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Published: 2022-09-01

New research project will learn more about fermented foods

NEWS Especially in the past decades, fermented foods have been hailed for their nutritional and perceived health benefits. Yet little is known about the impact of fermentation on human health or how fermentation can be leveraged to enhance the use of sustainable plant-based raw materials. In the new EU research project HealthFerm Umeå University will, in collaboration of 22 partners from across Europe, shed light on this forward-looking topic.

Text: Elin Andersson

Fermented foods are ‘foods made through desired microbial growth and enzymatic conversions of food components’. Humans have consumed different types of these foods for thousands of years and at present, they are more popular than ever due to their perceived healthiness.

“Interestingly, little concrete evidence exists for fermented foods actual health benefits. There are only few dedicated studies describing the mechanisms behind any impact of fermented foods on human health, and in-depth knowledge of how fermentation microorganisms and fermented foods interact with the human gut microbiome is missing.” says Armando Perez-Cueto, professor at the Department of Food Nutrition and Culinary Science, Umeå University and one of the participating researchers in HealthFerm project. “Only with the availability of such knowledge will it be possible to design fermented foods with optimal health benefits, rather than relying on spontaneous fermentation processes.”

In this project, the Department of Food, Nutrition and Culinary Science will be leading the work package “Consumer behaviour towards fermented food”, and is part of the Steering Committée. Armando Perez-Cueto further explained “Together with partners at Institut Paul Bocuse in France and our gastronomy expertise, we will develop innovative fermented foods, tested by consumers. We will evaluate changes in consumer acceptance towards fermented plant-based foods through two pan EU surveys. And we will evaluate changes in consumer attitudes, perceptions and taste after exposure to innovative fermented foods”.

Community-science approach

In Healthferm, new plant-based fermentations will be designed to improve the palatability of plant-based ingredients and leverage their use in a range of foods.

“The project has been established to understand better the interaction between food fermentation microbiomes, fermented grain-based foods and the human gut microbiome and how they support human health.” says Christophe Courtin, professor at Leuven University and coordinator of the HealthFerm project. “At the same time, HealthFerm will use these newly gained insights alongside microbial resources and fermentation technology to develop novel, healthy and nutritious foods based on legumes and cereals.”

At the heart of HealthFerm lies a community-science approach for developing innovative plant-based food fermentations. Citizens, artisans and companies will collect food fermentation microbiomes in Europe and worldwide to be analysed to map the biodiversity of microorganisms used to ferment different foods. HealthFerm will build on this knowledge to devise novel foodstuffs that improve the sensorial and health benefits of both traditional foods, like (sourdough) bread, as well as sustainable plant-based dairy and meat alternatives.

HealthFerm is funded through the European Union’s Horizon Europe Framework Programme for Research and Innovation and the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI). It is launched on September 1 2022 and has a budget of EUR 13 million over the next four years. The consortium is coordinated by Leuven University, Belgium, and comprises academic, clinical and industrial partner institutions from Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland and The Netherlands.

For more information, go to: www.healthferm.eu

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