Fermentation is an age-old concept. In fact, it stems back to the Neolithic age at a time when virtually nobody understood any of the science behind the fermentation process. Many think of fermentation in terms of good wine or a loaf of sourdough bread, but did you know that bio-fermentation is one of the things that keeps us alive?
Unbeknownst to many, there are actually three different standard methods of fermentation. Each works differently and accomplishes different goals. All of them are a necessity.
What is fermentation?
The fermentation process takes place when there is a lack of oxygen. It also requires the presence of an effective microorganism. These bio-digesters break down carbohydrates and glucose into acids and alcohols. Some microbes even see fermentation as a viable alternative to aerobic respiration. The acids and alcohols produced make food more nutritious and keep it from spoiling for long periods of time. Some companies even rely on fermentation on a commercial scale. Typically, this is done in a fermentation facility and often with the use of renewable energy.
Foods developed by standard methods aren’t always as nutritious as their fermented counterparts. In fact, foods developed through the fermentation are rich in probiotics which are known to aid both gut health as well as the immune system. They also work to neutralize several anti-nutrients. One of these is known as phytic acid and can cause distinct mineral deficiencies in the human body.
Types of Fermentation
As mentioned, there are three types of fermentation that work in various ways. These include:
- Lactic acid fermentation: You’ve likely heard of lactic acid in terms of body chemistry during exercise but it also has a notable impact on the foods people consume. During the lactic acid fermenting process, bacteria and some yeast strains break down starches and sugars into lactic acid. Lactic acid is essential for preserving many types of food. Some popular examples include kimchi, yogurt, pickles, and sourdough loaves. You can even ferment organic vegetables to create items like raw sauerkraut by following traditional European recipes.
- Ethanol fermentation: The ethanol fermenting process is also known as alcohol fermenting. This is when yeasts break down the pyruvate molecules in starches and sugars into carbon dioxide and alcohol. What’s left is what is used to produce wine and beer. It’s no surprise that ethanol fermenting is one of the most popular, so to speak.
- Acetic acid fermentation: Grains and fruit contain various kinds of starches and sugars. When these starches and sugars begin to ferment, they develop a telltale sour smell and taste that is commonly associated with vinegar and certain condiments. Popular examples of products fermented with acetic acid include kombucha and apple cider vinegar. Many associate this process with certain healthy foods and ingredients.
The fermentation process is also delicate as it’s one of the pathways for the development of E. coli. E. coli can anaerobically ferment and the E. coli presence is dangerous for humans. Bio-fermentation also impacts glycerol production. On top of this, E. coli has been shown to ferment glycerol into ethanol, formate, and hydrogen.
Steps of Bio-Fermentation
Bio fermentation is broken down into two distinct steps: the primary step and the second step. In primary bio-fermentation, begin to putrefy bacteria and work to prevent it from colonizing any foodstuffs. Carbohydrates are converted into alcohols and acids. In secondary bio-fermentation, alcohol levels rise. Simultaneously, microbes, yeasts, and other cultures die. The secondary step takes much longer and can last for days or even weeks.
There is much more to fermentation that is still being studied to this day. Its applications in the renewable energy market and in foodstuffs are remarkable. One thing is for certain though: Fermentation is a necessary component of human life.