‘We want to lead innovation in this space’: £12m UK Gov't fermentation investment targets costs, energy, and innovation

Fermentation has been used for thousands of years to produce food. In the twenty-first century, however, researchers have found that it is a flexible and effective way to develop meat and dairy analogues.

In recent years, it has been utilised for a range of animal-free products, which include meltable plant-based cheese​, vegan food colouring​, and ‘carbon negative’ meat​.

Now, the UK Government has pledged to invest £12mn into the Microbial Food Hub, a research hub for fermentation-based foods in Imperial College, London through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), its investment arm.

“Fermentation has been used in food production for thousands of years, and precision fermentation has already been used for decades,” Linus Pardoe, UK policy manager for international think tank and nonprofit the Good Food Institute Europe, told FoodNavigator.

“Its use in alternative proteins is still at an early stage, but initial research suggests that nearly 79% of consumers are willing to try cheese made using precision fermentation while focus group research has found that consumers in countries including the UK are interested in the expanded choice it can offer them.”

Different types of fermentation

Imperial College’s hub will engage with three different types of fermentation:

Traditional fermentation​ is the process of changing food through microbial transformation. It uses plant or animal products to enhance the flavour, nutrition or texture of food. Often used for beer, wine, yogurt and cheese.

Biomass fermentation ​uses the rapid growth of microorganisms, as well as their high protein content, to make large amounts of high protein food. The microorganisms in this method are themselves the food source.

Precision fermentation ​uses microorganisms as production factories to produce specific ingredients. This is the way in which rennet for cheese is made, as well as proteins, flavour molecules, enzymes, pigments, vitamins, and fats for plant-based analogues.