Food Fermentation

The field of food fermentation

Fermentation can be regarded as one of the oldest technologies for the production of food products with desirable properties such as extended shelf life and good organoleptic properties. Finished fermented food products usually have an improved microbial stability and safety and some can even be stored at ambient temperatures for prolonged periods of time. Moreover, there are several examples of fermentation processes which lead to an increase in nutritional value or digestibility of food raw materials. Finally, food fermentation processes deliver products with increased palatability and taste for consumers. All these arguments boost the interest to explore food fermentation processes and more particular to link the diversity and activity of the community of fermenting microbes to product functionality. 



Our approach

Microorganisms are the drivers of food fermentation processes with lactic acid bacteria, yeasts and filamentous fungi as major work horses in various food fermentation processes ranging from artisanal to modern industrial processes (see figure). The study of fermentation processes requires a multidisciplinary approach with the discipline of Microbiology in the driving seat. Microbes deliver the special characteristics of fermented food products through their metabolic activity, secretion of enzymes in the food matrix and survival behaviour. Therefore, in-depth knowledge of individual micro-organisms and consortia of microbes present on and in substrates for fermentation, is key for understanding, controlling and predicting the outcome of a fermentation process.



Focus area

Future development and diversification of starter cultures for food fermentation processes will be based on deepening and expanding scientific knowledge of the behaviour of the complex communities of fermenting microbes. In particular, mechanistic knowledge of microbe-microbe interactions is applicable to optimise control of food fermentation processes and will therefore have impact on quality and safety of fermented food products. Based on these assumptions, the educational and research activities of the proposed chair will focus on understanding, controlling and improving the composition and functionality of complex microbial communities in fermented food products. Special focus will be on the role of microbe-microbe interactions and the consequences for product functionality.



Current activities of our research group

Our research projects aim at developing opportunities to engineer starter culture functionality without the necessity of using genetically modified microorganisms. Biodiversity mining (of culture collections and natural resources), population dynamics and adaptive evolution strategies are being applied to achieve the desired culture properties. One example is a project in which an in-depth analysis of the genetic and functional diversity of a complex cheese starter culture has been performed. In another project we analyse the formation of aroma compounds by yeast species found in fruit fermentations.

Our approach in studying microbial communities in food fermentation processes, delivers novel rules for the design of stable starter cultures for food applications.


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For more information about food fermentation or education/graduation projects mail to eddy.smid@wur.nl or check the tab "education/thesis" on the web-page of the Laboratory of Food Microbiology.