The Fermentation Technology


Emerging technology in the alternative protein scene is fermentation. The technique has been used for hundreds of years and has been used to preserve food and improve its nutritional value. In recent years, several application initiatives have emerged in producing analogs of animal products, making fermentation one of the three pillars of the alternative protein industry due to its great potential for application in various types of products.

What is Fermentation?

Fermentation in the context of the alternative protein industry involves the cultivation of microorganisms to process food or ingredient, obtain more of the microorganism itself as a primary source of protein (biomass), or obtain specific components such as flavorings, enzymes, proteins, and fats for incorporation into products made from plants or cultivated meat. Fermenting agents are microorganisms widely distributed in nature, such as bacteria, fungi, and algae.

Fermentation Processes

There are three basic ways to conduct a fermentation process: in the solid state, on the surface of a liquid medium, and submerged. Any of these processes allows for obtaining both biomass and proteins.

Solid-state fermentation uses a solid substrate, which is then moistened by a liquid film. The process originated from traditional fermentation forms used, for example, in producing bread, cured cheeses, and tempeh. The process was improved for many other applications from these conventional uses, enabling improvements in the final product, such as nutrient enrichment and greater control of the purity of nutritional inputs.

The fermentation process in a liquid medium is based on the growth characteristic of filamentous fungi that, when cultivated in a static nutrient broth, form a layer of mycelial biomass on the surface of the liquid, called biomass. This process can be used for the production of biomass and also enzymes and other proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, amino acids, vitamins, and any other product of fungal metabolism. The biomass can be consumed directly as a food ingredient, or the proteins can be extracted and purified.

Traditional Fermentation

This is the type of fermentation in which living microorganisms are added to a protein matrix of vegetable or animal origin to, through its multiplication and the production of metabolism compounds, develop more attractive sensory characteristics and/or to improve the nutritional value and protein bioavailability.

Biomass Fermentation

It is the process in which living microorganisms are added to a natural nutrient substrate or to a culture medium formulated to promote the multiplication of microbial cells and then use the microorganism itself (i.e., cell biomass) as a source of proteins. Biomass production has essential advantages over other protein sources: it is produced quickly, requires little space, and is not affected by climatic conditions. In addition, microorganisms can multiply using various carbon sources.

Precision Fermentation

This process uses the genetic material that encodes a specific protein in a plant or animal (donor) and inserts it into a microorganism (host) that grows quickly and efficiently. This is then cultivated by fermentation to form the desired protein in bulk. This can subsequently be separated from host cells and purified, resulting in a molecule identical to that produced in the plant or animal, with the same sensory and functional characteristics as the original in the food into which it is incorporated. In addition to being used for protein production, precision fermentation is also used in producing essential ingredients for the plant-based industry, such as aromas, fats, vitamins, and pigments.

Deepen your knowledge of the science of proteins obtained by fermentation

In partnership with the Institute of Food Technology (Ital), GFI Brazil discusses fermentation technology to obtain protein ingredients and products in this issue. The main technical characteristics of fermentation processes are pointed out, which include traditional fermentation, fermentation for biomass production, and precision fermentation, applied to alternative proteins. Using a bibliographic review of international articles published in recent years, it focuses on methods of fermentation processes, microorganisms used, and operational parameters related to this technology.

The science of alternative proteins

GFI’s open-access online course explores the science of alternative proteins. In self-paced classes, you will learn about the biological and chemical processes used to produce plant-based, fermented, and cultivated meat and the environmental and economic factors behind these market sectors.

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