not revealed the process, and the product is not yet on the market (he’s currently seeking investors and partners). He said in an interview with ABC Rural Australia, “I can really only get people to trust the product when they can actually taste it, feel it and look at it." Dyhin anticipates a launch in two years, and hopes to attract the interest of the Chinese government, which he says is looking to double potato production by 2020. Until then, the rest of us will just have to keep enjoying our taters and cheese as separate pleasures—but that’s not the end of the world.