Graduate invention the cream of the oat crop

20 September 2022
Former student creates world’s first oat cream cheese
For some graduates, like Sarah Qian who studied in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, the road less travelled can prove to be the most fruitful.

Sarah Qian, Compassion Creamery.  Image: Shane O'Neill/O'Neill Photographics

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

After discovering her graduate options of working in the oil and gas, mining, and industrial sectors weren’t for her, she decided to become 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, Sarah had a stroke of genius.

She had witnessed a huge growth in the oat milk sector, which blew up on social media, dethroned almond milk, and became café lovers’ go-to – which inspired her to take action and pivot into entrepreneurship.

Armed with a “knock-off” Thermomix, blender and sacks of oats, the chemical engineering graduate turned her kitchen into a lab and began concocting her plan to make the world’s first oat-based cream cheese. 

Eighteen months and 250 versions of R&D later, Compassion Creamery was born – a Sydney food start up that makes oat-based vegan cream cheese from culturing and fermenting methods traditionally used to make dairy cheese. Unlike other plant-based alternatives on the market, 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 Sarah, who came from New Zealand to study at the University.

While in recent years, there has been an influx of vegan cheeses on the market, for many they are an inadequate tasting replacement, often relying on cashews or soy.

“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,” said Sarah.

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

Using 100 percent Australian oats to manufacture the cheese, Sarah 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.”

Sarah 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.”

Low Luisa

Media and PR Adviser (Engineering & IT)

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