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Aylon Steinhart says he’d had one too many bowls of sad, soy-based ice cream after a delicious Shabbat meal before deciding he wanted to do something about it.
That’s not the primary reason he went on to develop a plant-based dairy product. But the result should make observant Jews tired of substandard “ice cream” after brisket a little bit happier.
Steinhart is the 30-year-old co-founder of Eclipse Foods, which he and business partner Thomas Bowman launched in 2018 and have positioned as “The Impossible Burger of dairy.”
Steinhart came from the Good Food Institute, where he helped run an incubator for plant-based foods and spoke about food innovation at leading universities around the country. Bowman is an award-winning chef who worked at JUST (another plant-based startup) developing its mayonnaise and cookies.
So far, the ice cream can be found at Humphry Slocombe in Oakland and Berkeley and Milkbomb Ice Cream in Berkeley, but “you can expect massive growth every month because there’s been a lot of demand,” said Steinhart.
The Cal graduate grew up mostly in Palo Alto where his mother, Anat, runs a Hebrew school. He was born and spent his early years in Israel in the small town of Kochav Yair, where his parents founded a petting zoo.
“I was one of those kids who loved being in nature, and I could identify all the flowers and plants, and I’d volunteer to take care of the animals at the petting zoo my parents started,” he said.
His father was an entrepreneur and worked in high-tech, and the family moved to Palo Alto in 1997. Steinhart wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and take the entrepreneurial path.
Early on, his interests had nothing to do with food, until he watched the documentary “Cowspiracy” about the meat industry and, more specifically, industrial factory farms.
“Watching it really reminded me that I truly do care about the environment, and it connected me back to those days at the community petting zoo,” he said.
Many people concerned about climate change stop eating meat as a way to have a smaller carbon footprint. Steinhart himself became a vegan five years ago.
Not many, however, decide to found a company that will motivate others to do the same.
“How I eat is not going to have enough impact to change the system” on its own, he said. At Eclipse, “our mission is that we want to create food that everyone can enjoy that aligns with their values.”
The product is made up of ingredients like ancient corn and cassava, a tuber native to South America. And any discussion of what’s in it should also mention what’s not.
Eclipse has no allergens of any kind, which means no wheat, coconut, nuts, soy, gums, gels, stabilizers or genetically modified ingredients, Steinhart said, and the products are around the same price point to compete with conventional dairy.
The product is made up of ingredients like ancient corn and cassava, a tuber native to South America.
“With the technology behind Eclipse, we’ve created a milk that functions like cow’s milk,” said Steinhart. “In the same way you’d use dairy milk to make sour cream, cheese or ice cream, you can make those same products with the taste, texture and functionality of the animal counterpart.”
Based in West Berkeley at the time of this interview, the company is about to move to a larger facility in Oakland’s Jack London Square. The product itself is actually made at a co-packer factory elsewhere in the Bay Area.
With backers from the tech world such as Reddit co-founder and managing partner at Initialized Capital Alexis Ohanian, Gmail creator Paul Buchheit and Daiya Foods’ former board chairman Eric Patel, the company has entered the market so far with ice cream only.
Various cheeses have been in development since the company launched, and there are plans to roll those out along with other products next year, but the team decided to enter the marketplace with ice cream for a number of reasons.
“People are fanatical about ice cream,” said Steinhart. “There are not a lot of foods that people will stand outside in the winter for — beer and ice cream are about it.”
Eclipse has created its own vanilla and chocolate ice creams, a neutral base that chefs can use to make whatever flavors they want, and chocolate and vanilla for soft-serve machines.
Steinhart didn’t grow up religious, but he had many friends who did. Eclipse is currently seeking kosher certification.
“I grew up in the surroundings of kosher households and remember how disappointing it is to end a beautiful Shabbat dinner with soy ice cream. You’re ending the meal with the worst part of the meal,” he said. “Whether you care about animal suffering, or reducing your carbon footprint or deforestation or human health, or you keep kosher, this product allows you to eat aligned with your values, with no sacrifice for taste, texture, or how it makes you feel.”