Pandemic Spurs Fermented Beverages

The coronavirus continues to drive sales of fermented drinks. Lifeway’s kefir, Farmhouse Culture’s kraut juice, Probitat’s fermented planted-based smoothies, Flying Ember’s hard kombucha and Buoy Hydration’s fermented drinks all report increased sales as consumers take a bigger interest in the immune-enhancing benefits of fermented beverages.

“As demand ramps up for immune-enhancing products, manufacturers have an opportunity to innovate with immune-supporting ingredients and flavors,” says Becca Henrickson, marketing managed of Wixon, a flavor and seasoning company. “When flavoring beverages with immune support ingredients, selecting flavors that increase or complement a product’s health perception is optimal.”

Read more (Food Business News)

Kombucha and cosmetics are driving growth in the probiotic and prebiotic markets by making products that use non-classic strains of bacteria.

The e-commerce market for probiotic supplements was estimated at $973 million across 20 countries in 2020. America accounts for almost half of those sales. Ewa Hudson, director of insights for Lumina Intelligence, shared this info at the Probiota Americas 2020 Conference. (Lumina and Probiota Americas are parts of William Reed Business Media, the parent company for FoodNavigator.com.) The session, New Horizons for Prebiotics & Probiotics, included Lumina’s insight into non-classic bacteria strains and a panel discussion with leaders in the probiotics field.

In 2020, 32% of all probiotics in America — and 41% of the best-selling ones — contained non-classic species. Hudson said this species classification is a messy space, especially from a consumer’s perspective, because there are so many species. Kombucha includes the most  non-classic probiotic species — of those products with probiotics, 93% include non-classic bacteria .

Most products with probiotics include one of the four common bacteria species: lactobacilli, bifidobacterium, bacillus and saccharomyces. Lumina excluded these four from their research to focus on the growth of the non-classic probiotic strains. These include: streptococcus thermophilus, kombucha culture, lactococcus lactis, bifida ferment lysate, enterococcus faecium, streptococcus salivarius, clostridium butyricum and streptococcus faecalis. 

Though probiotics are often used in supplements, more fermented food and beverage manufacturers are using probiotic strains in their products, especially in the growing alternative protein market.

Synbiotics are also becoming more widely used; the study found synbiotics were the most prevalent formulate in probiotics. Synbiotics are a combination of both prebiotics and postbiotics. A synbiotic ensures that probiotics will have a food source in the gut.

(Probiotics are live microorganisms, friendly bacteria that provide health benefits. Probiotics can be found in fermented food and taken as supplements. Prebiotics are dietary fibers that feed the probiotics. Postbiotics are an emerging concept in the “biotics” space — postbiotics are the waste byproduct of probiotics.)

“With probiotics, we are really only starting to scratch the surface with the development of synbiotics,” says Jens Walter, PhD, professor of ecology, food and the microbiome at APC Microbiome Ireland. 

The new generation of probiotics will depend on strains that are “efficacious in the gut,” Walter noted.

“If you look into the probiotic market, most of the lactobacillus species — and also species like bifidobacterium lactis — are not inherent organisms of the human gut. We’re using a lot of organisms that I would argue have an ecological disadvantage in the gut,” Walter says. “If you’re talking about next generation probiotics, I think what will become is we are looking for the key players in the gut, specifically key players that are underrepresented or linked to certain benefits, and then we are trying to put them back in the ecosystem.”

It’s challenging to find a prebiotic or postbiotic that is precise, he continues.

“Every human has a distinct microbiome. So it’s likely a synbiotic designed for one human may not be as functional in another human,” Walter says. “The opportunities here are tremendous.”

Daniel Ramon Vidal, vice president of research and development and health and wellness at the American food processing company Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM), also spoke. He noted that the human body is made up of trillions of microbial cells, but we know little about these microbial worlds.

