Fermentation food trend has been on the rise lately.
Let’s dive in deeper with the help of our AI-powered insights from the Spoonshot platform to predict where it’s headed in the future and what plant-based trends have to do with it.
There has been growing interest in fermented food and drink over the last few years, with good reason. It has proven beneficial in improving gut health, a functional claim that has become very important to consumers and thus to companies. When we speak of the fermentation food trend, these foods offer a number of other potential health benefits as well, and the repertoire of claims used in connection with them could potentially be expanded. A few of these benefits include antimicrobial, antioxidant, and immunity-boosting.
But the benefits of fermentation doesn’t end there. It is also finding practical application in terms of developing alternative proteins, specifically meat and protein analogs that are not sourced from animals. This has significant potential for the advancement of animal-free or climate-friendly foods, and we will be exploring the future applications of fermentation in the second part of this series.
Product launches like yogurt and yogurt drinks, probiotics, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, and others are now common on supermarket shelves and in shopping carts. Fermented food trends have gained much popularity in the same way that diets are trending. A number of human-related studies are still needed in the fermented food sector for substantiation of claimed health benefits. But the promise held by such foods has resulted in growing investments by companies for various reasons like gut health and alternative proteins. Research in the sector also meets formulation needs and has the scope for new product development.
Between 2015 and 2019, interest in this space increased by 49.6%, according to Spoonshot’s proprietary data, due to the associated health benefits.
Interest in fermentation has been on the rise for most of the last decade:
Spoonshot’s data predicts that the interest in fermentation will continue to grow because the technology meets the rising trend points which include Health & Wellness and Sustainability.
In this two-part article series, we take a look at why the fermentation food trend has become such a hot topic and where it stands currently within the food and beverage industry, and how likely it is to evolve in the future.
So, what is fermentation?
In food production and consumption, the fermentation technique dates back to ancient times. It is an age-old method used for preserving food, thus extending its shelf life at a time when refrigeration was not an option. Traditional fermentation is an anaerobic process involving the application of natural bacteria feeding on starch and sugar present in food to produce primarily lactic acid, among others.
Fermentation revolves around microbes. The microorganisms which are used in the production of fermented foods and beverages include bacteria (e.g. lactic acid bacteria or LAB), yeasts, and mold. Yogurt and cheese, for example, are products of bacterial fermentation, while beer and wine are the products of yeast fermentation.
Growth in interest of select drivers of fermentation from Jan 2016 to Jan 2020,
Among major food-related trends, gut health and plant-based trends stand out in terms of growing interest. Based on these two data sets, it is evident that the fermentation food trend has a strong connection to gut health and several plant-based trends (including alternative proteins), which is also why we are exploring these topics in greater detail.
Gut health & The Rise In Fermentation Food Trend
Spoonshot’s proprietary data shows that interest in gut health has been growing over the last few years, except for the dip in 2020, likely to have been a result of changed behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We’ve done a full report on the impact of COVID-19 on the food and beverage industry that can be read here.
An increasing body of research points to the importance of maintaining gut health and a vibrant microbiome. The term “gut health” actually refers to the functioning and balance of the “good” bacteria and immune cells present in our gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which are crucial in fighting off infection-causing bacteria, virus, and fungi.
A great way to improve gut health is to have a strong gut microbiome, which means having a varied and high count of good bacteria in our GI system. Regularly consuming fermented foods is one way to do this, thus explaining why this category of fermentation food trend has been on the rise.
That fermented food is beneficial to gut health is an established fact at this point. Numerous studies shown the several benefits of consuming fermented foods and their positive impact on gut microflora. A healthy gut is vital for maintaining the general health and well-being of the human body, mainly in the following four ways:
- By ensuring digestion and absorption of nutrients, minerals, and fluids
- By induction of mucosal and systemic tolerance
- By defence of the host against infectious and other pathogens
- By signalling from the periphery to the brain
Co-occurrence of fermentation and gut health has been increasing in the last decade
Other potential functional benefits of fermented foods
A healthy microbiome is also believed to be important for immunity, cognitive functions, mood, and general health and wellness.
Leading health benefits associated with fermented food and drink
Fermentation can help in improving the bioaccessibility of phenolic compounds (chemical compounds found in plants and plant-based food with certain health benefits) and depends on the starter cultures used. Fermented foods are considered functional foods due to their ability to increase the levels of several functional components, such as vitamins, peptides and antioxidant compounds. In addition to that, the living microbes generate new bioactives by modulating the gut microbiota.
