While fermentation is far from a new concept, dating back thousands of years to when the first alcoholic drinks were being responsibly enjoyed, precision fermentation offers an alternative method for meeting the growing food requirement.
The precision aspect of precision fermentation derives from the fact that the micro-organisms have not been discovered in nature, but specifically designed to produce a desired outcome, such as producing protein molecules.
The potential has already been oversold, with independent thinktank RethinkX projecting back in 2019 the collapse of dairy and cattle farms to make way for a sustainable fermentation takeover.
In addition to being more sustainable than traditional production methods, due to less land, water and energy use, the ingredients produced using precision fermentation can be healthier for us too, with the ability to pre-determine the nutritional and functional characteristics of the ingredients.
The focus so far has been primarily on producing protein alternatives to animal and dairy products, but attention is shifting with more start-ups entering to look at fats which, alongside carbohydrates, are still the primary source of calories for millions of people worldwide. Companies from the UK to Germany are producing alternative fats to cocoa butter and palm oil.
Unfortunately, we are yet to see any of these ingredients hit the market, as being classed as a Novel Food in the UK/EU the approval process can take up to two years. Funding will also need to be readily available as the start-ups developing these techniques and products look to scale up manufacturing.
We’ve come a long way since the first, although unintentional, fermentation of milk some 12,000 years ago and it will be exciting to see the product development possibilities once these new fermented ingredients hit the shelves.