Fermented foods: Industry experts address formulation challenges, spotlight plant-based fortification and nutrition enhancement
27 Jul 2022 --- As F&B products enhanced with natural and nutrient-dense ingredients gain popularity, the fermented food space is proliferating into the mainstream. FoodIngredientsFirst speaks with industry experts from DSM, Kerry and Laita. They address the challenges faced when producing fermented foods – such as taste, texture, nutrition and shelf life – and give insight into what’s coming next in this space.
According to Kerry, fermented foods appeal to many consumers interested in taking proactive health steps with their foods.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly encouraged people to improve their health through immune support. Consumers believe fermented foods offer significant health support benefits and are looking for innovative fermented foods,” says Kay Marshallsay, global portfolio director of fermented products and salt reduction at Kerry.
Laita adds that fermented ingredients help enhance food and drinks’ nutritional and sensory profile, taking the clean label trend in a new direction.
Regarding health benefits, Mathieu Lucot, marketing manager at Laita, adds: “Fermented food and ingredients are rich in beneficial bacteria and gut-specific nutrients that aid digestion and repopulate the gut microbiome. High antioxidant properties and bacteria in fermented ingredients could trigger immune responses to fight against infections.”
According to DSM, with increased consumer curiosity and acceptance, brands have created innovative products that push the boundaries of the fermented foods category.
“We’re now seeing kombucha mixed with alcoholic spirits, sourdough focaccia, salads with fermented onions and fermented milk drinks in a range of fruity and herbal flavors,” says Karoline Kjaerulff, global business manager of fermented dairy at DSM F&B.
Natural ingredients and enhancing nutritional profile
There has been a growing interest in food and drinks enriched with natural ingredients rich in nutrients, Lucot details.
“Recent research revealed that fermentation enhances the nutritional profile of ingredients compared with non-fermented alternatives, helping in the prevention or treatment of metabolic diseases and improving overall health.”
According to Kerry, indulgent fermented beverages and snacking experiences from traditional fermented products are rapid growth markets.
“An emerging trend is the consumer desire of wanting the artisanal authenticity of fermented foods but in innovative applications such as kimchi crisps or whiskey-type flavors in low-alcohol beverages,” Marshallsay details.
During the peak of the pandemic, there was an increase in people exploring international foods to compensate for the lack of travel, Kjaerulff explains.
“Fermented foods like kimchi, miso and kombucha skyrocketed in popularity outside their countries of origin,” says Kjaerulff. “In fact, in 2020, there was a 149% increase in fermented foods in restaurant menus.”
Plant-based fortification and gut health
DSM notes that when we talk about fermented foods, familiar dairy favorites like yogurt often come to mind. These products have long been a top consumer choice – primarily driven by their perceived health benefits, great taste and availability.
“However, just as the plant-based movement has made its mark on the rest of the food and beverage industry, plant-based fermented products are beginning to take off as an emerging trend in the fermented food space,” Kjaerulff explains.
“While consumers are open to trying something new alongside the traditional dairy options, they are also aware that plant-based fermented products – like yogurts – tend to be lower in essential nutrients than their dairy counterparts. This trend is accompanied by increased fortified plant-based alternatives in the fermented category.”
As consumers demand gut and immune health supporting F&B, companies are developing concepts to answer this demand, Laita details.
“They are incorporating ingredients like fermented botanicals, fermented bamboo, fermented milk and non-digestible oligosaccharides to improve gut health,” says Lucot. “Companies are also looking to enhance the nutritional value of traditional ingredients via fermentation, such as antioxidants, GABA and lysine.”
New product categories
Kerry details that fermented foods are a rapidly expanding product category that includes crisps and chips, snacks and many different fermented beverages.
“Key support has been the growing consumer emphasis on taking proactive health measures to support their immune systems and fermented foods and beverages are believed to deliver immune support benefits,” says Marshallsay.
Laita details that fermented products have recently attracted scientific interest due to their enhanced nutritional content.
