It’s amazing how far we've come since the days of Louis Pasteur! 2022 marks the bicentenary of the birth of this man, who we can only describe as the true father of modern microbiology. It also gives us an opportunity to reflect on the fact that his discoveries have made it possible to create the right balance between food safety and the craftsmanship of our forebears (whilst also helping to transition these activies to the modern era, of course).
When it comes to microbiology and food fermentation, this meeting of tradition and innovation has continued into the present. While fermented products appeal to consumers, addressing a number of their concerns, in particular with regard to how healthy and natural their food is, industrial microbiology and fermentation processes – and their potential implications – have encouraged researchers to develop new applications for this technology: bio-preservation, clean label, nutrition... What are the latest technological innovations in fermentation, and where can they be applied?
Food produced… from thin air?
Finnish start-up Solar Foods, an offshoot of the VTT Technical Research Centre, has developed a fermentation process which produces a protein that is rich in nutrients and vitamins, using a type of microbe fed with hydrogen and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In this article from Les Echos (a French financial media outlet), the founding president explains: "Our process is similar to that of wine production, but instead of sugar, our microorganisms use these gases inside a fermenter". The end product obtained from this protein, Solein, contains not only proteins but also carbohydrates, fats and small amounts of trace elements such as potassium and phosphorus. Solar Foods has already developed a pilot line, which has verified the company’s concept. Construction on the first plant began at the end of 2021. From 2023 onwards, there will be approximately 20 products on sale, intended as dairy or meat substitutes.
Fermentation processes that combine taste and natural properties
French company Atelier du Fruit is working on a process of fermentation that releases the aromatic properties of fruit. The company is leading a R&D project, code-named KARPO, that aims to achieve a better understanding of the fermentation mechanism that is required to produce the best results in terms of aroma in fruits. It also seeks to improve the repeatability of this mechanism. Camille Duc, doctor of microbiology and biotechnology and agri-food engineer at Atelier du Fruit, explains: "On the one hand, we hope that this analysis will allow us to precisely identify the exact cultures that we need to use, depending on the aroma that we want to achieve – zesty, floral, roasted, etc. On the other hand, we hope to identify the nutrients that need to be present in the matrix of the fruit in order to obtain the desired aromas." To find out more about the KARPO project, see our article: Improving the aromatic expression of processed fruit products: how to stay natural? – exclusively for Vitagora members (login required).
Another company, Kura de Bourgogne, offers a range of fermented products which combine taste and natural properties, all based on a Japanese tradition but tailored to the facilities and varieties available in France. Miso, sake, soy sauce… all are produced by means of solid state fermentation techniques using the fungus Aspergillus. By adapting the equipment available, the company was able to overcome any technological barriers that might have been experienced due to the lack of suitable equipment in France.
From fermentation to functional food
As part of the ANR DOPEOS project, accredited by Vitagora, the UMR PAM research unit has carried out work on the production and stabilisation of the anaerobic bacterium Faecalibacterium prausnitzii to enable the industrial production of commercial medicines. This ESO (Extremely Sensitive to Oxygen) bacterium from the colon has promising implications for the healthcare field, particularly in the context of inflammatory diseases such as Crohn's disease. UMR PAM has been developing a number of different ways to adapt this process for food and drug production. At the end of this three-year project, confidential expertise was patented for the production and stabilisation of biomass through coating.
Developing new biopreservation strategies
Aside from being a major public health issue, ensuring that food products are safe is a key issue for the agri-food industry.
The UMRF (Joint Research Unit on Cheese) has been carrying out work to identify microbial consortia (group of diverse microorganisms that have the ability to act together in a community) that can counteract the pathogens present in cheeses. One ecosystem in particular has made it possible to combat up to 3 log of listeria (in reality, the level of contamination is generally lower). Bacterial strains have been closely scrutinised in order to determine those that conduct anti-listeria activities, with the aim of establishing consortia. In this context, Hafnia alvei has, for example, been identified as a strain which alleviates the risk of STEC (Escherichia coli) in cheeses in particular. The synergistic effects of consortia in comparison to bacteria working alone can thus be demonstrated. However, their impact and effectiveness are highly dependent on the technology used for processed cheese and related products. The next step will be to create a new generation of bio-protective ferments.
Producing milk without the cow
The start-up Remilk has developed a microbial fermentation process to produce animal-free dairy products. The company uses a patented process to reproduce the properties of dairy proteins in the laboratory, improving their nutritional qualities in the process. Remilk products are thus cholesterol-free and don't contain any lactose. Aviv Wolff, founder of Remilk, says: "Unlike plant-based alternatives that lack flavour, texture and nutritional qualities, Remilk replaces milk-based ingredients seamlessly as it has the same characteristics and nutritional and aromatic profile, as well as the same capacity to melt, stretch and mix like animal milk proteins." (Source)
Celebrating Pasteur – the past and the future
The bicentennial of the birth of Louis Pasteur – who is originally from the town of Poligny in the Burgundy-Franche-Comté region – is a great moment to look back on the progress made and the paths to move forward regarding the sciences of microbiology. Both harnessing the power for health, sustainability and tasty food, as well as finding new and better ways of reducing the risks of foodborne pathogens.
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