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Available online at www.sciencedirect.


Traditional biotechnology for new foods and beverages

Jeroen Hugenholtz

The food and beverage industry is re-discovering fermentation opments are leading to increased interest and activity in
as a crucial step in product innovation. Fermentation can fermentation technology by all consumer goods indus-
provide various benefits such as unique flavor, health and tries, big and small. This trend is not really visible in the
nutrition, texture and safety (shelf life), while maintaining a scientific literature and (not yet) in the patent literature,
100% natural label. In this review several examples are so some referencing will be made to company-websites as
presented on how fermentation is used to replace, modify or support of statements made in this contribution.
improve current, artificially produced, foods and beverages
and how also fermentation can be used for completely novel Fermentation for all-natural foods or
consumer products. beverages
Fermentation, nowadays, is all about bringing unique
Address signature flavors and other benefits to consumer products
Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences, University of Amsterdam and in a 100% natural way. This is done using, mainly, two
Coca-Cola Corporate Research, Mainburger Strasse 19, 84072 Au/ different approaches. The ‘easiest’ is to turn a traditional,
Hallertau, Germany
home-grown, product into a large scale process. Examples
Corresponding author: Hugenholtz, Jeroen (jhugenholtz@coca- are the dairy product, kefir [1], which is a traditional liquid fermented dairy product using a mixture of lactic acid
bacteria, yeast and fungi for the fermentation of milk,
resulting in a yoghurt-like, slightly alcoholic product
Current Opinion in Biotechnology 2013, 24:155–159
which has traditionally been consumed by millions of
This review comes from a themed issue on Food biotechnology people in, especially, Eastern Europe and supposedly
Edited by Elaine E Vaughan and Jeroen Hugenholtz conveys spectacular health benefits to the consumer
For a complete overview see the Issue and the Editorial [2]. The fermentation process is, typically, conducted
Available online 8th February 2013
at home on, or close to, the stove and using small left-
overs of previously produced kefir or a small kefir granule
0958-1669/$ – see front matter, # 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights
purchased at the local grocery store, as inoculum. Only
recently, the larger dairy companies have managed to
upscale this process to an industrial scale using active and
stable starter cultures just as is the daily practice for
mainstream dairy products such as yoghurt and cheese.
Introduction Another example is the traditional drink of Kvass (http://
The process of fermentation was traditionally leveraged
by the human population to increase the shelf life of drink_15952.html), which is a result of fermentation of
perishable agricultural produce such as milk, vegetables kitchen left-overs mainly consisting of bread bits. This
and meat. This has resulted in a vast variety of fermented fermented product is also traditionally made at home with
foods and beverages that is still the main part of the a final composition depending on the type of left-overs
human diet in many under-developed countries and in used and the nature of the locally evolved microbial
most countries in South-East Asia. In North America and culture. This traditional beverage is now also marketed
Europe which have extremely efficient and rapid distri- by larger companies, also outside the originating country,
bution systems and an overall availability of cooling and Russia. The main challenge of these companies is to
freezing systems, most of the traditional fermented pro- prepare this family drink with a constant quality and,
ducts, with the exception of fermented dairy (yoghurt and especially, without alcohol. This is basically done by
cheese) and meat (sausages) have been replaced by fresh using controlled fermentations with standardized starter
agricultural produce, making the process of fermentation cultures and similar fermentation conditions (short, low
obsolete. This trend away from fermentation seems to temperature) as used for non-alcoholic beer production.
have come to a recent stop and is now gradually reversing. Several more examples can be found of food and beverage
More and more people (and food companies) are regain- companies launching new or improved fermented
ing interest in traditional and more natural foods and products based on traditional biotechnology [3]
there is a growing dislike for the processing and energy- (
input that is needed to maintain freshness of agricultural sparkling-drink-with-andalusian-taste/, http://www.calpis.
crops. In addition, the food and beverage industry is net/features/story/index.html, www.the-spirit-of-georgia.
continuously trying to innovate within the constraints de,
of sustainability and naturalness. All these recent devel- and_dairy_bases/fermented_products) (Figure 1). Current Opinion in Biotechnology 2013, 24:155–159

156 Food biotechnology

Figure 1

Kombucha Kefiy

o d n t al
pr me tion
uc ed
fe adi

Lassi Boza Amazake

Kvass Amasi Fruit vinegars

Current Opinion in Biotechnology

Example of traditional fermented beverages from across the world.

