Air Protein, a Bay-area startup, is using NASA-inspired fermentation technology to create an edible protein. The company, which recently received $32 million in funding, is the first to make “air-based” protein, farming carbon from the air with microbes. 

The vertical fermentation tanks used by Air Protein combine carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen with water and minerals. “The final products is a protein-rich flour that can be used just like soy or pea flour,” writes the Mercury News. “This protein flour can then be made into a plethora of delicious and nutritious meatless meat products.” 

Founder and CEO Lisa Dyson discovered the NASA research while searching for new ways to recycle carbon and address the global climate crisis. She says Air Protein’s technology will “create the most sustainable meat available and significantly reduce the burden on our planet’s resources that is being cased by our current meat production processes.”

Read more (Mercury News)

Bokashi Farming

More farmers are using the Bokashi farming method, a Japanese technique that uses fermented organic matter to improve soil health. 

Bokashi is an organic, anaerobic process that doesn’t use fertilizers, which are full of chemicals or plain manure that release carbon into the air. Instead, a mix of seashell, clay soil, muck and actiferm (which contains lactic acid bacteria, yeast and phototrophic bacteria) is layered in a pile, then sheeted for at least 6-8 weeks to keep oxygen out.

A UK couple, farmers, share their success story with Farmers Weekly. They heard about bokashi from the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association (PFLA) and were shocked to watch it absorb quickly into the soil when they applied it at their own cattle ranch. While  fresh or  composted organic matter must be broken down by soil microbes, bokashi has been predigested by those same microbes so that the nutrients are immediately available to the soil.

Read more (Farmers Weekly)

The World of Fermented Foods

In the latest issue of Popular Science, a creative infographic illustrates “the wonderful world of fermented foods on one delicious chart.”  It represents “a sampling of the treats our species brines, brews, cures, and cultures around the world,” and is particularly interesting as it shows mainstream media catching on to fermentation’s renaissance. Fermentation fit with the issue’s theme of transformation in the wake of the pandemic.

Read more (Popular Science)

Devastating recent wildfires need to spur the California wine industry to invest in researching ways to mitigate the effects of fire and smoke damage. The California Wine Institute partnered with firm BW166 to calculate the cost of the 2020 wildfires to wineries; a $3.7 billion estimate includes loss of property, wine inventory, grapes and future sales.

“At a time of year when vintners would typically be throwing harvest parties and stomping grapes, they were instead faced with mounting uncertainty about the viability of their crop. Many of them decided not to make some or all of the wine that they’d planned to bottle because of the smoke damage. Months later, wineries are still deliberating over those decisions,” writes the San Francisco Chronicle.

Read more (San Francisco Chronicle)

Researchers at Washington State University are developing a nutrient formula for yeast that could make fermentation easier and more predictable for cider makers. 

“Cider apples don’t have as many nutrients for yeast, unlike grapes,” said Claire Warren, a microbiologist for WSU’s School of Food Science. “I want to make a nutrient base for yeast used with cider apples so fermentation can be more predictable batch to batch and year to year.”

The difference between hard cider and apple juice is the role of yeast. Yeast converts the sugar in cider apples into alcohol. Though much is known about how yeast interacts with grapes, little is known about how yeast interacts with apples. Researchers are studying the analytical information behind a cider apple, hoping their research will improve production.

Read more (Washington State University)

Deciphering Real Fermented Products?

Consumers wanting fermented products must be careful shoppers, cautions Bob Hutkins, Khem Shahani Distinguished Professor of Food Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. [Hutkins, at left in photo, will be speaking at the March 16 TFA webinar on The New Definition of Fermented Food.]

Many products considered fermented (and even labeled fermented) actually contain no live microbes. Sauerkraut stored in a can at room temperature, for example, was heat treated, so the live microbes were killed. He advises to look for products that say “not pasteurized” or “not heat treated.”