“There is an enormous amount of possibilities to isolate new strains that are living in our body,” Daniels says. “We need as much science as possible, that’s my message”

The panel agreed that postbiotics has become one of the next great concepts that scientists, manufacturers and gastroenterologists have latched onto. But consumers are not as familiar with postbiotics as they are with probiotics and prebiotics , notes Justin Green, PhD, director of scientific affairs for EpiCor, a postbiotic ingredient produced by Cargill. 

“This causes more confusion, so I think that’s going to be another interesting aspect of postbiotics — both the identity of what postbiotics are and how it confers its benefits and (how that will be) communicated to the consumer,” Green says.

A major scientific announcement was made this week, creating a global definition for fermented foods. A team of 13 interdisciplinary scientists (including TFA Advisory Board members Maria Marco and Ben Wolfe) spent over a year discussing the issue in order to reach a consensus. An official definition has long been debated, especially in recent years as fermentation has experienced a renaissance in the modern diet. This definition, the first of its kind, hopes to provide  clarity to scientists, producers and consumers. 

Below is a press release from the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) on the definition. The full research paper was published in Nature.  Marco also wrote a blog on the ISAPP website, further detailing the work that led to the definition. 

Humans have consumed different types of fermented foods — from kimchi to yogurt — for thousands of years. Yet only recently, with the availability of new scientific techniques for analyzing their nutritional properties and microbiological composition, have scientists begun to understand exactly how the unique flavors and textures are created and how these foods benefit human health.

Now, 13 interdisciplinary scientists from the fields of microbiology, food science and technology, family medicine, ecology, immunology, and microbial genetics have come together to create the first international consensus definition of fermented foods. Their paper, published in Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology, defines fermented foods as: “foods made through desired microbial growth and enzymatic conversions of food components”.

The authors take care to note the difference between probiotics and the live microbes associated with fermented foods. The word ‘probiotic’, they say, only applies in special cases where the fermented food retains live microorganisms at the time of consumption, and only when the microorganisms are defined and shown to provide a health benefit, as demonstrated in a scientific study.

“Many people think fermented foods are good for health — and that may be true, but the scientific studies required to prove it are limited and have mainly focused on certain fermented food types,” says first author Maria Marco, Professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis.

Co-author Bob Hutkins, Professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at University of Nebraska, Lincoln — who has authored a well-known academic textbook on fermented foods — says, “We created this definition to cover the thousands of different types of fermented foods from all over the world, as a starting point for further investigations into how these foods and their associated microbes affect human health.”

The consensus panel discussion was organized in 2019 by the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP), a non-profit organization responsible for the published scientific consensus definitions of both probiotics (in 2014) and prebiotics (in 2017).

Mary Ellen Sanders, Executive Science Officer of ISAPP, says, “To date, different people have had different ideas of what constitutes a fermented food. The new definition provides a clear concept that can be understood by the general public, industry members and regulators.”

Currently, evidence for the positive health effects of fermented foods has relied more on epidemiological and population-based studies and less on randomized controlled trials. The authors expect that, in the years ahead, scientists will undertake more hypothesis-driven research on how different fermented foods from around the globe — derived from dairy products, fruit, vegetables, grains, and even meats — affect human physiology and enhance human health.

The health attributes and unique flavors of fermented food and drink are becoming increasingly  more important to consumers. But, for fermentation brands to succeed in the food industry, they must prioritize their labeling and marketing, and focus on their environmental impact, says international food industry expert Lisa Moeller. 

“Hopefully, it will be as advantageous to attach ‘Fermented’ as it is ‘Fresh Pack’ to shelf stable pickle products at some point in time,” says Moeller, speaking at a recent TFA webinar: Global Fermentation: Today & Tomorrow. “Never in our history has the power of positive change been more possible and necessary. I think there is an inherent history with fermented vegetables and a trajectory that can only take them higher going forward.”

After receiving  her master’s degree in food science, Moeller spent 25 years working with Mount Olive Pickle Company in North Carolina.  She later started her own company, Fashionably Pickled, where she consults to food brands on methods – such as assisting with traditional fermentation technology –  for crafting better products.

