Innovation

Aussie inventor turns potato into milk-cheese-and-custard wonder-food

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

“This potato format could well be the biggest thing to happen to the potato industry since the frozen French fry,” I’m being told, and it’s hard to disagree, no matter how bold the statement.

Andrew Dyhin, chairman and chief executive of PotatoMagic, an Australian research and development business that seeks to find ways to make the simple spud a little less humble, has spent the last half-hour explaining how his new manufacturing process can transform potatoes into anything from cheese and dips to custard and ice cream—along with, of course, crisps and mash.

He says Chato, the end-product, can put an end to the typical 25% wastage growers have to contend with because not all potatoes are pretty enough for supermarket displays, or are the right shape for processing machinery to accommodate.

It can be used in disaster relief situations where any available water is better used for drinking, not boiling; and can be life-sustaining when fortified properly. Armed forces can use it to feed their troops on overseas operations; and on the home front, housewives can take it out of the pantry, even after more than a year’s storage, chop it up and make potato salad with some mayonnaise and chives.

We have got to a point with Chato where it’s so encompassing that we are struggling to work out how we can take it to market. Chato itself is to the potato what flour is to wheat​,” says Dyhin.

Yet it all started out as a fortuitous fluke, a byproduct from unrelated lab tests that PotatoMagic had been working on.

While walking through his lab, Dyhin noticed that one of the machines had been making a different noise than usual. He pointed this out to one of his scientists, who made a note of it, but only returned to it years later to find out what had happened.

The result of this inquisition “takes potato to the next level where there is a never-ending stream of possibilities​,” says Dyhin.

The Chato process takes potatoes and forms them into pure or blended liquids, blocks, bars, or a variety of other shapes which are then available for use by manufacturers or wholesalers as ready-to-eat potato, cheese substitute, dairy substitute or manufacturing feed stock. The primary product will be available in refrigerated and shelf-stable formats.

Dyhin has been working with Tasty, a brand of vegan yeast flakes that are an alternative to animal-based cheese, to formulate Chato into cheeses that he says delight chefs. When fortified with calcium, the potato ingredient can transform into a passable equivalent of cow’s milk, which would be ideal for Asian markets where lactose intolerance can affect up to 80% of populations.

People often look at me in total disbelief when I do a ‘haloumi presentation’ for them with butter on a non-stick frying pan, when I gently flip the Chato over with a spatula and present them with a piece of food that is crisp on top with a lovely, oozy texture underneath​,” Dyhin says.

Using potatoes as its only ingredient, Chato can also offer growers—and governments—something much more productive than cows, wheat or rice per hectare of land, in terms of kilojoules.  

With Chinese authorities looking to double potato cultivation by 2020 by reducing the land allocated for less-productive rice, the wide range of applications Chato offers could be a boon for food security.

If we can work with the Chinese government, this could be a solution, and it’s a reasonable road to take to make people aware of how the potato can be used​,” Dyhin says. And judging by the interest he claims that his process and product has generated, there will be no shortage of takers.

As a small R&D company, PotatoMagic would normally taken its technology to market by granting corporate licences, but Dyhin believes that Chato’s potential is so substantial that he is looking at a number of ways with which to work with interested parties ahead of an anticipated launch in two years. 

When I look at what we can do with it, we could be looking at 20 plants alone just to keep up production for a country like China. It’s that kind of technology—it’s disruptive and comes at a time when we really need productive food sources​.”

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