How Alcoholic is Kombucha?

Researchers are studying kombucha to determine whether kombucha brands are unintentionally selling the fermented tea with a high alcohol content. The study, by the British Columbia Center for Disease Control, is testing hundreds of kombucha samples sold at grocery stores and farmers markets for ethanol levels. The fermentation process makes all alcohol slightly alcoholic, but in the U.S. the drink has to be sold below 0.5% to be sold as a non-alcoholic beverage. In Canada the amount is higher, at 1.1%. Researchers are looking at how different control factors affect kombucha’s alcohol content, like how cold refrigeration temperature, where it’s stored in the fridge, how it’s made and type of tea and flavors used.

Read more (CTV News)

Does Wine Fermentation Vessel Matter?

Wine Enthusiast breaks down the different variety and sizes of vessels — and why winemakers use them. James Mantone, co-owner and winemaker at Syncline Wine Cellars, says: “It is really amazing to taste wines from different fermentation containers. They don’t even taste like they come from the same vineyards.” The magazine concludes winemakers do not prefer any particular vessel. They enjoy the creativity of changing vessels. Aryn Morell, owner/winemaker at Alleromb and Morell-Peña, and consulting winemaker for numerous wineries, says: “We probably move wine from vessel to vessel more often than people would think. It’s like, ‘Well, I liked the way it was in this egg in January, but in February it’s starting to get a little tense or a little reductive. Let’s move it.’ Now we’ll move it into a large format barrel, open the wine back up or visa versa.”

Read more (Wine Enthusiast

Americans are embracing the Nordic way of life. An article in Harvard Political Review examines two aspects of Nordic culture that make the Nordic people happy and healthy: hygge and fermentation. Hygge translates to “cozy” in Danish and is a method people in countries like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland use to adapt to their long winter season. A fireplace, family dinner or cozy blanket can be hygge. Fermentation, the ancient technique used in Nordic cuisine to preserve food, is still practiced today. The article notes fermentation is pushing against fast-food consumerism. It’s a form of slow cooking the Nordic people traditionally do at home with the food they’ve foraged in the summer.

Read more (Harvard Political Review)

Natalie Jenkins of Motherlode Kombucha aims to make kombucha the next beer or sparkling water. “It’s just something as common as that, and it’s not weird, and it’s not a health drink, and it’s not only hippies who drink it or only women who drink it.” Jenkins shares with WCPO Cincinnati the struggles of starting a business. A longtime kombucha drinker, Jenkins launched her own kombucha company after realizing her town of Covington, Kentucky was void of a local kombucha brand or taproom. With help from SCORE, an organization that mentors future small business owners, Jenkins launched her business this year and brews from Covington’s Kickstart Kitchen. The photographer knew little about starting a business.  She said: “The biggest challenge is connecting to an audience that I know is there but I haven’t met yet. I always feel like I’m selling my soul a little bit when people say, ‘What are the health benefits of kombucha?’ Well, it’s got probiotics. It’s good for you. But it’s not why I drink it. I think it’s delicious. It’s more about having community and having something to gather around.”

Read more (WCPO Cincinnati)

Seaweed will be 2020’s super ingredient, according to Bloomberg. The regenerative ocean plant is being used by entrepreneurs in fermented food products like hot sauce, tea, alcoholic beverages and even kimchi and sauerkraut. Atlantic Sea Farms in Maine is the largest kelp aquaculture business in the U.S. and makes Sea-Chi (spicy marine version of kimchi) and Sea-Beet Kraut (beets, carrots and kelp). Atlantic Sea Farms, run by former diplomat Briana Warner, plants to expand its harvest and production from 250,000 pounds this year to 600,000 pounds in 2020.

Read more (Bloomberg)

“Fermenting foods requires attention to detail and knowledge that not everyone has,” reads an article in the Greenfield Recorder in New England. The newspaper featured Jim Wallace, recipe developer at New England Cheesemaking Supply Co. Wallace says, to be a fermenter, “You have to be a bit of a mad scientist. (As) a mad scientist, you need to be answering questions.” In his home fermentation cellar, Wallace ferments wine, cheese, beer, kombucha and vegetables. He also teaches workshops, classes that have become more popular as more people tap into fermentation “a global food phenomenon — renewed interest in resurrecting forgotten food tradition.”

Read more (Greenfield Recorder)

By: American Olive Oil Producers Association

The American Olive Oil Producers Association and Deoleo, the world’s largest producer of olive oil, submitted a citizen petition to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to adopt science-based, enforceable standards for olive oil.

“Buying quality extra virgin olive oil is hard, but not because there aren’t quality products on supermarket shelves. It’s because there are just no rules to stop bad actors from misrepresenting what they’re selling,” said Adam Englehardt, Chairman of the American Olive Oil Producers Association.

“It was in this vacuum that California adopted a state-based grading and labeling standard in 2014. Family farms like mine supported those regulations because it allowed growers and producers a real opportunity to compete. A half-decade later our state is known around the world for its commitment to quality,” said Englehardt.

The new standards for olive oil, which FDA would be empowered to promulgate after a final rule pending a public comment period, would mark the first time the federal government has regulated the category. Citizen petitions for Standards Of Identity have resulted previously in the adoption of regulations for a variety of other food products.

Stakeholders involved are confident that the petition demonstrates the need to adopt the proposed science-based olive oil standards to provide honest and fair dealings in the interest of consumers while promoting a vibrant and competitive industry.

“We believe consumers have the right to know what they’re buying, but the absence of an enforceable regulatory environment makes this difficult,” said Ignacio Silva, President and CEO of Deoleo. “The petition provides an incredible opportunity to improve quality across the category and most importantly, it will restore consumer trust in olive oil. We support science-based grading standards because we’re committed to quality. It’s just that simple.”

