The world’s first artificial cow’s milk is being developed by synthetic dairy start up Muufri (“Moo-free”)–a team of Californian vegan bioengineers–and is set to hit the market next year.

The artificial milk, nicknamed “out-of-body udder” milk, produces milk that has the same taste and health benefits as regular milk, but is vegan friendly.

“If we want the world to change its diet from a product that isn’t sustainable to something that is, it has to be identical [to], or better than, the original product,” said Perumal Gandhi, one of the two bioengineers responsible for the project. “The world will not switch from milk from a cow to the plant-based milks. But if our cow-less milk is identical and priced right, they just might.”

The inspiration for Muufri, according to the team, was a perceived need to reduce overcrowded dairy barns, in which cows are often poorly treated and are fed hormones and antibiotics. The barns are also responsible for three percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.

The market might have a place for a milk alternative that is more nutritious than soy, rice and almond milk, and can be made into ice cream with the same flavor of regular ice cream, the Muufri team said.

Not only that: Because Muufri will not contain bacteria like regular milk does, it will have a much longer shelf-life.

Synthesizing cow’s milk is a relatively simple process. Cow’s milk has only 20 components, and is 87 percent water. Muufri will contain six proteins for structure, and eight fatty acids for flavor.

Similar to insulin production, DNA extracted from dairy cows is inserted into yeast cells. The cells will then be grown in industrial-sized culture into milk for harvesting.

“Although the proteins in Muufri milk come from yeast, the fats come from vegetables and are tweaked at the molecular level to mirror the structure and flavour of milk fats,” said National Geographic’s Linda Qui of the new product. “Minerals, like calcium and potassium, and sugars are purchased separately and added to the mix. Once the composition is fine-tuned, the ingredients emulse naturally into milk.” Artificial milk could potentially be even better for you than regular milk.

When Muufri hits the shelves next year, it will be more expensive than regular milk, but if sales allow the company to scale up, prices will decrease, the team said.

By Heidi Woolf