The centuries-old process can decrease food insecurity by extending the shelf life and nutritional value of foods.
Fermentation, an age-old process that has been integral to human society for thousands of years, is currently riding a wave of renewed interest. From kimchi in Korea to sauerkraut in Germany, fermented foods are not only a part of our global culinary heritage but have also been recognised for their myriad health benefits. This resurgence in the popularity of fermented ingredients and their role in gut health has propelled a significant rise in the global fermented ingredients market.
Fermentation is an ancient culinary practice dating back approximately 8,000 years or more. It was born out of necessity — a reliable method for preserving food and drink. The process works by the action of microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast, or fungi that convert sugars into alcohol, gases, or organic acids. Fermentation not only extends the shelf life and improves the microbiological safety of foods but can also enhance their digestibility and, in certain cases like cassava, reduce toxicity.
Fast forward to the present, and fermentation is front and centre in the culinary world. As detailed in Food Business News, a boom in the craft food and beverage industry has highlighted fermentation as a key process. The market analysis firm Technavio projects that the fermented foods industry will hit $846 billion in value by 2027. In collaboration with Spins Data, The Fermentation Association analysed the US fermented foods market, excluding beer, wine, and cheese, and discovered that sales had escalated to $11.33 billion in 2022. This resurgence is driven by the desire for natural, minimally processed foods with unique flavours and textures.
The global fermented ingredients market is also experiencing significant growth. According to a report on Cottonwood Holladay Journal, the market is set to expand rapidly due to rising consumer preference for healthy, natural food products. Increasing awareness about the potential health benefits of fermented foods and beverages is another factor driving this trend.
Today’s health-conscious consumers are increasingly interested in foods that can support their well-being. A report by Food Navigator suggests that interest in gut health is propelling the pickled and fermented food category.
Fermented foods are rich in probiotics — the “good” bacteria that populate our gut. These bacteria aid digestion, boost immunity, and even impact mental health. As such, fermented foods like kimchi, kefir, and kombucha have moved into the mainstream, with grocery stores and restaurants around the world offering a wider variety of these products than ever before.
Leveraging fermentation techniques
Fermentation does more than preserve food and improve its taste. The process can also make food more digestible, increase its nutritional value, and reduce its cooking time. This helps in reducing food waste and energy consumption, contributing to a more sustainable food system.
One area of exciting potential is the development of novel fermented products. For example, a new generation of plant-based meats and dairy alternatives is leveraging fermentation techniques to mimic the flavours and textures of animal products. Furthermore, there’s a growing interest in exploring the unique flavours of wild fermentation, where local and wild yeasts are used to produce distinctive, place-based tastes.
In addition, technology is playing an increasing role in the fermentation industry. Data analytics, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology are being used to optimise fermentation processes, improve product consistency, and even create completely new kinds of fermented foods.
For instance, some companies are using predictive modelling to fine-tune the fermentation process, yielding better-tasting and more nutritious products. Others are exploring the use of genetically modified organisms to produce specific flavours or nutritional profiles, pushing the boundaries of what is possible with fermentation.
Combating hunger by improving the food fermentation process
Being inexpensive, easy, and reliable, fermentation allows for the preservation of nutritious fruits, vegetables, and other foods over extended periods. This aids communities in storing food to ensure availability during times when fresh food may not be accessible. Furthermore, fermentation can be performed at home without any special equipment, thus preserving the nutritional value of food over time.
The use of fermentation as a food preservation method in areas prone to famine, such as Western Sudan, underscores its role in ensuring food security. Interestingly, with increased wealth, families tend to lessen their reliance on fermentation for certain foods. Fermentation can also convert otherwise inedible food waste into nutritious food sources, thus reducing food waste and enhancing food availability.
Projects like FermFood aim to combat hunger and malnutrition by improving the food fermentation process in Africa, bolstering women’s entrepreneurial efforts, and promoting food security. As fermented foods gain popularity for their taste and health benefits, it’s essential to remember their origins and how they have contributed to food security across different cultures worldwide.
The new protein revolution
Saskatchewan, Canada, is emerging as a global leader in food fermentation technology. Mehmet Tulbek, president of the Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre, believes that Canada’s abundant food resources position it to lead the movement towards a more sustainable and secure food supply chain.
Commercial-scale fermentation technology can help create more nutritious food products using abundant Canadian crops and by-products, and even transform food processing waste. Companies are focusing on using fermentation to alter foods’ nutritional content and make them more palatable.
The food processing industry began using fermentation extensively in the 1980s, and it’s now considered a pillar of the “new protein revolution,” referring to the growing global demand for sustainable, high-quality alternative and plant-based proteins.
Steven Webb, executive director of the Global Institute for Food Security, emphasises that innovative food processing solutions like fermentation are critical to addressing the world’s increasing food insecurity issues. Saskatchewan, with 43% of Canada’s arable land and a flourishing value-added sector, is well-positioned to lead this charge.
Local companies are already producing protein concentrates from pulses, transforming the leftover starch by-products into nutritious products like plant-based “meat.” Fermentation also aids in creating more easily digestible protein concentrates and isolates from cereals and pulses.
The future of fermentation looks promising, with its role set to expand in the global food market. As consumers continue to seek out foods that are not only delicious but also beneficial to their health and the environment, the age-old process of fermentation will continue to grow in relevance and popularity.
While the global fermented ingredients market looks set to flourish, companies are also innovating and pushing the boundaries of what is possible with fermentation. As the fermentation industry moves forward, we can expect to see even more exciting developments in this space, from new food products to groundbreaking sustainable practices.