Fermentation Brief : Do we really understand this technique?

In recent years we have often heard of fermentation in food and drink; in some, it arouses a lot of interest, to others it can make the muzzle turn up. Foods like bread, yogurt, cheese, or drinks like wine and beer have been part of our daily diet for hundreds of years.

This technique was mainly used as a conservation method and it is believed that agriculture has also evolved hand in hand with the fermentation processes because in a world without refrigerators, what sense would it have made to produce so much without being able to store products for the most difficult seasons? 

This method allows us to preserve vegetables during the winter, to transform the abundance of summer fruit into alcohol, and to better assimilate the nutrients of cereals and legumes. It also makes it possible to transform the perishable milk into yogurt and kefir, as well as into cheeses, some of which are capable of being preserved for years.

Fermentation has never been more popular among bartenders and chefs but do we understand this technique?

Before the birth of biological chemistry, the processes of fermentation and putrefaction were confusedly united with the digestion of food, generally in a vitalistic perspective. Thanks to the continuous scientific discoveries in the field of chemistry and micro-biology today we know that there are different types of fermentation (alcoholic, acetic, lactic, etc.) but they all have a factor in common, namely the transformation of  raw material (liquid or solid) through the action of yeasts (artificial or natural) in certain micro-biological conditions.

To give a more precise but clear definition of this process, we can say that it can be carried out in the absence of oxygen where microorganisms, yeasts, and bacteria, exploit the sugars present in food to live.

In addition to allowing us to store food for a certain period, they partly change the flavor and improve the nutritional aspects of the product thanks to good microorganisms that also prevent harmful bacteria from deteriorating it.

According to ‘’The Noma Guide to fermentation’’

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’’You taste as much with your brain as you do with your tongue’’.

As regards the world of bartending, the most important and interesting aspect of fermentation in the hospitality sector is that we are talking about a technique for obtaining different and unique flavors, but at the same time it does not allow us to standardize and we cannot be sure of doing a drink or dish that always tastes the same.

Depending on the yeasts and bacteria involved in the process, we will have different types of fermentation, such as lactic fermentation, alcoholic fermentation, acetic fermentation, and others which we will see later and which will take their name from the most important substance produced.

So based on the greater presence of certain microorganisms we can make sure that a specific fermentation takes place or by creating the optimal conditions for that bacterium or yeast (spontaneous fermentation) or we make sure that the microorganism we need is present in the majority ( Fermentation with starter).

As we have said,  many bacteria give benefits, but we must remember that many others cause diseases, therefore it is important to know well what you are going to do to prevent unpleasant inconveniences, but we decided to talk about it in several steps so as not to get confused and to make your reading more fluent and lighter; if you want to know more about the topic, how to preserve them and about different types of fermentation click here.


Written by Pasquale Bergamo