Fermentation is a metabolic process converting sugar to acids, gases, or alcohol. It occurs in yeast and bacteria, and also in oxygen-starved muscle cells, as in the case of lactic acid fermentation.
Ancient Fermentation Uses
Humans have used fermentation for millennia, not just for food preservation but also to create alcoholic beverages and leavened bread. It's one of the oldest biotechnology forms, predating recorded history.
Fermentation vs. Respiration
Unlike respiration, fermentation does not require oxygen, making it anaerobic. Respiration yields more energy but fermentation is advantageous in environments lacking oxygen.
Fermentation often employs beneficial microorganisms. Lactobacillus in yogurt transforms lactose into lactic acid, while Saccharomyces cerevisiae in bread dough ferments sugar into CO2, causing dough to rise.
Health Benefits Surplus
Fermented foods offer probiotics, boosting gut health. Fermentation can also increase food safety by outcompeting harmful bacteria and can enhance nutrient bioavailability.
Diverse Cultural Impact
Different cultures have distinct fermented foods: Sauerkraut in Germany, Kimchi in Korea, and Kombucha in China. These traditions reflect historical adaptation to local environments and available resources.
Industrial Fermentation Scale
Today, fermentation is pivotal in biotech. It produces antibiotics, like penicillin, and hormones, such as insulin. Large-scale fermentation employs bioreactors, dramatically improving yield and efficiency.