Fred Breidt, microbiologist with USDA-ARS and a TFA advisory board member, called Moeller “one of the premiere pickle people in the United States,” and praised her for working around the world on a variety of fermentations.

Moeller shared three forecasts for fermented foods.

  1. Health Concerns Become More Important

Consumers are more concerned about their health during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Folks are looking to boost immunity, reduce their weight and they’re looking for nutritious options,” Moeller says. 

People are also cooking more at home during the pandemic. Restaurant dining had continually increased over the previous two decades and, in recent years, only half the food eaten in the U.S. was purchased from a grocery store. But when COVID-19 hit, “this 23 year trend was blown out of the water,” says Moeller. By April 2020, 65% of the food consumed came from a grocery store, with less than 35% from restaurants. 

“I think this trend gives the fermented vegetable arena great potential,” Moeller says. “Fermented vegetables can increase the shelf life of produce, they’re nutritious, and they can be turned into a wide variety of flavors. And I think for a time, people are going to be more interested in having a supply of things in their pantry when they don’t feel comfortable going to a grocery store.”

Increased research will help promote fermentation as a viable health food. There are still consumers who are off-put by fermentation, leaving room for brands to educate.

“Though a large part of the pickle industry is still involved with fermented cucumbers, it is not the leader in the retail category at this time,” Moeller says. “We don’t label ‘fermented’ in America. Lots of times with the cucumber industry, the fermented kind of becomes the offshoot. It’s kind of the have-to-do so you can produce all the fresh pack that you want and still have a home for others.”  

  1. Labelling and Marketing Are Crucial 

Food product labels and marketing must adapt to their local markets. Brands must create different labelling, packaging and marketing plans, depending on the country.

“There truly is no such thing as global tastebuds. But there are successful product adaptations,” Moeller says.

Consider Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) as an example. There are over 23,000 KFC locations in 140 countries, and the restaurants adapt to regional flavor preferences, selling different styles of food depending on the location. Coca-Cola is another example. With 500 brands in 200 countries, a can of Coke will taste different depending on the country  where it was sold.

“Labelling is even more important when selling your brand. Know what is important to the folks that are going to make the decision to add you products to their store shelves. Whole Foods is different than Walmart,” Moeller adds.

She advises to never make a label too complicated. Yogurt sales are projected to drop by 10% by 2024 “and this is partially because there are too many choices and the category has gotten too complicated.”

  1. Environmental Concerns Lead to Upcycllng

The environment is a big topic of concern worldwide, Moeller says.The global food system accounts for 26% of greenhouse gas emissions, 40% of the food produced is never consumed and 78% of global consumers are concerned about the environment. 

Upcycling will be the new food trend. Brands like Toast Ale (beer made from old bread) and RISE + WIN Brewing Co. (who recycle  grain scraps to make granola and sweets) are already making waves in the industry. During the pandemic, chefs reported using fermentation more than ever before to make use of uneaten produce.

“There’s not a vegetable out there that could be turned into something else,” Moeller says. “Turning food waste into alternative products…I think it’s one of the most wonderful ideas, (brands) need to partner with the folks that they want to get these byproducts from.”

The Science Behind Sourdough

Sourdough has become the darling of the pandemic pantry, as people experiment with a starter of microbes in their home kitchen. Scientists are just beginning to “discover that the microbes in a sourdough depend not just on the native microbial flora of the baker’s house and hands, but also on other factors like the choice of flour, the temperature of the kitchen, and when and how often the starter is fed,” according to an article in Scientific American. The magazine interviewed multiple microbiologists on the science behind a great sourdough loaf.

“When we study sourdough science, we learn that we know remarkably little for a technology that’s — what? — 12,000 years old,” says Anne Madden, a microbiologist at North Carolina State University.

Read more (Scientific American)

The Science Behind Stinky Cheese

There’s a scientific reason behind the distinctly funky smells from cheese — it’s how microbes feed and communicate with each other. “What they’re saying has a lot to do with the delicious variety of flavors that cheese has to offer,” reads a statement from Tufts University, where the research was conducted. “The research team found that common bacteria essential to ripening cheese can sense and respond to compounds produced by fungi in the rind and released into the air, enhancing the growth of some species of bacteria over others. The composition of bacteria, yeast and fungi that make up the cheese microbiome is critical to flavor and quality of the cheese, so figuring out how that can be controlled or modified adds science to the art of cheese making.”

