09 May 2016 --- The health benefits of fermented foods are being reported on increasingly, with western consumers widely opening up to new concepts. Consumption of fermented foods can be traced back thousands of years, if not longer, but it seems in 2016, buoyed by new product developments and consumers’ heightened awareness of the negative perceptions of processed foods, fermented foods are to establish themselves as a major food trend. FoodIngredientsFirst explores the changes in interest of fermented foods.
Fermentation is part of one of the top products trends for 2016: Processing the natural way. Fermented products are natural and easy to understand and this has been emphasized with an increased amount of fermented products with and within the dairy category.
During Roman times, sauerkraut was eaten because of its health giving properties; in ancient India, it was not uncommon to enjoy a pre-dinner drink of lassi; Koreans have being consuming kimchi for years while other Asian cultures eat pickled fermentations of cabbage, turnips, cucumbers and carrots.
While fermented foods have a rich and varied history, in recent times, owing to advances in food technology and preparation, this traditions of fermented foods have largely fallen out of favour.
For instance, the amount of probiotics (living organisms within fermented foods that are said to promote a healthy digestive system) consumed has declined significantly in recent years.
Whereas previous generations ate a diet full of probiotics, current generations consume a diet which is sugar-filled.
One example is that pasteurized milk and yogurt has becoming increasingly popular, replacing raw consumption.
Change in dietary habits
There is no doubt that global dietary habits are changing frequently and the consumption of fermented food appears to be in charge charge. Such foods can be seen in local grocery stores such as Whole Foods along with high-end restaurants. Consumers are being are enticed by the purported health benefits of not only fermented foods but fermented drinks, such as kefir, which is enticing them to try out more fermented options.
Kimberly Snyder, a US nutritionist, said: “Raw, cultured vegetables are among the most important foods today. If the balance of good bacteria is restored, you’ll be able to shed excess weight, your skin will improve, and your energy will be boosted.”
The rise of Kombucha
Fermented products have recently been sprinkled with stardust, with the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna photographed supping on exotic tea drink kombucha.
Dubbed the elixir of life and the immortality tea; Kombucha, the ancient fermented drink from China, is one of 2016’s hottest trends. A sustainable, wellbeing-boosting alternative to artificial soft drinks, kombucha is made from tea and sugar, fermented with live bacteria and yeasts.
Kombucha is any of a variety of fermented, lightly effervescent sweetened black or green tea drinks which contain multiple species of yeast and bacteria along with the organic acids, active enzymes, amino acids, and polyphenols produced by these microbes.
Leading the Kombucha revolution in the UK, Flower of Life's Equinox Kombucha is a small artisan brewery, founded in 2012. Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst Joe Kidder, Sales Director at Equinox Kombucha said: “We are continually growing here at Equinox Kombucha as you have to in order to keep up with demand of kombucha.”
“I expect Kombucha to grow substantially over the next few years due to people caring more about their diets and the need for a great tasting healthier alternative to the more traditional soft drinks,” claims Kidder. “Over in the USA the Kombucha market was worth $400m in 2015. I would expect the UK market to follow a similar growth pattern albeit not to the same level.”
Equinox Kombucha is now distributed to over 500 health food stores, cafes and bars across Britain, including Whole Foods Market, Planet Organic and Nutricentre, with an exciting new collaboration with a leading high street food vendor kicking off in June. Equinox is raw, lightly carbonated and unpasteurised and has a 12-month shelf life.
Kombucha Equinox comes in four delectable flavors, each representing the key elements in traditional Chinese medicine: Earth, an original blend of tea, sugar, and organic kombucha cultures; Fire, which adds organic ginger to the mix; Air, adding a blend of Wild Berries, and Water, a yummy Raspberry & Elderflower concoction.
How the fermentation process works
Fermented foods are foods which have undertaken a process of lacto-fermentation: this means the natural bacteria feeds on the sugar and starch in the food which creates lactic acid.
This process helps preserve the food and results in the creation of enzymes, vitamins, Omega-3, fatty acids, as well as a number of probiotics; and the natural fermentation of foods has been shows to preserve nutrients in food and break food down to a more digestible form.
There has been countless research papers carried out into probiotics, which are actual living organisms that promote a healthy digestive system.
According to ‘Guidelines for the Evaluation of Probiotics in Food’ from the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization Working group, probiotics are defined as “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”.
Some of the benefits that probiotics can confer include helping those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome as well as inflammatory diseases of the intestines. Research suggests they may also improve allergies in babies and the health of people with weak immune systems.
Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, told the BBC: “There are many fermented foods out there and not may have had formal testing so it’s difficult to know what they do."
He said: “We think they can allow production of chemicals called short-chain fatty acids, which improve the immune system, by keeping it balanced and stopping it over-reacting.”
But he said studies on the impact of probiotics on humans are still not comprehensive.
Other benefits include:
Improved absorption of food
Having sufficient digestive enzymes and an adequate balance of gut bacteria helps the body absorb more nutrients in the food. This will help consumers offset the need for vitamins and supplements.
Food preservation and money saving
Lacto-fermentation allows users to store foods for longer periods without losing nutrients if the food was canned. Additionally, by adding fermented foods to a diet it offers a cheaper alternative to buying expensive supplement and vitamins.
Some key trends
One key trend is the increased amount of fermented products within the dairy category and the increase in product launched tracked with kefir. But fermentation is also used outside of the dairy category. Some of the key categories for fermentation are sauces and seasonings, bakery, drinks and diary alternatives.
The key markets for non-diary fermented products identified by Innova Market Insights are North American and Europe, which are driving non-fermented NPD globally.
By region, Asia accounts for over 50 percent of non-dairy fermented product launches that Innova has tracked. Western Europe, North America and Latin America are the other territories with the highest CAGRs (Compound Annual Growth) rates of non-dairy fermented products that Innova tracked over the past five years.
A further trend is that diary alternative fermented drinks have been rapidly increasing over recent years, with an average annual growth of 76 percent. The category will continue to expand due to an increased amount of consumers focusing on “free from” products, including free from dairy.
Examples of fermented foods and beverages
Miso (Japanese fermented soy beans) is used in many dishes as a seasoning. Miso is now taking off globally, with the amount of miso product launches doubling since 2011. Kimchi (fermented vegetables) is also gradually emerging, following the success of miso.
Sourdough breads are also becoming more popular. Within the bread and bread product (bakery sub category), the use of sourdough has nearly doubled in recent years, growing from 4 percent of launches tracked in 2012 to 7.5 percent in 2015. Sourdough’s percentage share of bakery products has increased in all regions except Asia. The biggest uplift is found in Europe where sourdough is already a much part of the bakery category than in other regions.
Kimchi is a popular dish in Korea and the spicy fermented cabbage is filled with probiotics. Research also indicates that it contributes to colon health, lower cholesterol and a stronger immune system as well as boasting anti-aging and immune-supporting properties. In fact, kimchi is so popular in Korean that Koreans are known to throw kimchi parties. Kimchi is also proving popular outside of its domestic Korea.
Kefir originates from the Caucasus Mountains and this fermented beverage is consumed most commonly in Eastern Europe, Southwest Asia and Russia. Fermentation within dairy alternative drinks is still small, however product launch activity is increasing year on year. One of the new fermented non-dairy products to watch is kefir. According to research, kefir may reduce irritation in the intestines, preventing toxins and other pathogens from getting into the blood. Kefir is becoming increasingly popular in the marketplace. Companies such as Lifeway Foods and Obi Probiotic Soda are paving the way with different kefir varieties and on-trend flavors that are helping to push forwards the fermented beverage market.
by John Reynolds and Elizabeth Kenward
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