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Fermentation (food)

  Fermentation typically refers to the conversion of sugar to alcohol using yeast under anaerobic conditions. A more general definition of fermentation is the chemical conversion of carbohydrates into alcohols or acids. When fermentation stops prior to complete conversion of sugar to alcohol, a stuck fermentation is said to have occurred. The science of fermentation is known as zymology.

Fermentation usually implies that the action of the microorganisms is desirable, and the process is used to produce alcoholic beverages such as wine, beer, and cider. Fermentation is also employed in preservation to create lactic acid in sour foods such as pickled cucumbers, kimchi and yogurt.



See also: History of wine and History of beer

Since fruits ferment naturally, fermentation precedes human history. Since prehistoric times, however, humans have been controlling the fermentation process. The earliest evidence of winemaking dates from eight thousand years ago, in Georgia, in the Caucasus area.[1] Seven-thousand-year-old jars of wine have been excavated in the Zagros Mountains in Iran, which are now on display at the University of Pennsylvania.[2] There is strong evidence that people were fermenting beverages in Babylon circa 5000 BC,[3] ancient Egypt circa 3150 BC,[4] pre-Hispanic Mexico circa 2000 BC,[3] and Sudan circa 1500 BC.[5] There is also evidence of leavened bread in ancient Egypt circa 1500 BC[6] and of milk fermentation in Babylon circa 3000 BC.[3] The Chinese were probably the first to develop vegetable fermentation.[3]

French chemist Louis Pasteur was the first known zymologist, when in 1854 he connected yeast to fermentation. Pasteur originally defined fermentation as "respiration without air". Pasteur performed careful research and concluded;

"I am of the opinion that alcoholic fermentation never occurs without simultaneous organization, development and multiplication of cells.... If asked, in what consists the chemical act whereby the sugar is decomposed ... I am completely ignorant of it."

The German Eduard Buchner, winner of the 1907 Nobel Prize in chemistry, later determined that fermentation was actually caused by a yeast secretion that he termed zymase.[7]


The primary benefit of fermentation is the conversion of sugars and other carbohydrates, e.g., converting juice into wine, grains into beer, carbohydrates into carbon dioxide to leaven bread, and sugars in vegetables into preservative organic acids.

Food fermentation has been said to serve five main purposes:[8]

  1. Enrichment of the diet through development of a diversity of flavors, aromas, and textures in food substrates.
  2. Preservation of substantial amounts of food through lactic acid, alcohol, acetic acid and alkaline fermentations.
  3. Biological enrichment of food substrates with protein, essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, and vitamins.
  4. Detoxification during food-fermentation processing.
  5. A decrease in cooking times and fuel requirements.

Fermentation has some uses exclusive to foods. Fermentation can produce important nutrients or eliminate antinutrients. Food can be preserved by fermentation, since fermentation uses up food energy and can make conditions unsuitable for undesirable microorganisms. For example, in pickling the acid produced by the dominant bacteria inhibit the growth of all other microorganisms. Depending on the type of fermentation, some products (e.g., fusel alcohol) can be harmful to people's health.

In alchemy, fermentation is often the same as putrefaction, meaning to allow the substance to naturally rot or decompose.

Stuck fermentation

A stuck fermentation is where a fermentation has stopped before completion; i.e., before the anticipated percentage of sugars has been converted by yeast into alcohol or carbohydrates into carbon dioxide.

Typically, a stuck fermentation may be caused by: 1) insufficient or incomplete nutrients required to allow the yeast to complete fermentation; 2) low temperatures, or temperature changes which have caused the yeast to stop working early; or 3) a percentage of alcohol which has grown too high for the particular yeast chosen for the fermentation.

Corrections to stuck fermentations may include: 1) repitching a different yeast 2) incorporation of nutrients in conjunction with the repitched yeast; 3) restoration of accommodative temperatures for the given yeast.