One of the authors of the study, Benjamin Wolfe, professor of biology at Tufts and TFA board member, said the research is noteworthy because “how these aromas impact the biology of the cheese microbiome had not been studied.” The findings will impact other fields, too.

Results were published in the journal Environmental Microbiology. The research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Read more (Tufts University)

Does chocolate have a place in a healthy diet or is it a guilty pleasure? A new study found chocolate is good for the heart in moderate amounts. The study, printed in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, found eating chocolate more than once a week is associated with an 8% decrease in risk of coronary artery disease compared to those who eat chocolate less. Researchers note there are limitations — like the study didn’t account for type of chocolate or portion size. High-quality, low-sugar, dark chocolate, which is made with fermented cacao beans, has shown health benefits in other research.

Many major chocolate companies are trying to tout chocolate as a health food. Last year, chocolate producer Barry Callebaut petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to qualify the health claim that chocolate has heart benefits. The regulatory agency is still reviewing the request. This is the second time the Swiss company has petitioned the FDS to consider chocolate as a health food, but they were denied their first request in 2013.

Read more (Food Dive)

Australian wine scientists have published results of their research into the traditional practices Australian Aboriginal people used to make fermented beverages. Published in Scientific Reports, scientists from the University of Adelaide and the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) “have discovered the complex microbial communities associated with the natural fermentation of sap from the iconic Tasmanian cider gum, Eucalyptus gunni.” The sweet sap from the trees produce a mildly alcoholic beverage when given time to spontaneously ferment.

Research leader Professor Vladimir Jiranek, Professor of Oenology with the University’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, says: “The wider community is not typically aware of these historic traditions. This work shines a light on these practices and the cultural significance of these unique fermentations. It also allows us to identify new strains, or species, of yeast and bacteria from the fermentations that are unique to Australia. Further work will characterize single microorganisms that have been isolated and grown from the cider gum. We are particularly interested in their fermentative abilities, their potential flavor impacts, how they’ve adapted to the cider gum environment and the possible symbiotic relationship they have with the trees. We look forward to continuing our work with relevant Aboriginal communities in order to understand these and other processes, and help revive lost practices or perhaps develop new ones from these.” (Phys.org) https://bit.ly/35eDgnr 

Over several decades, the genus Lactobacillus became unmanageable, encompassing 262 species. Rudimentary research tools lumped any newly-discovered bacteria  into the genus, making the taxonomy “very screwed up.” 

“The lactobacillus taxonomy became a stack of dirty dishes — everyone knew somebody should do it, anyone could have done it, but nobody did it,” says Michael Gänzle, PhD, professor and Canada Research Chair in Food Microbiology and Probiotics at the University of Alberta. He spoke at a TFA webinar The New Taxonomy of Lactobacillus. “It has become very obvious that the genus is too diverse to group all or the organisms into a single genus. …We need taxonomy to actually describe which group of organisms they mean because if you say lactobacillus in the old sense, we mean a group of organisms that is so diverse that using the same genus name doesn’t make too much sense.”

The lactobacillus genus is large, regulated in many countries and economically important. Gänzle is one of 15 scientists involved  in a year-long project using sophisticated DNA tools to analyze the new taxonomy. Findings’ published in the April issue of the Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, spread the species over 26 genera, including 23 new (novel) ones. 

“The new taxonomy of lactobacilli means taxonomists have to navigate 23 new names, but maybe I can convince you that renaming the taxonomy is also the best thing since the invention of sliced bread because it does facilitate the communication on all things which relate to lactobacilli,” Gänzle says. He referred to the completed taxonomy as the “lactobacillus monster” because it covers 77 pages. 

