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The fundamentals of fermentation

Though you may never have heard of fermentation, you are likely to have experienced it. Fermentation helped make that piece of toast you had for breakfast. It is also responsible for making yoghurt, wine and beer.

The discovery of fermentation

Fermentation has been used to make alcoholic beverages like mead, wine and beer as early as 7000 BC in the Middle East. It was Louis Pasteur, who was the first person to discover the science behind fermentation.  Yes the same Louis Pasteur who discovered the cure for rabies. In 1857 he described fermentation as the process that brought about the changes in yeast and micro-organisms in the absence of air. It was later in 1907 that the Nobel Laureate Eduard Buchner discovered that fermentation is caused by a yeast secretion called zymase. By 1920 scientists realised it was not only yeast that was responsible for fermentation but, it also occurred in other substances of glucose utilization.

What is fermentation?

Fermentation is the conversion of a carbohydrate like sugar into an acid or alcohol. This is a chemical process in which micro organisms including bacteria, yeast and mould break down sugar. The result is the release of water, alcohol and carbon dioxide. Fermentation also creates lactic acids in certain foods. It occurs naturally in different foods including a variety of grains, fruits, juices, and other organic liquids. Milk is fermented to give a variety of products including Yoghurt, and other milk products like our Indian Lassi and the Yakult of Japan and China.

Why is fermentation useful?

Fermentation is a process in which you can preserve food. By fermentation the food retains its enzymes, vitamins and other nutrients that are usually destroyed by other food processing, as there is no heat involved in the process. Foods that are fermented have an additional nutritional value. They are rich in vitamins like B – and minerals like iron. This means that fermentation of food is an ideal way to preserve the food without losing nutrients. 

Though fermentation is a natural process, man has discovered how to ferment things in a controlled process. This is essential for making things like yoghurt and alcohol on a large scale.

Tags :     Everyday Chemistry     Carbohydrates     Fermentation     wines     yoghurt    

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