A 2015 investigation by the National Consumers League into olive oil mislabeling found six of eleven national brands had misrepresented quality grades to consumers. A separate, four-year audit of the category between 2015 and 2019 found half of all products available to consumers today failed to meet international quality standards.

Consumers deserve to know what they are buying and should be confident that they are receiving the value and health benefits that correspond with the quality grade of olive oil they desire. The clear definition of grades set forth in the petition for extra virgin, virgin and olive oil do this and allow US consumers to choose a suitable price point to meet their preferences.

As the demand for natural products grows in a world where chemically-filled food is readily available at the grocery store, is there enough natural product to go around? And what about flavors like vanilla, which mostly come from a compound extracted from the vanilla bean instead of true natural flavor? An article in Forbes says: “And just as demand for “real” vanilla is increasing, production is falling. With demand on the upswing, trade in the world’s most popular flavor is way out of balance, and getting worse.” The writer suggests biomanufacturing may be a solution. By using fermentation techniques, biomanufacturing company Conagen has cultivated a microbe that takes glucose and turns it into vanillin. “Fermented vanillin is the exact same molecule you would get from a vanilla bean. Fermentation has the added advantage of producing pure, reliable ingredients. And because the fermented product is equivalent to what you get from nature, it can be labeled natural flavoring,” according to the article.

Read more (Forbes)

Whole Foods list of the top 10 food trends for 2020 includes fermented flavors — for kids. One of their food trends — Rethinking the Kids’ Menu — notes that parents are introducing their kids to more adventurous foods. “Food brands are taking notice for the next generation – possibly our first true “foodies” – expanding the menu beyond nostalgic foods with better-for-you ingredients and organic chicken nuggets.” The article notes kids are eating foods that are fermented, spicy and/or rich in umami flavors.

Read more (Whole Foods Market)

Taming the Wild Cheese Fungus

By: The American Society for Microbiology 

The flavors of fermented foods are heavily shaped by the fungi that grow on them, but the evolutionary origins of those fungi aren’t well understood. Experimental findings published this week in mBio offer microbiologists a new view on how those molds evolve from wild strains into the domesticated ones used in food production. 

In the paper, microbiologists report that wild-type Penicillium molds can evolve quickly so that after a matter of weeks these strains closely resembled their domesticated cousin, Penicillium camemberti, the mold that gives camembert cheese its distinctive flavor. The study shows how a fungus can remodel its metabolism over a short amount of time; it also demonstrates a strategy for probing the evolution of other cultures used in food, said study leader and microbiologist Dr. Benjamin Wolfe, Ph.D., a member of the The Fermentation Association advisory board.

“In fermented foods, there’s a lot of potential for microbes to evolve and change over time,” said Wolfe.

Wolfe’s lab at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., focuses on microbial diversity in fermented foods, but he says the new experiments began with an accidental discovery. His lab had been growing and studying Penicillium commune, a bluish, wild-type fungus well-known for spoiling cheese and other foods. Wolfe likens its smell to a damp basement. 

But over time, researchers noticed changes in some of the lab dishes containing the stinky mold. “Over a very short time, that funky, blue, musty-smelling fungus stopped making toxins,” Wolfe said. The cultures lost their bluish hue and turned white; they smelled like fresh grass and began to look more P. camemberti. “That suggested it could really change quickly in some environments,” he said.

To study that evolution in real-time, Wolfe and his collaborators collected fungal samples from a cheese cave in Vermont that had been colonized by wild strains of Penicillium molds. The researchers grew the molds in lab dishes containing cheese curds. In some dishes, the wild mold was grown alone; in others, it was grown alongside microbes that are known competitors in the fierce world of cheese colonization. 

After one week, Wolfe said, the molds appeared blue-green and fuzzy—virtually unchanged—in all the experimental tests. But over time, in the dishes where the mold grew alone, its appearance changed. Within three or four weeks of serial passage, during which mold populations were transferred to new dishes containing cheese curds, 30-40 percent of the mold samples began to look more like P. camemberti. In some dishes, it grew whiter and smoother; in others, less fuzzy. (In the competitive test cases, the wild mold did not evolve as quickly or noticeably.) 

In follow-up analyses, Wolfe and his team tried to identify genomic mutations that might explain the quick evolution but didn’t find any obvious culprits. “It’s not necessarily just genetic,” Wolfe said. “There’s something about growing in this cheese environment that likely flips an epigenetic switch. We don’t know what triggers it, and we don’t know how stable it is.” 

Researchers suspect that the microbes used in most fermented foods—including cheese, but also beer, wine, sake, and others—were unintentionally domesticated, and that they evolved different flavors and textures in reaction to growing in a food environment. Wolfe says his lab’s study suggests that wild strains could be domesticated intentionally to produce new kinds of artisanal foods. 

Starting with cheese, of course. “The fungi that are used to make American camembert are French,” said Wolfe, “but maybe we can go out and find wild strains, bring them into the lab, and domesticate them. We could have a diverse new approach to making cheese in the United States.” 
 ###
The American Society for Microbiology is the largest single life science society, composed of more than 30,000 scientists and health professionals. ASM’s mission is to promote and advance the microbial sciences.

ASM advances the microbial sciences through conferences, publications, certifications and educational opportunities. It enhances laboratory capacity around the globe through training and resources. It provides a network for scientists in academia, industry and clinical settings. Additionally, ASM promotes a deeper understanding of the microbial sciences to diverse audiences.