Using Fermentation to Develop New Food Products

27 Oct 2021

Humans have long used microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast and mould in natural fermentation processes to ensure that food stays fresh, has the desired consistency, is safer and can be stored longer. Fermentation can enhance the flavours and properties of food. Just think of sour cream and mature cheese, bacon, fermented fish, pickled vegetables, beer, wine and bread. For all these products, fermentation is an important step in the processing from raw material to finished product.

There is still a lot to be gained from further research in this area. With the benefits of new technologies, old knowledge about fermentation can be applied to new raw materials to create better, more sustainable and healthier food products.

There are many open questions under investigation: Can a better understanding of fermentation processes help to increase the nutrient content of plant-based raw materials or aid digestion? Can bacteria not used for food production today help reduce food waste in the future? Can microorganisms help us produce enough, healthy food for everyone, in a sustainable way?

Some examples of fermented foods. Photo: Shutterstock

At NMBU, we want to find microorganisms that are suitable for converting residual raw materials from agriculture, food production and other processing of raw materials to be able to make new foods, animal feed and bioenergy.

“We want to explore the potential application of fermentation for the creation of new food products from plant raw materials with a high protein content. This will help to create innovation”, explains Davide Porcellato, Associate Professor at NMBU’s Faculty of Chemistry, Biotechnology and Food Science, and project manager for one of the areas SIMBA is exploring, namely finding new ways to produce healthy and nutritious food and animal feed, using specially selected microorganisms. Researcher Tove Devold and Associate Professor Hilde Østlie from the same faculty are also part of the NMBU team.

At NMBU, we are looking at whether fermentation of legumes (done by Luke in Finland) can help us increase the intake of plant proteins and increase the nutritional property of the food. As Professor Porcellato explains, “Fermentation can make the shelf life of food longer, as well as improving taste and consistency and we also believe that it can help make the nutrient content of the plants more readily available for absorption in the human body”.

SIMBA will find microorganisms that can have a positive impact on all steps in the value chain, from farm to fork. Photo: Alexander Benjaminsen (NMBU)

Also at NMBU, Professor Emeritus, Tor Erling Lea is leading a SIMBA Work Package that investigates how increased intake of plant foods affects human intestinal health and digestion. The work is seen in connection with the prevention of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and colon cancer.

Professor Lea’s team studies the effect of polyphenols and bile acids on immune and intestinal cells. Polyphenols are a collective term for various substances that are abundant in certain types of fruit and berries, and which give them strong colours. These substances are most likely to contribute to the positive health effects of a plant-based diet, but the mechanisms are complex and partly unknown, these are some of what is to be explored in this work package.

Bile acids produced in the liver are important for the digestion of fat in the intestine and have been linked to obesity and metabolic syndrome.

NMBU Professor Emeritus Tor Erling Lea. Photo NMBU

Full speed ahead in the lab 

Right now there is a lot of activity!

We are working with in vitro digestion: simulation of the digestive process in the stomach and small intestine in the laboratory. At NMBU, we are investigating nutrient content, food quality, potential for probiotics and bacterial survival in various plant fermentation products that are produced in collaboration with colleagues from the Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE)

The studies will determine if the fermentation has increased the nutrient content of the food, such as introducing vitamin B12 and vitamin K and bioactive peptides. Analyses are completed at NMBU before evaluating the results in collaboration with the Finnish researchers. The bacteria used in the most promising fermented products will then be sent to a production plant where they will be tested on an industrial scale. The goal is to create a completely new, fermented food product.

“Exactly what shape the finished product should have is not yet certain” explains Professor Porcellato. “But it could be, for example, a pasta or hummus type made from fermented plant-based ingredients such as legumes, peas or similar”.

Follow the SIMBA project for more updates soon!