Fermentation has numerous purposes, including giving new flavours and textures to food, prolonging food shelf life, making some nutrients more easily absorbed by the body, and providing a habitat for probiotics to develop and multiply. Fermentation is a natural process that turns carbohydrates into compounds that people may utilise.
Mika Zorgman, a product developer at Tabufood, shares some insights about fermentation and how food producers can utilise it.
Tabufood was started in 2014 on the small-scale production of fermentation of good quality organic non-GMO soybeans and rice. The team discovered the need for fermented products in South Africa, as well as better food options for the small but rapidly growing plant-based market.
“Tabufood is a 100% plant-based food manufacturer that produces tofu, tempeh, natto, amazaki, sauerkraut and fermented vegetables. We import high-quality organic miso and shoyu/tamari sauce as well as organic seaweeds which are extremely mineral rich,” she explains.
What is fermentation?
Fermentation is a chemical reaction carried out by microorganisms that transform carbohydrates into a new substance. From ancient times, humans have used the natural fermentation process to create a variety of items such as meals, medicines, and energy.
“Fermentation has many functions such as adding new flavours and textures to food, extending the shelf life of foods, making some nutrients more easily absorbed by the body, and providing an environment for probiotics to grow and reproduce. Fermentation is a natural process that converts sugars into products that can be useful to humans,” she says.
Market in South Africa
According to Zorgman, there is a lot of space to grow the food market with fermented products in South Africa. More importantly, it is good to have a support base with the new fermented products on the market.
“South Africa itself has a long history of fermentation, the most popular traditional products are amasi (sour milk), and amahewu (a non-alcoholic fermented maize drink). Other examples are iIncwancwa (a sour porridge from maize or sorghum gruel) and umqombothi (sorghum beer). These products have been around for hundreds of years and form part of the African culture,” she explains.
Other well-known products that are fermented include beer and mageu.
Zorgman says the temperature of fermentation may vary depending on the outcome and product being produced, ranging from medium to high.
“The temperature of fermentation may vary on the result and product that is being fermented medium. The fermentation process is controlled at a constant 28°C–38°C, so the biogas output is stable and the conversion efficiency is high. The temperature of high-temperature fermentation is controlled at 48°C–60°C, thus the decomposition speed is fast, resulting in a short processing time and high gas production,” she says.
What are the benefits of fermentation?
Zorgman explains that modern advances in chemical preservation, refrigeration and transportation efficiency have not resulted in the abandonment of fermented foods. At least in traditional dietary practices, fermented foods and beverages remain widespread, currently accounting for approximately one-third of the human diet globally.
“Moreover, as scientists continue to uncover health-promoting properties of ancestral dietary patterns (for example, the Mediterranean diet, the traditional Japanese diet, and hunter-gatherer diets), by extension there is a new interest and examination of the fermented foods that are often part of such ancient diets,” she explains.
Re-emerging research indicates that fermentation may magnify the known benefits of a wide variety of foods and herbs, influencing the bioavailability and activity of the chemical constituents. This is in addition, Zorgman adds, as our knowledge of the human microbiome increases (intestinal microbiota in particular).
“It is becoming increasingly clear that there are untold connections between the ways in which microbes act upon dietary items pre-consumption, and in turn, the ways in which these fermented dietary items influence our own microbiota,” she says.
Sign up for Farmer’s Inside Track: Join our exclusive platform for new entrants into farming and agri-business, with newsletters and podcasts.