Fermented foods by region


  • Worldwide: alcohol, wine, vinegar, olives, yogurt, bread, cheese
  • Asia
    • East and Southeast Asia: amazake, asinan, bai-ming, belacan, burong mangga, com ruou, dalok, doenjang (된장), douchi, jeruk, lambanog, kimchi (김치), kombucha, leppet-so, narezushi, miang, miso, nata de coco, nata de pina, natto, naw-mai-dong, pak-siam-dong, paw-tsaynob in snow (雪裡蕻), prahok, ruou nep, sake, seokbakji, soy sauce, stinky tofu, szechwan cabbage (四川泡菜), tai-tan tsoi, chiraki, tape, tempeh, totkal kimchi, yen tsai (醃菜), zha cai (榨菜)
    • Central Asia: kumis (mare milk), kefir, shubat (camel milk)
    • India: achar, appam, dosa, dhokla, dahi (yogurt), gundruk, idli, mixed pickle
  • Africa: garri, hibiscus seed, hot pepper sauce, injera, lamoun makbouss, laxoox, mauoloh, msir, mslalla, oilseed, ogi, ogili, ogiri
  • Americas: chicha, elderberry wine, kombucha, pickling (pickled vegetables), sauerkraut, lupin seed, oilseed, chocolate, vanilla, tabasco, tibicos
  • Middle East: kushuk, lamoun makbouss, mekhalel, torshi, boza
  • Europe: rakfisk, sauerkraut, ogórek kiszony, surströmming, mead, elderberry wine, salami, prosciutto, cultured milk products such as quark, kefir, filmjölk, crème fraîche, smetana, skyr.
  • Oceania: poi, kaanga pirau (rotten corn)

Fermented foods by type


cheonggukjang, doenjang, miso, natto, soy sauce, stinky tofu, tempeh


amazake,bread, choujiu, gamju, injera, makgeolli, ogi, sake, sikhye


kimchi, mixed pickle, sauerkraut


wine, vinegar,elderberry wine


cheese, kefir, kumis (mare milk), shubat (camel milk), cultured milk products such as quark, filmjölk, crème fraîche, smetana, skyr, yogurt


bagoong, fish sauce, Hákarl, jeotgal (젓갈), rakfisk, shrimp paste, surströmming


salami, prosciutto

Risks of consuming fermented foods

Alaska, despite its small population, has witnessed a steady increase of cases of botulism since 1985. It has more cases of botulism than anywhere else in the United States of America.[9] This is caused by the traditional Eskimo practice of allowing animal products such as whole fish, fish heads, walrus, sea lion and whale flippers, beaver tails, seal oil, birds, etc., to ferment for an extended period of time before being consumed. The risk is exacerbated when a plastic container is used for this purpose instead of the old-fashioned method, a grass-lined hole, as the botulinum bacteria thrive in the anaerobic conditions created by the plastic.

See also

Wikibooks Cookbook has an article on
Fermented food


  1. ^ 8,000-year-old wine unearthed in Georgia. The Independent (2003-12-28). Retrieved on 2007-01-28.
  2. ^ Now on display . . . world's oldest known wine jar. Retrieved on 2007-01-28.
  3. ^ a b c d Fermented fruits and vegetables. A global perspective. FAO Agricultural Services Bulletins - 134. Retrieved on 2007-01-28.
  4. ^ Cavalieri, D; McGovern PE, Hartl DL, Mortimer R, Polsinelli M. (2003). "Evidence for S. cerevisiae fermentation in ancient wine.". Journal of Molecular Evolution 57 Suppl 1: S226-32. 15008419. Retrieved on 2007-01-28.
  5. ^ Dirar, H., (1993), The Indigenous Fermented Foods of the Sudan: A Study in African Food and Nutrition, CAB International, UK
  6. ^ Sugihara, T.F., (1985), Microbiology of Breadmaking, in "."Microbiology of Fermented Foods", edited by Wood, B.J.B., Elsevier Applied Science Publishers, UK
  7. ^ The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1929. Retrieved on 2007-01-28.
  8. ^ Steinkraus, K. H., Ed. (1995). Handbook of Indigenous Fermented Foods. New York, Marcel Dekker, Inc.
  9. ^ Why does Alaska have more botulism?. Retrieved on 2007-01-28.
  • The 1811 Household Cyclopedia
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Fermentation_(food)". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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