Fermentation: solving major world problems

Fermenting food is hot because the results are memorable, tasty, and healthy. But that’s not all. Fermentation specialist professor Jeroen Hugenholtz discusses how bacteria, yeasts and fungi can play a crucial role in the solution to the world’s food problem as well as to other issues having a major impact on the environment, such as finding natural alternatives to produce palm oil, cosmetics, and plastics.

Fermentation is the conversion or breakdown of a raw material product using bacteria, fungi, and yeasts. Heat and moisture cause micro-organisms to grow and make enzymes which change the acidity, taste, smell, appearance, digestibility, and shelf life of the product. For thousands of years, fermentation processes were discovered by accident all over the world. Consider how we make yogurt, beer, sauerkraut, wine, cheese, vinegar, tempeh, kimchi, and soy sauce. For centuries, people conserved their own foods, but with the introduction of the refrigerator, this craft disappeared from households. However, canning food, especially using fermentation, is on the rise again. Eating fermented foods can make you healthier, improve your gut flora, make you feel fitter, and prevent illness. But, it holds even greater promises. With fermentation, plant and animal nutrients could eventually be replaced by microbial ones. In addition, fermentation is increasingly being seen as a more sustainable alternative for palm oil production and for the chemical industry.
So, with the world's population growing to 10 billion by 2050 and a continuously growing demand for products, it may offer a real solution to the world’s food problem and other environmental issues.

Prof.dr. Jeroen Hugenholtz is a fermentation specialist who has been doing research on the process of fermentation since the start of his career as a PhD student. As a principal scientist at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, he focuses on the development of new biobased solutions, new (fine)chemicals, and materials from nature for the Chemical, Personal Care, Food & Feed Industry. In his work as a professor of Industrial Fermentation at the University of Amsterdam, he examines how fermentation can be used on an industrial level for sustainable and efficient solutions to the world’s food problem.

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