A second approach followed by many consumer goods percent natural technology to raise vitamin levels in foods
companies is to transfer a successful, large-scale, fermen- and beverages. Numerous examples, especially involving
tation process to other substrates. One typical example is, dairy applications, have been presented showing natural
again, kefir, which traditionally is a dairy product, using enrichment with riboflavin [4], folate [5], vitamin B12 [6],
milk as substrate. The newest development is to use the vitamin K2 [7] and sometimes several of these vitamins,
traditional kefir culture for fermentation of other sub- simultaneously [8,9]. The latest developments in this area
strates, such as fruit juice, resulting in products called are discussed in another chapter of this Special issue [10].
‘fruit kefir’ or something similar. Other examples are
biological soft drinks such as Bionade (http://dizzyfrinks. On the basis of the successful applications in dairy products
com/drink/bionade-holunder-elderberry/) (in Germany, [4–6], vitamin enrichment in many other fermented food
Switzerland, Austria) and Tumult (http://news.softpedia. products should be possible. Using the high folate-produ-
com/news/Coca-Cola-Comes-Out-with-Tumult-the-Soft- cing Lactobacillus plantarum strain described by Hugen-
Drink-that-Tastes-like-Beer-216150.shtml) (in France) schmidt and co-workers [11], many novel fermented
where the microorganisms of the traditional, fermented consumer products seem possible since many traditional
tea drink Kombucha [3] have been used for fermentation of fermented products involve the use of Lb. plantarum and
malt, leading to a non-alcoholic soft drink with unique this lactic acid bacterium can be found on almost any
flavor for the adult market. agricultural crop including animal produce. Vitamin for-
tification has been described for a large number of
In addition to offering unique sensory sensations, as the traditional fermented foods such as soy sauce [12], kimchi
label on the package or the advertisements will most likely [13], and several others [14]. The work by Santos and co-
tell us, several other benefits can be offered using the workers, just show that this process could also be used for
process of fermentation. In this overview only some recent novel fermented consumer products, in this case fermen-
developments in the health arena will be discussed, such as ted melon, where both the lactic acid bacteria Lactobacillus
natural fortification with vitamins, benefits addressing reuteri and Lb. plantarum showed much higher folate pro-
obesity and increase of anti-oxidant content. duction on melon than on other natural substrates [9].

Fermentation for natural fortification Fermentation for addressing obesity

Over the past 10 years, the process of fermentation has The developed world is facing a major threat in the
become recognized as a relative easy and one hundred overall health of its population. In many countries,

