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Fermentation in food processing

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Fermentation in food processing

Beer fermenting at a brewery

zymology or zymurgy.

The term "fermentation" is sometimes used to specifically refer to the chemical conversion of sugars into ethanol, a process which is used to produce alcoholic beverages such as wine, beer, and cider. Fermentation is also employed in the leavening of bread (CO2 produced by yeast activity); in preservation techniques to produce lactic acid in sour foods such as sauerkraut, dry sausages, kimchi, and yogurt; and in pickling of foods with vinegar (acetic acid).

Natural fermentation precedes human history. Since ancient times, however, humans have been controlling the fermentation process. The earliest evidence of an alcoholic beverage, made from fruit, rice, and honey, dates from 7000–6600 BC, in the Caucasus area.[2] Seven-thousand-year-old jars containing the remains of wine, now on display at the University of Pennsylvania, were excavated in the Zagros Mountains in Iran. [3] There is strong evidence that people were fermenting beverages in Babylon circa 3000 BC,[4] ancient Egypt circa 3150 BC,[5] pre-Hispanic Mexico circa 2000 BC,[4] and Sudan circa 1500 BC.[6]

French chemist Louis Pasteur was the first known zymologist, when in 1856 he connected yeast to fermentation.[7] Pasteur originally defined fermentation as "respiration without air". Pasteur performed careful research and concluded:

I am of the opinion that alcoholic fermentation never occurs without simultaneous organization, development, and multiplication of cells, ... . If asked, in what consists the chemical act whereby the sugar is decomposed, ... , I am completely ignorant of it.

Contributions to biochemistry

When studying the fermentation of sugar to [8] he wrote.

Nevertheless, it was known that yeast extracts can ferment sugar even in the absence of living yeast cells. While studying this process in 1897, Eduard Buchner of Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany, found that sugar was fermented even when there were no living yeast cells in the mixture,[9] by a yeast secretion that he termed zymase.[10] In 1907 he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his research and discovery of "cell-free fermentation."

One year prior, in 1906, ethanol fermentation studies led to the early discovery of NAD+.[11]


Beer and bread, two major uses of fermentation in food

The primary benefit of fermentation is the conversion of sugars and other juice into wine, grains into beer, carbohydrates into carbon dioxide to leaven bread, and sugars in vegetables.

Food fermentation has been said to serve five main purposes:[12]

  • Enrichment of the diet through development of a diversity of flavors, aromas, and textures in food substrates
  • Preservation of substantial amounts of food through lactic acid, alcohol, acetic acid, and alkaline fermentations
  • Biological enrichment of food substrates with protein, essential amino acids, and vitamins
  • Elimination of antinutrients
  • A decrease in cooking time and fuel requirement

Fermented foods by region

Nattō, a Japanese fermented soybean food

Fermented foods by type


Cheonggukjang, doenjang, miso, natto, soy sauce, stinky tofu, tempeh, oncom, soybean paste, Beijing mung bean milk, kinama, iru


Proofing (baking technique)


Batter made from rice and lentil (Vigna mungo) prepared and fermented for baking idlis and dosas

Amazake, beer, bread, choujiu, gamju, injera, kvass, makgeolli, murri, ogi, rejuvelac, sake, sikhye, sourdough, sowans, rice wine, malt whisky, grain whisky, idli, dosa, vodka, boza

Vegetable based

Kimchi, mixed pickle, sauerkraut, Indian pickle, gundruk, tursu

Fermenting cocoa beans

Fruit based

Wine, vinegar, cider, perry, brandy, atchara, nata de coco, burong mangga, asinan, pickling, vişinată, chocolate, rakı

Honey based

Mead, metheglin

Dairy based

Cheese, kefir, kumis (mare milk), shubat (camel milk), cultured milk products such as quark, filmjölk, crème fraîche, smetana, skyr, yogurt

Fish based

Bagoong, faseekh, fish sauce, Garum, Hákarl, jeotgal, rakfisk, shrimp paste, surströmming, shidal

Meat based

Chin som mok is a northern Thai speciality made with grilled, banana leaf-wrapped pork (both skin and meat) that has been fermented with glutinous rice

Chorizo, Salami, Sucuk, Pepperoni, Nem chua, Som moo, Saucisson

Tea based

Pu-erh tea, Kombucha

Risks of consuming fermented foods

Alaska has witnessed a steady increase of cases of botulism since 1985.[13] It has more cases of botulism than any other state in the United States of America. This is caused by the traditional Eskimo practice of allowing animal products such as whole fish, fish heads, walrus, sea lion, and whale flippers, beaver tails, seal oil, birds, etc., to ferment for an extended period of time before being consumed. The risk is exacerbated when a plastic container is used for this purpose instead of the old-fashioned, traditional method, a grass-lined hole, as the botulinum bacteria thrive in the anaerobic conditions created by the air-tight enclosure in plastic.[13]

The World Health Organization has classified pickled foods as a possible carcinogen, based on epidemiological studies.[14] Other research found that fermented food contains a carcinogenic by-product, ethyl carbamate (urethane).[15][16] "A 2009 review of the existing studies conducted across Asia concluded that regularly eating pickled vegetables roughly doubles a person's risk for esophageal squamous cell carcinoma."[17]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^
  6. ^ Dirar, H., (1993), The Indigenous Fermented Foods of the Sudan: A Study in African Food and Nutrition, CAB International, UK
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Nobel Laureate Biography of Eduard Buchner at
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Steinkraus, K. H., Ed. (1995). Handbook of Indigenous Fermented Foods. New York, Marcel Dekker, Inc.
  13. ^ a b
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^

External links

  • Fermentations in world food processing (1st part, PDF file)
  • Fermentations in world food processing (2nd part, PDF file)
  • Science aid: Fermentation - Process and uses of fermentation
  • Fermented cereals. A global perspective - FAO 1999
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