Despite its heft, he’s proud of the completed project, which  reclassifies the genus into relevant groups. “It makes it easier to identify cultures of food applications,” Gänzle says. The group of authors also developed an online tool that makes it easy to look up old names and new names, and provides reference to (genome) sequence data at lactobacillus.ualberta.ca or lactobacillus.uantwerpen.be

Ben Wolfe, PhD, Associate Professor at Tufts University, moderated the webinar. Wolfe studies the ecology and evolution of microbiomes in his lab (and is a TFA Advisory Board member).“It’s really great to see this community coming around this very important problem,” Wolfe says. “This really helps clarify a lot of things for us. 

For the average artisanal fermented food producer, not much will change with the new taxonomy. Producers of traditionally fermented foods don’t put the organisms in their food or drink on their labels — it’s the companies selling starter cultures. 

“For someone who doesn’t buy and sell cultures, this doesn’t change,” Gänzle adds. “There will be a transition period until everyone is familiar with the names and putting them on the label. Most, if not all, can still be abbreviated with L.”

Introduction to HACCP

Creating a HACCP plan — a management system to control food preparation risk — can overwhelm food producers. But Charlie Kalish, food safety consultant and trainer, emphasizes HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) is  vital  to food safety.

“This is just as important as trying to understand, when I ferment things, why do I ferment? What are the things that get you excited about why you get the flavors that you get or the textures that you get (when you ferment)? The food safety thing, it’s really going to help you in the long run if you approach it with the same excitement because, if you don’t, it’s going to be a lot of work and it will drag you down,” Kalish says during the recent TFA webinar Introduction to HACCP. “I see a lot of people get bitter about (HACCP). ‘It’s such a drain on my resources and what I do!’ But it can help your product get better, it can help you get into new markets. And it is a different language, a different world. Even if you’re not going to get a PhD to understand the basic science underlying the mechanisms, having a strong control of HACCP, food safety, what the expectations are, it’s really going to help you.”

HACCP was originally created for the space program in the ‘60s. NASA needed a high level of assurance that food was going to be safe during missions in space, but traditional food models did not have enough preventive food safety controls. That plan was later adopted by the USDA and FDA to regulate food products. 

“HACCP shifted the focus away from recalling food and trying to do damage control with outbreaks to preventing those things from happening in the first place,” Kalish says. “HACCP, in summary, is a systematic approach where we consider all of our ingredients, we consider every process step from when we receive our raw materials or ingredients all the way to the shipping out of our final product, it considers all reasonable and foreseeable hazards.”

Kalish points out HACCP controls for things with a high probability of occuring, like an E. Coli outbreak in lightly fermented food. And a good  HACCP plan begins with a solid foundation, basic practices like regular hand washing, sanitizing surfaces and maintaining a comprehensive food safety employee training program.

“Common sense is an excellent guide to get you started for food safety, but I would further suggest to learn as much as you can: the science of the system you’re working with, the microbiology, pH, what it is, how you measure it,” says Fred Breidt, PhD, a microbiologist with the Agriculture Research Division of the USDA. Breidt joined Kalish during the webinar along with moderator Dave Ehreth, president of Sonoma Brinery; both are TFA advisory board members.

Luckily for fermenters, fermentation is a critical control point. In one study on kimchi by Breidt and his USDA colleagues, they found pH level is critical for food safety, a factor controlled by fermentation.

Though the internet can be a wonderful resource to find information on food safety, “you have to be judicious about your sources,” Breidt says. Kalish says to look for guidance from government  sources, scientific literature, process authorities, university extension specialists, industry groups and publications or consultants.

Food producers need to budget for HACCP in their financial plan, Kalish advises. Ehreth agrees, and encourages producers still unsure of the process to pay a professional for help “to understand what potential biological hazards could be in that jar of food.”

“The modern food manufacturer is not only a food manufacturer, he is a protector and is entering into a bond of trust with his customers. And that bond of trust says ‘If you buy what I make, you’re not going to die as a result,” Ehreth adds. Though he notes it sounds like extreme advice, it’s a necessity for food producers to keep that creed at the forefront of their production.