Yummy yeast: the microbial food of the future?

Wednesday, 24 April, 2024

Yummy yeast: the microbial food of the future?

With rapid population growth and declining food productivity due to climate change, finding a more efficient food production and supply system is becoming important.

The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology has now published a paper in Nature Microbiology that proposes a direction of research on “microbial food production from sustainable raw materials”.

Microbial food refers to various foods and food ingredients produced using microorganisms. Microbial biomass contains a large amount of protein per unit in dry mass, comparable to that of meat. The researchers said it also emits the smallest amount of carbon dioxide to produce a unit mass compared to various livestock, fish, shellfish and crops. Since the amount of water and space requirement is small, it can be an eco-friendly, sustainable and highly nutritious food resource.

Fermented foods are the most readily available microbial foods around us. Although the proportion of microbial biomass in fermented foods is small, compounds with relatively low nutritional value, such as carbohydrates, are consumed during the fermentation process, and as microorganisms proliferate, the content of nutrients with higher nutritional value, such as proteins and vitamins, increases.

Various food compounds isolated and purified from biomass or culture media obtained through microbial culture are also a branch of microbial food. Examples that can be found around us include various amino acids, including monosodium glutamate, food proteins, enzymes, flavouring compounds, food colourings and bioactive substances.

Lastly, the most ultimate and fundamental form of microbial food is said to be microbial biomass or extracts produced through microbial culture and foods cooked using them. A representative example is single-cell protein, which collectively refers to microbial biomass or microbial proteins extracted from it.

In this paper, the researchers covered various non-edible raw materials, and strategies for using them, that can be used to produce microbial food in a more sustainable way. Furthermore, it covers various microbial foods that are actually produced in the industry using the relevant raw materials and their characteristics, as well as prospects for the production and generalisation of sustainable microbial foods.

“Microbial foods produced from various sustainable raw materials will soon be commonly encountered at our tables,” said Research Professor Kyeong Rok Choi of the BioProcess Engineering Research Centre, the first author of this paper.

“Microbial foods of the future will not be limited foods consumed only out of a sense of obligation to the environment, but will be complete foods that are consumed by choice because of their nutritional value and taste,” said second author Seok Yeong Jung from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

In addition, corresponding author Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee said, “It is time for the industry and academia, as well as the public and private sectors, to cooperate more closely so that more diverse microbial foods can be developed and supplied in order to create a sustainable society for ourselves and our descendants.”

Image credit: iStock.com/deepblue4you

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