Fermentation and its use in the food industry
Many-a-times the beneficial attributes of microorganisms outweigh the harm they cause. They are widely used in various processes to produce several value-added products that are of commercial importance. Fermentation, one such process, refers to the conversion of carbohydrates to alcohol or organic acids with the help of microorganisms under anaerobic conditions. It was found that all the byproducts of fermentation are of use to humans. This process, when implied to food products, results in the enrichment of diet rendering it a diversity of flavours, aroma and texture. Acid and alkaline fermentations help preserve considerable amounts of food. Fermentation also fortifies food substrates with proteins, vitamins and minerals and eliminates anti-nutrients.
Some examples of fermented food products includes fermented dairy products such as yoghurt, kefir, cultured buttermilk and cheese. Most commonly used culture for the fermentation of dairy products is Lactic acid bacteria. Bacteria of species Lactobacillus and Pediococcus are used in meat fermentation enhancing its stability and organoleptic properties. Natural lactic microorganisms namely Leuconostoc sp., Lactobacillus sp., and Pediococcus sp. are mainly used in the fermentation of vegetable products such as sauerkraut, olives and pickles. Vinegar, a diluted form of acetic acid is the most commonly used fermented product of several ethanol sources. Alcoholic beverages such as wine and beer and bread are fermented using saccharomyces cerevisiae.
Enzyme applications in the food industry
Enzymes are biological catalysts that are used to speed up chemical reactions. They are used in the production of about 500 commercial products and widely used in all industries ranging from food to detergents. Oxidoreductases, transferases, hydrolases, lyases and isomerases are the major classes of enzymes that find application in the food industry of which hydrolases are the most prevalent.
Recently microbial enzymes are gaining much importance as they have better stability than plant and animal enzymes. Also, they can be produced in a cost-effective manner using fermentation techniques. The activity of enzymes greatly depends on various parameters such as temperature, pH, substrates on which they act and inhibitors. Hence the conditions should be optimized for each process and application.
Alpha-amylases are used in baking, brewing, starch liquefaction and clarification of fruit juices. Glucoamylases are used in the preparation of high glucose and fructose syrups and also to improve the quality of bread. Coagulation of milk and meat tenderization is carried out by proteases. Lactases are widely used as prebiotic food ingredients. Lipases are vital for cheese preparation and glucose oxidases for an improved shelf life of food products. Catalases help remove hydrogen peroxidase for milk prior to cheese preparation whereas debittering enzymes such as naringinase are used to remove the bitter taste in fruit juice and also to enhance wine aroma.
The importance of fermentation and enzymes in the food industry is well established. Yet there is a need for further in-depth research in this field to isolate potent strains and improve the strains to attain better yield. Moreover, the need to isolate and study microorganisms from traditional foods should be emphasized in this context as they improve the flavour, texture and aroma of fermented food. Also, novel approaches such as protein engineering should be made use of to improve the characteristics of enzymes to increase their stability and specificity with respect to temperature and pH ranges.
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