Current Opinion in Biotechnology 2013, 24:155–159

Traditional biotechnology for new foods and beverages Hugenholtz 157

already more than half of the population is overweight of these anti-oxidants is mostly determined by how they
and the number is growing at an alarming rate. These are taken-up by the human body. Recent studies have
overweight people do not just lack discipline in that they shown that enzymatic and microbial activity (fermenta-
eat too much and have too little exercise, but often have tion) can lead to conversions of several polyphenolic anti-
reached a serious state of illness (obesity) that needs oxidants such as hesperidin [23,24] and equol [25,26],
medical attention. Food and beverage industries (are leading to more efficient uptake and thus higher bioavail-
trying to) show their responsibility in these health issues ability of the plant polyphenols. As such, fermentation
and are putting major R&D efforts in developing con- could also contribute to improved health of the consumer
sumer products that lead to reduced overall food and on the level of increased anti-oxidants and there are
energy intake. One focus of this R&D is to reduce clinical studies indicating that this is indeed the case
carbohydrate calories in food and beverages. Fermenta- for the examples of orange (hesperidin) and soy (equol)
tion, almost by definition, will contribute to calorie [24,26]. For a more detailed overview on polyphenols in
reduction by converting sugars into organic acids or foods and their supposed health aspects, the reader is
ethanol, although the maximum calorie reduction that referred to another chapter in this Food Biotechnology
can be reached in such fermentation processes cannot be issue [27].
more than 25%, since organic acids contain 3 kcal/g versus
4 kcal/g for sugar. Another approach of the food and Fermentation for even longer shelf-lives
beverage industry is to develop consumer products or Traditionally fermented consumer products have rela-
ingredients that lead to early satiation of the consumer. tively long shelf-lives ranging from about 4 weeks for
The satiation factors can convey their activity at different liquid fermented dairy products to a year or longer for
moments in the sequence of eating and digestion, from some dry fermented sausages and alcoholic beverages.
sensing the product before consumption, to physically Still, there is always a need for longer and more complete
bulking the stomach or by release of signals at a later protection. The fermented foods and the fermented, non-
location in the digestive tract. One of the signals that have alcoholic, beverages usually still contain large residual
been shown to play a role in this satiety cascade, is organic levels of sugar and of various amino acids, vitamins and
acids such as propionic acid, butyric and acetic acid minerals allowing growth of a large number of acid-
[15,16,17]. These studies indicate that short chain fatty tolerant microorganisms which are mainly yeast or fungi.
acids regulate food intake through control of gut hormone To address this problem, food microbiology research has
expression such as peptide PYY and glucagon-like pep- devoted much attention to finding microorganisms, and
tide. For acetic acid (28 mmol in a serving of vinegar) especially lactic acid bacteria, that produce antifungal
[18,19] and propionic acid (2.45% in bread) [20] actual compounds. A number of antifungal-producers have been
dosages have been described that lead to satiety response identified [28–30] and also some unique antifungal com-
in humans through delay of the gastric emptying rate and ponents have been elucidated [31,32] such as various
lowered blood glucose and insulin reponses. As these cyclic peptides and metabolites such as 3-phenyllactic
acids are typically produced by fermentation, satiety- acid. A recent study by Crowley and co-workers show that
inducing fermented foods or beverages could be pro- such antifungal-producers can also be used for longer
duced using a propionic, acetic and/or butyric acid bac- shelf-lives of fresh fruits such as pear and grapes [33].
terium as a starter. In South-East Asia, and especially When these antifungal-producers were applied by us in
Japan, products from acetic acid fermentation, such as various fruit juices, the (fermented) products, clearly,
vinegar, have a traditional healthy image, and several showed longer protection against fungal growth
other health benefits, such as protection against inflam- (Figure 2). The challenge for the food industry is, now,
matory bowel diseases and colon cancer, seem to be to make sure that these antifungal fermentations still
associated with the fermentative production of short have the right flavor attributes, that they combine well
chain fatty acids [21,22]. with the fermentations that deliver other benefits and that
the right strategy is chosen with respect to labeling
Fermentation for increasing anti-oxidant legislation (f.i. in situ fermentation for flavor and ot-
activity her — antimicrobial — benefits will lead to other labeling
Many fruits and vegetables are more-and-more appreci- than addition of fermented ingredients with the direct
ated for their natural content of valuable anti-oxidants, purpose of controlling fungal growth).
such as lycopene (tomatoes), equol (soy), resveratrol (red
grapes, berries, pomegranate), hesperidin and naringin Conclusions and perspectives
(oranges), and quercetin (fruits, vegetables). Besides pro- Fermentation can deliver many benefits to foods and
tecting the fruit or fruit juice directly from oxidation and beverages. Besides unique flavors and textures as exem-
undesirable browning and flavor changes, these anti- plified in traditional fermented products such as yoghurt,
oxidants are also, sometimes, claimed to convey anti- cheese, soy sauce and kimchi, many novel benefits,
oxidant activity to the consumer and protect the human especially with respect to health, can be conveyed via
cells from destruction by oxidative radicals. The efficacy fermentation technology. All this can be achieved via Current Opinion in Biotechnology 2013, 24:155–159

158 Food biotechnology

Figure 2 References and recommended reading

Papers of particular interest, published within the period of review,
have been highlighted as:

 of special interest
 of outstanding interest

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Current Opinion in Biotechnology
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industry. protect against diet-induced obesity.

Current Opinion in Biotechnology 2013, 24:155–159

Traditional biotechnology for new foods and beverages Hugenholtz 159

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