So what role do fermented foods play in our gut microbiome? Hutkins says: “The microbes transform proteins into amino acids and sugars into organic acids and they produce vitamins directly in the food. We benefit from that. For example, certain yogurts are more digestible and contain more vitamins than the milk from which they were made. Once we consume those products, the microbes have a chance to reach the gut. Now, we know they do not take up permanent residence, but they could live there for a short period of time and in doing so, they can outcompete pathogens, displace unwanted organisms, and again, produce vitamins and other bioactive molecules directly in the gut.”

Hutkins and Andy Benson, Professor of Food Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, launched Synbiotic Health last year. The company brings their research into the gut microbiome to the marketplace.

Read more (Nebraska Today)

Yoko Nagatomo Shiomi, president of the fourth-generation Kanena Miso & Soy Sauce Brewery,  is one of few female toji (head brewers) in the miso industry. Japanese traditions delegate that businesses are passed onto male heirs. But when Shiomi’s father suffered a debilitating stroke, she was the only heir left. 

Shiomi’s great-grandparents started the miso and soy sauce brewery in 1877. Shiomi never expected to inherit the company. “I had no expertise or information, and knew it was uncommon for girls to do this type of work, however I needed to strive,” she says. Before officially taking over, Shiomi and her mother spent three years with the company’s brewers learning the intricacies of the business. Like the most effective ways to combine soybeans and barley with koji spores. 

Though miso and soy sauce have long been staples in Japanese dining, Shiomi told the Japan Times she was shocked to learn how much miso consumption had declined in the average household. “Miso is a really nutrition fermented seasoning and really authentic to our tradition,” she said. She began volunteering to teach kids how to cook with miso. It also inspired her to create a new miso product easier to use for the modern shopper: dried miso packets, make-your-own miso kits, and miso-marinated cuts of pork.

Read more (Japan Times)

New Fermented Coffee & Tea Drinks

Researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have created new fermented coffee and tea drinks. These drinks, invented by a professor and two doctoral students, are being labeled as “probiotic coffee and tea drinks that are packed with gut-friendly live probiotics.” They claim that the  drinks can be stored for three months without altering the probiotics. 

“Coffee and tea are two of the most popular drinks around the world, and are both plant-based infusions. As such, they act as a perfect vehicle for carrying and delivering probiotics to consumers. Most commercially available probiotic coffee and tea drinks are unfermented. Our team has created a new range of these beverages using the fermentation process as it produces healthy compounds that improve nutrient digestibility while retaining the health benefits associated with coffee and tea,” explained NUS Associate Professor Liu Shao Quan.

Read more (Science Daily)

Britt’s Fermented Foods is one of the only pickle companies in America still using oak barrel fermentation — how pickles were first fermented in ancient Egypt. But this method is often  difficult and time-consuming, and many producers abandoned it in the 1970s when food regulation laws changed.

“The oak barrel has that ability to act as an agent in the fermentation,” says owner Britt Eustis. He explained to The Seattle Times that “the tannins in the oak barrels suppress the enzyme that naturally occurs and makes pickles turn soft,” keeping Britt’s pickles crisp. 

Britt’s, with a warehouse on Whidbey Island in Washington, nearly shut down in 2019 due to mounting debt and production challenges. But a blueberry farm on the island offered to partner with the company, offering financial backing and helping to diversify income streams. Britt’s  now sells kimchi and sauerkraut, also fermented in oak.

Read more (Seattle Times)

Scientists have found a sustainable solution for dealing with both food waste and soil health. They’ve discovered fermented food waste boosts bacteria that increases crop growth, makes plants more resistant to pathogens and reduces carbon emissions from farming. 

“Beneficial microbes increased dramatically when we added fermented food waste to plant growing systems,” said Deborah Pagliaccia, the microbiologist who led the research at University of California Riverside (UCR). “When there are enough of these good bacteria, they produce antimicrobial compounds and metabolites that help plants grow better and faster.”

The UCR research team used two types of fermented byproducts: beer mash (byproduct of beer production) and food waste discarded by grocery stores; neither tested positive for salmonella or any other pathogenic bacteria.

Read more (Science Daily)