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Industry Insights from NIZO: Food fermentation

Fermentation can be a millennia-old technique, nonetheless it continues to provide new opportunities in food production. From providing new protein sources or health-boosting ingredients to improving the taste, texture and safety of foods, fermentation adds value over the food industry.

Ren Floris, Food Research Division Manager at NIZO and person in the FoodNavigator Advisory Panel, asksJanneke Ouwerkerk, microbiome and fermentation expert at NIZO, to describe how.

Ren Floris: How come food fermentation this type of hot topic in the meals industry at this time?

Janneke Ouwerkerk: Food fermentation identifies any process where the activity of microbes causes an appealing change in a food. Folks have used fermentation in food production since Neolithic times, developing a wide variety traditional foodstuffs from beer and alcoholic drinks to a number of pickles, kombucha and yoghurt. Recently, trends like the protein transition and clean label products have encouraged the meals industry to have a fresh understand this ancient technique and explore many new applications.

RF: What sort of new applications are increasingly being explored?

JO: Traditionally, fermentation has been used to generate beneficial changes in food, for instance to generate alcohol, help bread rise or preserve food. Which sort of application continues to be common in the wonderful world of the protein transition, healthy eating and clean label products. For instance, fermentation is frequently used to include a nice depth of flavour to low-fat cheeses and plant-based cheese alternatives. Moreover, our very own research at NIZO shows that fermentation can take away the volatile organic compounds that cause the off-flavours often connected with plant-based protein ingredients, like the hexanal in charge of the beaniness of legume-based proteins. We’ve also used fermentation to successfully acidify plant-based cream cheeses, providing better protection against mould growth than standard chemical acidification. In every these cases, fermentation allows a desired lead to be performed using natural processing, without resorting to chemical additives.

But fermentation can be increasingly used to directly manufacture food ingredients and components. Possibly the most apparent application here’s using fermentation to cultivate a biomass of microbes that become the meals stuff themselves, either as a probiotic to market health advantages for the buyer or alternatively way to obtain protein such as for example Quorn. A lot more recently, we’ve seen fascination with so-called precision fermentation where microorganisms are modified to make a protein having an identical amino acid sequence as a target animal protein such as for example caseins and egg albumin.

RF: Do these new applications also use new fermentation approaches?

JO: Quite definitely so. For instance, plant-based ingredients and products contain different sugars and fats in addition to different proteins from dairy and that means you cant simply translate familiar fermentation processes. Meanwhile, when making microbial proteins, the target is to grow biomass as quickly as possible that is a completely different focus to previous fermentation approaches.

Actually, several new applications derive from new microbes. For probiotics, that can indicate identifying novel microbial species or strains which have specific desired traits and dont have unwanted traits like antibiotic-resistance. Here, in silico screening is really a valuable tool for quickly narrowing down the large number of candidates. On the other hand, precision fermentation involves microbes creating proteins they wouldnt naturally make. So those microbes have to be genetically modified. This currently implies that proteins from precision fermentation cant be marketed using territories, like the EU, unless legislation changes.

WHEN I mentioned, plant-based products provide a completely different environment to animal-based ones. So here too it is essential to adapt known cultures to match this new environment. In order to avoid the marketplace entry issues around GMOs, it’s possible instead to utilize accelerated evolution. This calls for identifying a promising strain, then repeated inoculation on the required substrate, potentially guided by genome sequencing to monitor changes in metabolic capabilities, to produce a new strain that’s better adapted to the (plant-based) environment.

Picture1 serial transfer

Serial transfer improved the acidification potential of Lactococcus in soy milk. After around 200 generations (green), phenotype changes yielded faster acidification rate and lower final pH than original population (red). Image source: NIZO

RF: Do you know the challenges of dealing with novel microbes?

JO: There are various challenges on the highway from the proper micro-organism to a commercial fermentation process. In fact it is vital that you consider them early in the development journey to lessen the chance of longer delays further down the road.

Among the key ones is manufacturability: Is it possible to grow your selected microbe fast enough to aid volume manufacturing with high stability and ensuring food grade production? Actually, you should begin to address this already in the discovery phase if you are identifying the proper microbe. High throughput screening enables you to eliminate microbes that grow too slowly or die off prematurely, while in silico genome analysis can highlight potential food safety issues such as for example genes connected with antimicrobial resistance, toxin production or pathogenicity

When working with any type of novel micro-organism, it is very important note that, even though you can find no viable organisms ultimately application, the DNA can remain present. Thus, there exists a chance for novel genes transferring to micro-organisms in the surroundings and precautions should be taken. This may involve using computer modelling and bioinformatics to measure the risks posed by novel genes as well as reverting to using (less-optimised) organisms from regulators approved lists of safe microbes like the EFSAs qualified presumption of safety (QPS) list.

RF: After you have identified the proper microorganism, what next?

JO: The next thing is to create a fermentation process predicated on your microbe which will work effectively on a commercial scale. It has to be achieved in a controlled, stepwise progression: from lab-scale through small prototyping and pilot production before final transfer to volume production. Understand that microbes you live organisms that react to their environment, so it’s important to know how each part of this progression impacts the growing conditions for microbes during fermentation.

To increase growth rates, the culturing medium and conditions ought to be optimised which requires investigation of the interaction ramifications of various medium components, pHs and cryoprotectants. Data science helps provide insight from in vitro experiments, distilling data from different equipment and assays into clear help with the very best culturing conditions.

Picture2 culture medium

Optimising the culture medium for maximum growth of an applicant microbe using optical density measurements and viable cell counts. Image source: NIZO

This medium optimisation is normally completed at the lab scale where fermentation volumes are in the order of magnitude of microlitres to litres. Production is then scaled-up to tens and a huge selection of litres to explore downstream options (such as for example centrifugation and cross-flow filtration). Once each one of these conditions have already been optimised, fermentation can transfer to the pilot phase with fermentation volumes in the a large number of litres, allowing formulations for food-grade products. This step-by-step upscaling is crucial, because even small changes might have a big effect on the way the microbe reacts.

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