Numerous misunderstandings and questions exist around the concept of fermented foods. For example:
- If a food does not contain live microorganisms, can it still be a fermented food?
- Should the live microbes in fermented foods be called probiotics?
- Do fermentation microbes colonize the human gut?
The first step in answering these questions is for scientists to come to agreement on what constitutes a fermented food. A new global definition of fermented foods was recently published by 13 interdisciplinary scientists from various fields—microbiology, food science and technology, immunology, and family medicine. In their paper in Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology, fermented foods are defined as: “foods and beverages made through desired microbial growth and enzymatic conversions of food components”.
The panel discussion and the definition of fermented foods are covered in this video presentation by the paper’s first author Prof. Maria Marco, from the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis. This presentation was originally given at the virtual ISAPP 2020 annual meeting.
The new definition is intended to provide a clearer conceptual understanding of fermented foods for the public and industry, with the authors expecting that in the years ahead, scientists will undertake more hypothesis-driven research to determine the extent that various fermented foods improve human health and precisely how this occurs. More studies that address fermented foods in promoting health will be useful for establishing the importance of fermented foods in dietary guidelines.
The panel acknowledged that regulations on fermented foods from country to country are mainly concerned with food safety — and that, when properly made, fermented foods and their associated microorganisms have a long history of safe use.