A growing role for yeast in the sustainable production of food and beverages

Why do we write on this topic:

How will we feed the world’s population 50 years from now? The solution can well include yeast (partially). Professor of Nutritional Microbiology Eddie Smid explains the solutions Wageningen & Research University is currently looking for.

Innovation Origins recently published an article about the innovative beer made by Cloudwater Brew Co. Their press release gave material for thought.

The professor vows that it’s not just beer. “Science is getting better and better at domesticating yeast. In the future, yeasts, fungi and other microorganisms are set to play a major role in the sustainable production of healthy and delicious foods and drinks.” A large proportion of the foods and drinks we consume every day are fermented. Bread, chocolate, coffee, yogurt, cheese and beer.

Fermentation is one of the oldest techniques we have for preserving food. It started when the human race began farming and the harvest was more than what the village needed at that time. Refrigerators did not exist at that time. Food and drinks were dried, pickled, or fermented instead. “We can brew before we can write and read,” says the professor excitedly.

Professor Eddie Smith

Hybrid yeast strain

Fermentation is the process by which, through the action of microorganisms such as yeasts or bacteria, raw plants or animal products are converted into healthy, easily digestible food. Yeast is a microorganism, a unicellular fungus. Fermenting microorganisms act as a barrier to the growth of pathogenic and caries-causing microorganisms. They also add nutrients, vitamins, and/or flavor/flavor.

Semolina: There are all kinds of fungi, especially multicellular, which excel in producing good, strong flavours. These fungi are perceptible to the naked eye as thin threads. Take blue cheese as an example. Or miso (a type of maggi), native to Asia – natural flavor enhancers made from fungi. ”

Ten years ago, research by Delft University of Technology showed that yeast strains can also consist of a mixture of two different types of yeast. “This is what we call a yeast hybrid strain. This discovery has allowed us to continue learning more and more about the properties of yeast.” Through this, the British have now created a hybrid yeast strain that excels in certain characteristics. “In the process, they take advantage of yeast’s natural ability to reproduce sexually and create a reproductive program. That way, you can exert a lot of influence on the properties of yeast and multicellular fungi.”

Alternative to animal protein

The uses for yeast and fungi extend far beyond beer. For example, multicellular fungi could also be useful in developing an alternative to animal proteins. “We have now realized that it is not sustainable to rely so heavily on animal proteins for our food supply. Something has to replace it. We are currently conducting research in our laboratory in Wageningen to identify fungi that we can use to produce high-quality protein.”

As a matter of fact, the protein composition of fungi is very similar to that of meat. While we rarely use mushrooms as a protein source at the moment, we will likely be eating burgers made with fungus proteins in the near future. “We are now studying whether we can improve the quality of the grain protein by fermenting it with mushrooms.”

“We now realize that it is not sustainable to rely too heavily on animal proteins for our food supply. Something has to replace it. We are currently conducting research in our laboratory in Wageningen to identify fungi that we can use to produce high-quality protein. “

Eddie Smith

It may be the solution to protein deficiency for children who grew up in rice-reliant countries. Often they do not get enough protein of adequate quality, which hinders their growth. Rice is a poor source of protein. However, if you ferment the rice with fungi, you are partially converting it into fungal biomass.” In other words, fermentation – with the help of the fungi – adds something to the rice, resulting in an end product with much better nutritional value. “It is a very cheap method and it can be access to produce a protein of high nutritional value.

It smells like meat

There are actually plenty of meat substitutes on the market that have a structure that approximates that of pork or beef. But when it comes to taste, this is not the case. One of Smid’s PhD students is working on a project where she uses yeast to make meat smell after all. A hamburger tastes like a hamburger only if it smells the same.

Yeast naturally produces a lot of vitamin B1, which is a sulfur-containing vitamin. Smaid explains that the typical aroma of grilled meat is largely caused by the decomposition of the byproducts of thiamine (vitamin B1). “We looked for yeast that naturally produces a lot of vitamin B1. We make them go through some kind of evolution, so that they produce more vitamin B1. In other words, we’re not genetically engineering, we’re getting the yeast strain in a natural way that produces a lot of thiamine.” Added to existing meat alternatives, these products come close to a beef steak or hamburger in both taste and flavor.”

Delicious non-alcoholic beer

Then there is the advent of non-alcoholic beer with a lower alcohol content which can now be made even more flavorful thanks to the innovative use of new types of yeast. When you keep a non-alcoholic beer in a bar, it still tastes no better than the alcohol-based alternatives.

why is that? “Without alcohol, aromas are hard to retain. So, you have to take a different approach. We created a culture. This means we combine two types of yeast together that have never met in nature, but both have properties you need to have a delicious low-alcohol beer. One produces a lot of fruity aromas. The other is responsible for the formation of carbon dioxide and the essential aromatic substances for beer.”

In this respect, the situation is quite different from what it was ten years ago, when Smid also reached out to the industry with these kinds of ideas. At the time, not many companies were eager to work with new brewing processes. Now, there is a greater sense of urgency to develop alternative, non-animal products. “Basically, the research we do is becoming increasingly more important. More and more companies are interested in making high-quality alternatives to meat. Not only food producers, but ingredient producers also want to use fermentation, for example, to create new flavors.”

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