Cream of the oat crop from Sydney Uni

Wednesday, 21 September, 2022

Cream of the oat crop from Sydney Uni

Former University of Sydney School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering student Sarah Qian is a self-confessed foodie and vegan whose graduation story is far from ordinary.

After deciding that working in the oil and gas, mining and industrial sectors weren’t for her, Qian became a management consultant, despite receiving several offers to work in engineering.

However, management consulting didn’t feel right either. Then came the pandemic, and while the rest of the world was frozen in time by the first lockdown, Qian had a stroke of genius.

After seeing huge growth in the oat milk sector, she was inspired to take action and pivot into entrepreneurship.

Armed with a blender and sacks of oats, the chemical engineering graduate turned her kitchen into a lab and began concocting her plan to make an oat-based cream cheese.

Eighteen months and 250 versions of R&D later, Compassion Creamery was born — a Sydney food startup that makes oat-based vegan cream cheese from culturing and fermenting methods traditionally used to make dairy cheese. The cheese contains no coconut oil, starches, nuts or soy.

“I wanted to replicate the chemical properties of dairy cheese using oats — which are more neutrally flavoured compared with other plant-based products on the market that use soy and cashews,” said Qian, who came from New Zealand to study at the University of Sydney.

“For so many people switching to plant-based diets, cheese is often the hardest thing to give up, with many alternatives just not hitting the spot. Most plant-based cheeses use a processed and deodorised combination of coconut oil, starch, added flavours and colours,” she said.

The oat cream cheese can be used in a variety of recipes. Image credit: Shane O'Neill/O'Neill Photographics

Using 100% Australian oats to manufacture the cheese, Qian hopes Australia’s status as a large-scale wheat producer will help buoy the nascent industry while minimising the environmental impacts of dairy production and reliance on international supply chains.

“Oat production has a significantly smaller environmental impact compared with dairy production, which, when accounting for greenhouse gas emissions and ecological impact, is a highly polluting food source,” she said.

“There are so many question marks hovering over international supply chains, with many products not produced ethically. Cashews, for example, require specialised and ethical farming practices due to the risk of chemical burns during harvesting.”

Qian has now set up a pilot plant with bespoke designed equipment and plans for her product to hit retail shelves soon.

“There’s already interest from distributors interstate, with several individuals signed up to a waiting list — which is wonderful to see. My focus now is to get production up and running in preparation for a retail release.”

Top image caption: Sarah Qian, Compassion Creamery. Image credit: Shane O'Neill/O'Neill Photographics

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