Technically, fermented foods or drinks were among the first processed food products consumed by humans. For centuries, fermentation has been regarded as a preservation technique for extending the shelf-life of perishable foods. This age-old process has recently gained the attention of consumers due to their health benefits and distinct taste properties.
Consumers are becoming more conscious about their gut health and healthy bacteria are found in fermented foods. With recent advances in the understanding of gut-brain interactions, fermented foods have also been suggested as an efficient way for particularly cognitive function improvements.
Further, the aroma profile and taste sensation of fermented foods are also associated with the authentic and natural foods. According to “What’s Trending in Nutrition” survey conducted by Pollock Communications and Today’s Dietitians in which 2,050 registered dietitians and nutritionists (RDNs) polled, “clean eating” and plant-based diets would be the two most popular diet trends for 2018 whereas the ketogenic diet (a low-carb regimen) that allows plentiful fats and protein intake— has moved to the No. 3 in this survey.
Improving the gut health
Fermented foods – yogurt, kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut are the No. 1 superfoods for year 2018 (based on consumer thinking and eating habits) which showed that the consumers are “going with their gut” thus looking for foods which improve the gut health and overall well-being.
The rest of the 2018 superfoods rankings included: Avocado, Seeds, Nuts, Green tea, Ancient grains, Kale, Exotic fruits, Coconut products and Salmon. Several researches revealed the health benefits of fermented foods and foods like kimchi and gochujang are being reinvented. Thus, fermentation these days is going beyond the purpose of preservation as consumers explore new flavours and added wellness benefits.
During the forecast period of 2018-2023, the global fermented foods and drinks market is considered to observe the CAGR of 7.2% showing the competition in the market which is driven by the increasing health and wellness market trend and the growing beverages market demand.
Fermented foods are “coming back” in the Western markets due to their perception by consumers as healthy food. The trend of natural, clean-label and organic foods is also driving force of fermented food and drinks market which can be segmented by type (fermented vegetables, dairy and beverages), distributional channel (online stores, super markets, health stores) and others.
Digestive and immune health
Yogurt is one of the best known fermented foods which had already moved into public awareness with the rise of probiotic yogurt in the mid-1980s due to its association with the health benefits mainly with regard to digestive and immune health. The major categories for fermentation except the dairy category include bakery and beverages, sauces and seasonings, pickles such as sauerkraut and kimchi, sourdough bread and kombucha.
A range of fermented soy bean products is also increasingly getting popular, including miso and natto from Japan and tempeh (used as a meat replacement) from Indonesia. The major giants in the global fermented food and drinks market includes Agua Via Natural, Balance Water Company, Cargill, Comexim Ltd, ConAgra Foods Inc., Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc., and DSM.
Shift in the diet pattern
As discussed above, the “clean eating” trend was the most important diet trend for 2018 followed by “plant-based diets,” according to the survey. This movement towards clean eating exhibits the change in how consumers view the food. “Clean eating” is just a balanced approach to nutrition by restricting the highly processed foods and fast foods which enhances the interest of consumers towards eating more minimally processed whole foods, which are rich in protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
However, the disadvantages of this include the extra-obsessiveness with eating choices, and needlessly restriction of food choices by consumers. Consumers nowadays look for the nutritional information and equating diet with the health benefits and fermented foods are meeting the consumer expectations of “clean labelling” and a desire to avoid synthetic additives and preservatives.
The quick rise of fermented foods shows that consumers have expanded their definition of wellness to include benefits such as gut health. It also suggests that consumers are digging deeper for information about the food they eat and in this case, they find why yogurt, kefir or kimchi is so good for them thus increasing the consumption of fermented foods.
Unique taste experience
Fermented foods not only satisfy the desire for traditional ingredients but also exhibit a probiotic effect and deliver a unique taste experience without additional flavours. These days, consumers are even ready to pay higher retail price for the products which are manufactured using the trusted and recognised ingredients.
Fermentation reduces phytic acid – inherent in whole grains that is thought to inhibit the body’s absorption of minerals. Thus fermentation process enhances the bioavailability of minerals. From a sensory view, fermentation reduces the bitterness of the phytic acid and promotes the development of aroma precursors that deliver a distinctive flavour profile and an indulgent, balanced taste. Fermented foods are also rich in enzymes, probiotics, Vit B and ?-3 fatty acids.
Opportunities for new product development
Since fermentation is a natural and authentic process, numerous options are associated with the new product development in fermented foods category which can attract the consumer in the supermarket shelves. The improvement in the digestive health is a prominent spot of the fermented foods for continued research. There are absolutely unexplored potential pathways and benefits of fermented foods.
Over the past decade, science has begun to scrape the surface of the role of fermentation, gut bacteria and the gut microbiome in human health. Moreover, the consumer interest in fermented foods will only drive more research and increase the availability of fermented foods.
Subject for research
More studies are required to be conducted on fermented foods to understand the types of bacteria and microorganisms present in these foods, and their mechanisms of action related to potential health benefits. Also, activity of microorganisms in foods – how long do they stay alive and under what conditions is also another subject for research.
With the push for ‘clean,’ the food industry can leverage this by exploring new whole food ingredients for commonly consumed fermented products. Further, there is a need to design the innovative and attractive packaging formats for packing the fermented foods which maintains the integrity of live probiotic cultures without compromising the convenience and aesthetic aspects of product.
Thus there is a mega-trend of positive image of fermentation as well as fermented products. It is a natural way of processing food and incorporating the healthy components which is therefore increasingly liked by the consumers.
(The author is PhD research scholar, dept of food engg & tech, SLIET. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com)