“The presence of antioxidants, prebiotic content, enzymes and other bioactive components in fermented ingredients can prevent or treat metabolic diseases,” adds Lucot.
Preferences based on demographic groups
Laita notes that brands have started incorporating nutrient-rich fermented ingredients in food and drink launches to support health.
“In addition to conventional yogurt and fermented milk, consumers are also taking an interest in several fermented non-dairy food and drinks, such as botanicals, soy, cereal, legumes and vegetables, due to several nutritional and therapeutic benefits,” says Lucot.
Meanwhile, DSM details that fermented foods are mainly seen as a way to improve immune, brain and gut health – all trending focus areas for consumers.
“However, each demographic has its nuances. Take consumers over 50 years-old, for example, who may be looking for yogurts with higher levels of protein to support their higher daily requirements,” Kjaerulff explains.
“Or consumers under 30 years-old might prefer to eat their plant-based or dairy yogurts in a smaller, on-the-go format, to suit their busy lifestyles.”
Challenges in fermented foods: Taste and texture
DSM details that creating plant-based fermented products with the right taste and texture is a big challenge for manufacturers, as plant-based ingredients can often impart an off-taste.
“Consumers usually prefer products that mimic more traditional dairy flavors, so any beany off-notes often associated with plant proteins can present a tough-to-overcome stumbling block in this category,” Kjaerulff adds.
According to Laita, although there is a rise in demand for plant-based products, their flavor or taste profile can limit consumption.
“Research shows that fermentation may help to improve the sensory qualities of plant-based products to increase their appeal and can also extend the shelf life of perishable products,” says Lucot.
DSM adds that another challenge is formulating yogurts with nutritional values comparable to their dairy equivalents.
“DSM’s complete plant-based protein, CanolaPro, contains all the amino acids needed to support muscle growth, so consumers can enjoy the same benefits as their dairy counterparts without sacrificing taste, texture or health,” says Kjaerulff.
Fermented flavors and sustainability
Marshallsay adds that delivering authentic flavors at scale is also a key challenge in producing fermented foods as fermentation is a highly technical process.
“There are challenges in developing fermented food products concerning taste, texture, nutrition and shelf life. The product formulation is a key challenge for these products and fermentation expertise is key to developing and producing these at scale.”
“[Environmental] sustainability is a key challenge in brewing fermentation and the application of enzymes can help reduce the carbon footprint by improving the brewing efficiency to produce more alcohol, in less time, using less energy and water,” Marshallsay continues.
Kerry adds that developing fermented flavors creates challenges for formulation, stability and longevity of flavor – all of which can be solved by applying creation expertise. Extensive technical fermentation expertise is required to address these challenges.
Meat alternatives and shelf life
In explaining meat alternatives within the fermented food space, Marshallsay says: “Mycoprotein and algae fermentation develop protein, but the metabolism and physiology are different when compared to animal meat systems.”
“This creates challenges for developing these plant-based proteins in taste, texture, nutrition and shelf life.”
“Another important challenge is salt reduction as well as the challenge for these types of products to revolve around a long ingredient list and finding ways to shorten these,” Marshallsay explains.
“Product formulation will be a key challenge for these products and plant-protein applications expertise is key to developing and producing these at scale.”
Regulations on salt and clean-label
According to Kerry, governments worldwide are pursuing salt reduction and vinegar-based fermented preservation solutions can play a significant role in helping reduce the presence of sodium in the production process.
“Government-mandated salt reduction in many foods, including new fermented foods as kimchi crisps, create texture, mouthfeel and taste challenges that require significant application expertise to solve,” Marshallsay details.
Laita adds that producing clean-label products is possible through fermentation.
“Scientific development shows the positive effect of fermentation technologies on the sensory profile of food and drinks and gives food and drink manufacturers an opportunity to produce clean-label products free from artificial ingredients,” Lucot concludes.
By Nicole Kerr
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