Food Biotechnology 101 (I) - Fermentation Technology
Connie Yeung, HK BioTek Intern
What is food biotechnology?
Biotechnology is the utilization of biologically derived molecules, structures, cells or organisms to carry out a specific process to develop or make products. Food biotechnology is the application of biotechnology in modifying the genes of our food sources like animals, plants and microorganisms during food production. Classic method – fermentation and modern method – genetic engineering are two common ways in performing food biotechnology.
What are the benefits of food biotechnology?
The advantages of using food biotechnology are manifold, with an enhancement in the nutritional values of food products being the most remarkable one. In recent years, biotechnology has been applied in cultivating different kinds of crops and hence the new species can have desired nutritional properties. Golden Rice containing extra beta-carotene and iron is a typical example for this.
Biotech food products are also designed to be resistant to pests and diseases so farmers can use fewer chemicals like pesticides and herbicides. On one hand, reducing the use of chemicals can help protect the wildlife and maintain the water quality. On the other hand, consumers do not need to worry about ingesting the chemicals when they eat fruits and vegetables. Farmers are one of the beneficiaries as well since those biotech crops can thrive under unfavourable conditions like cold, drought and flood. As a result, their economic benefits can be guaranteed.
Back in 1857, Pasteur proved that fermentation was caused by microorganisms after conducting an experiment. Fermentation is defined as a metabolic process in which organisms convert carbohydrates into alcohols, acids or gases under anaerobic condition. In food production, fermentation is a desirable process of biochemical modification of primary food products brought by microorganisms and their enzymes.
In fact, there are two common types of fermentation, namely alcoholic fermentation which is carrid out by yeast and lactic acid fermentation which is carried out by bacteria. The main difference between these two processes is the products formed: the former produces ethanol and carbon dioxide while the latter produces lactic acid. Hence, these properties allow them to be applied in manufacturing various kinds of food products. For example, alcoholic fermentation can produce beer, wine, vinegar and bread. On the other hand, lactic acid fermentation is suitable for making cheese, salami and sauerkraut.
Fermentation plays an indispensable role in food processing, for it helps preserve food products. After fermentation, the growth of spoilage microorganisms in food is inhibited, thereby prolonging the life of the products. Additionally, our diet can be enriched in terms of flavor, aroma, textures and nutritional values. The cooking time can also be reduced significantly. Therefore, fermentation is beneficial to both manufacturers and consumers.