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Sustainability Food Innovation

The rich past and promising future of fermentation

4 min read
AUTHOR: Ross Carver-Carter
A close-up image of fermenting grapes

Humans have been harnessing the power of fermentation for thousands of years, both to enhance flavour and prolong food shelf-life. But despite its long and storied use in food preparation, fermentation still holds untapped potential for sustainable innovation.

Over the last century or so, fermentation pioneers have been busy refining this ancient art for use in the alternative protein sector. By using genetically modified microorganisms in specially designed brewing tanks, they can produce functional ingredients such as heme and egg proteins without the need for animal husbandry. Dubbed “precision fermentation”, the process has been heralded as the “the most important green technology ever” by the prominent eco-activist George Monbiot.

Curated from the Food Matters Live podcast, the following episodes trace the rich past and promising future of fermentation and explore whether it can help us meet the sustainability challenges of tomorrow. You can learn from experts in the alternative protein sector first-hand at the Sustainable Food Forum, with guest speakers from the Good Food Institute and Redefine Meat in attendance.

The secrets behind mankind’s fascination with fermentation

A person holding a mason jar containing kombucha and a scobi

Almost every major civilisation in human history has practised the art of fermentation, using the technique to brew alcohol, leaven bread and preserve food. Today, fermented foods continue to make up around a third of the produce consumed worldwide with consumer interest growing for the sector. So, what is it about fermentation that makes it so enduring, how has this ancient art shaped our history, and what role will it play in the future?

Joining us to explore the fascinating history and rich traditions around fermentation are Simon Poffley, Founder of The Fermentarium and Eve Kalinik, a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Author, and Podcaster. Tune in to learn about the health benefits of fermented foods and how you can begin fermenting at home.

Fermentation: the future of food?

A series of fermentation tanks in a modern factory

Blending ancient wisdom with modern tech, new and refined forms of fermentation are arising which could help to future-proof our food system and minimise its environmental impact.

Take precision fermentation, a process which uses genetically modified microorganisms to produce proteins, enzymes and other key compounds. Or Biomass fermentation, a refined fermentation technique that uses the naturally high-protein content and rapid growth of microorganisms to make large amounts of protein-rich food. Companies such as Quorn use this to produce their range of plant-based “meats”.

Its advocates say that fermentation factories are key to feeding a growing population sustainably, fulfilling our demand for protein without using the land and feed required for animal husbandry.

Join us as we delve into the science behind fermentation and meet those at the forefront of this quickly evolving industry. In the studio to discuss this exciting field is Dr Tim Finnigan, Chief Scientific Officer at Quorn Foods and Carlotte Lucas, Corporate Engagement Manager at the Good Food Institute.

Inspiring the next generation of alt protein scientists

A series of test-tubes in a circular container with a blue hue

The alternative protein sector is a burgeoning market encompassing a range of technologies, from lab-grown meat and precision fermentation to plant-based burgers and insect proteins. The industry will be key in achieving a sustainable food future, but despite exciting breakthroughs, concerns have been raised that progress isn’t moving fast enough.

Enter the Good Food Institute’s Alt Protein Project, a programme that finds and trains students at key research universities to help accelerate the adoption of sustainable proteins. Joining the studio on behalf of the project is Amy Huang, Innovation Manager at the Good Food Institute. Along the way, she discusses the programme’s key objectives and shares how budding students can get involved.

Join the conversation at the Sustainable Food Forum

Join us at the Sustainable Food Forum for a panel discussion exploring the next generation of sustainable production processes and tech. Spanning precision fermentation, lab-grown meat, “big data” and emerging AI, it promises to be an exciting and informative talk with plenty of actionable insights. Not secured a ticket yet? It’s not too late. Simply enter the code SFFSEPTEMBER at checkout to receive a £225 discount and join the conversation.