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In our march towards synthetic products I have come upon this product. It advertises itself as "animal free dairy".

The explanation includes the following statements:

Animal-free dairy is made without animal inputs. The non-animal whey protein is identical to what’s in cow's milk, but made without using a single animal in the process. Animal-free dairy is vegan (as are all the other ingredients we use in our products!).

Non-animal whey protein is the same whey you’d find in cow’s milk, except zero cows are involved. How?! The bovine whey protein gene (stay with us) was digitized in an open source database (like an e-book!). Microflora are given the blueprint of the gene sequence, and then fermented in a tank along with some plant sugars (it’s just like brewing beer!).

The product, though, is marked as OU-D.

Another statement was

Brave Robot does not contain any animal inputs, but does contain milk protein. It’s a paradox! The FDA requires a declaration of milk proteins because the animal-free whey protein is molecularly identical to whey protein that comes from cows. We encourage ice cream eaters who have a milk protein allergy to use the same precautions with Brave Robot that they would take with dairy. (But, reminder - Brave Robot is gloriously lactose free!)

I wrote to the company asking for the reason that they would be listed as Dairy under the laws of kashrut (whether it was an issue of machinery or allergens or something else) and this was the response:

OU-D indicates that the product is dairy, contains a dairy ingredient, dairy derivative, or has been on dairy equipment. The non-animal whey protein we use is identical to real dairy – our certification team designated a “D” in “OU-D” to reduce any confusion about the nature of the product and its ingredients. Our ice cream is real dairy!

That explanation did little to clarify -- if the whey protein is identical, digitized and grown in a plant, then why would it, even as identical in structure, be halachically dairy?

Is something milchig because it is identical to what is milchig on even a chemical level?

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  • It could be marked that way because of marit ayit
    – Double AA
    Jun 23 at 20:14
  • would marit ayin make it halachically dairy? Would it impact my dishes or my eating on a practical level in the same way?
    – rosends
    Jun 23 at 20:15
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    Wait, the response about the designation as D is from the company or from the OU? It sounds like the company asked to be designated as OU-D because they want to be seen as dairy for marketing, even though OU parve would increase their kosher market and maybe their vegan market.
    – Damila
    Jun 23 at 20:32
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    @Damila the response was from the company.
    – rosends
    Jun 23 at 20:34
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    @rosends What does "halachically dairy" mean? There isn't only one status of dairy halachicly. See the below mistaken answer for a good example of how conflating things gets people confused about finer details
    – Double AA
    Jun 23 at 21:16
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Dairy must be in the product for an item to be considered Halakhically dairy according to Sepharadim and Yosef Qaro in the Shulchan Arukh. If dairy was accidentally added to a product in a quantity of less than 1/60th then the product is not considered dairy as long as the dairy can't be tasted.

Ashkenazim are a bit more strict as they rule that dairy vessels can somehow export enough flavor into food to cause that neutral food to be considered dairy. So for example a facility that processes dairy bars and vegan bars on the same equipment would cause the vegan bars to be classified as dairy. I believe this is how the OU and most kashrut organizations rule.

As for the OPs question about why a product with zero dairy would be listed as dairy, my inkling is that this has less to do with Halakha than OU's policy. It's worth keeping in mind that Kashrut agencies' policies are not always halakha and should not be mistaken as such.

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