Kombucha Gut Shots by Lo Bros state that they restore gut microflora and maintain overall wellbeing of mind and body. This range is available in a variety of flavors.
Around 4% of food and drink launches in retail carry a gut health claim, according to Spoonshot data, but more proof is needed to make other health claims.
Several clinical trials and theoretical reviews have confirmed that consumption of fermented foods modifies gut microbiota and influences gut health. The bidirectional relationship between gut health and other wellness areas, such as mental health, is also being studied but more rigorous evidence is needed to make on-pack claims. Consumption of these fermented foods to treat such disorders could be seen as a novel mechanism in the functional food sector in the coming years.
Brief summary of other potential benefits of fermented foods:
Lactobacilli isolated from fermented plant products, particularly kimchi, have shown to have antimicrobial properties due to the production of antimicrobial compounds during the fermentation process. These probiotic lactobacilli have been shown to protect against pathogens such as Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and Staphylococcus aureus.
Wildbrine’s kimchi range calls out both its fermented and probiotic features.
Comparing unfermented soybeans and tempeh (which is a fermented soya product), tempeh showed greater free-radical and superoxide scavenging ability, which translates to greater antioxidant properties. Kombucha is a tea-based drink fermented by a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) and there are indications that it may also offer some of the health benefits of tea, including polyphenols, the most abundant type of antioxidants.
Bio-Fermented shots by Henry Blooms claims to provide an antioxidant kick and contains six raw probiotic strains
Gut health and immune response links have also been proven by stimulatory effects of immune receptors as a result of consuming fermented foods. Immunomodulatory effects of some of the LAB strains were confirmed in human trials too, which led to the demand for a number of probiotic products.
Actimel’s cultured shot has immunity boosting claims and includes a proprietary strain of L.casei and other immunity linked vitamins.
A study showed that consuming fermented kimchi altered gut microbiota composition and reduced the Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes ratio, a biomarker for obesity, while fresh kimchi consumption showed no change.
In addition to the previous benefits, research into the gut-brain axis has been of great interest. The association between decreased bacterial biodiversity and bipolar disorder is being explored for better validation. Some prebiotic treatments resulted in an improved mood state, good memory response, and better decision making. This has led to the emergence of psychobiotics (live bacteria with beneficial effects on mental health) in recent times. While consumers tend to think of a fairly limited number of fermented food and drink products linked to gut health, there are actually several that have a role to play.
For companies looking to tap into the functional benefits of fermented foods, some of these could offer inspiration in terms of product ideas.
The future of gut health
One of the interesting results to come out of recent studies into the gut microbiome is that the microbiome is much like fingerprints – everyone’s is unique and is influenced by different conditions.
When you consider a newborn’s gut microbiome, it is influenced by the gut microbiome of its mother. But over time there is a complete change in the gut microbiota of the child based factors like diet, lifestyle, and environment. In addition, a comparative study of plant and animal based diets yielded Bacteroidetes bacteria and Firmicutes bacteria, respectively.
Owing to this fact, we’re actually seeing the emergence of personalized gut microbes and personalized probiotics. These products take into account an individual’s diet, environmental conditions, stress levels, and specific desirable health effects, among others. And much like personalization across different categories, this is becoming an increasingly desirable claim for consumers who are now savvy enough to realize the benefits of having functional foods tailored to their specific needs.
Floré, for example, offers custom formulated probiotics for consumers based on a gut microflora test.
The company says it analyzes the trillions of microbes in the gut microflora, and then craft a one-pill-a-day formula based on the results. These personalized prebiotics are said to help with abdominal pain, constipation, bloating, SIBO, leaky gut, and other digestive issues.
An unexpected treatment in this sector is fecal transplants. Numerous studies are also being conducted to know the effectiveness of fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) in cases like cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and cardiometabolic syndrome due to the relation between gut dysbiosis and potential diseases. Though some experts say FMT can likely be a normal treatment in the coming years, there are some life threatening risks and potential GI issues still to be addressed, resulting in the FDA issuing a number of alerts and warnings about FMT.
Another interesting aspect of the focus on gut health is how generally pharmacological terminology has started to become commonplace within the consumer food and beverage space. There is a growing awareness of and interest in not just probiotics and prebiotics, but also lesser-known biotics like synbiotics, postbiotics, oncobiotics, paraprobiotics, pharmabiotics, and psychobiotics. Over the next few years, we expect these terms to carry over to the CPG space – specifically in terms of fermented food and drink – as results of studies into these areas bear fruit.
In Part 2 of this series, we will look at fermentation from the viewpoint of a processing technique in the growing alternative protein industry.