As innovation consultants, we stay current on trends that impact our clients. Fermentation is one trend that’s prevalent of late in the food and beverage industry.
The food industry has been overwhelmed with fermentation fever. It can be daunting to make sense of this rather nebulous field. This is partly because the term is a catch-all, seemingly used to describe all things at the intersection of biotechnology and food. And partly because it’s a fast-moving, dynamic, and disruptive space.
Here we dissect the concept and provide a mere glimpse into how fermentation will continue to impact the ingredient landscape.
All fermentation takes place in a bioreactor, at the will of microbial life, but not all fermentation is the same. The term ‘fermentation’ is generally applied to two distinct microbial platform technologies.
- The age-old process of leveraging microbes to transform existing ingredients; think carbohydrates into acids (kimchi, yogurt) and alcohols (beer, wine).
- The new process of engineering microbes to synthesize value-added ingredients; this flavor of fermentation draws from innovations in synthetic biology and recombinant protein expression.
Fermentation unlocks more sustainable, healthful, and enjoyable ingredients.
Sustainable. Fermentation, age-old or new, can reduce environmental inputs, especially land and water in the case of producing animal-alternative ingredients. Even more, coaxing plant-based proteins to behave like their animal counterpart is an energy-intensive feat. Enzymes created via fermentation are an attractive workaround to the high heat, high-pressure processes currently used to modify protein functionality.
Healthful and Enjoyable. Currently, plant-based products deploy a laundry list of ingredients that build flavor and texture but do little for nutrition. Fermentation presents an alternative strategy — find plant-based sources of the same food components responsible for the characteristic ‘animal’ experience and synthesize them without the animal.
Researchers are mining the microbial world in pursuit of fermenting novel flavors, aromas, fats, vitamins, co-factors, antimicrobial agents, and more.
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