Fermentation is one of the oldest forms of food preservation technology
in the world.
Fermented foods are popular throughout the world.
Fermented foods make a significant contribution to the diet of millions
Fermentation is a relatively efficient, low energy preservation process,
which increases the shelf life and decreases the need for refrigeration or
other form of food preservation technology. It is therefore a highly appropriate
technique for use in developing countries and remote areas.
There is tremendous scope and potential for the use of micro-organisms towards
meeting the growing world demand for food, through efficient utilisation of
available natural food and feed stocks and the transformation of waste materials.
There is a danger that the introduction of 'western foods' with their glamorous
image will displace these traditional fermented foods.
It is essential that the knowledge of fermented food production is not lost.
It is essential to increase the knowledge and understanding of the methods
of preparation, in order to improve the efficiency of fermentation, especially
the traditional processes as the yields of traditional fermentation processes
are often low and sometimes the products are unsafe.
For fermented products such as cheese, bread, beer and wine, which are produced
on a commercial scale, a good understanding of the microbial processes has
been developed. However with many of the fermented products in Africa, Asia
and Latin America, knowledge of the process is poor. It is likely that the
basic principles apply across the board, but production conditions vary enormously
from region to region, giving rise to numerous variations of the basic fermented
product. It is not the intention or the desire to standardise the process
and thereby lose this huge diversity, rather it is to harness the tremendous
potential these methods have to contribute to increasing not only the quantity,
but quality of food available to the worlds population.
The collection and preservation of indigenous knowledge is of interest to
governments, historians, anthropologists and scientists, to name but a few.
Several individuals and organisations are actively involved in research in
Most traditional fermented products are made by natural fermentations carried
out in a non-sterile environment. The specific environmental conditions cause
a gradual selection of micro-organisms responsible for the desired final product.
This is appropriate for small-scale production for home consumption. However
the method is difficult to control and there are risks of accompanying micro-flora
causing spoilage and unsafe products.
The art of traditional processes needs to be refined to incorporate objective
methods of process control and to standardise quality of the final product
without losing their desirable attributes such as improved keeping quality,
taste and nutritional qualities.
Once the details of the fermentation process and the microbes involved are
known and understood, it is possible to begin to refine and improve the process.
The areas where the efficiency and yield of food fermentation processes
can be increased are: the selection or development of more productive microbial
strains; the control and manipulation of culture conditions and the improvement
of product purification and concentration.
It is often felt that traditional products made at the small scale are unhygienic
and unsafe. This is sometimes true. However the case is often overstated.
Many fermented foods are inherently safe due to low moisture contents or high
Quality control procedures are essential for the production of safe products
and contribute to the success of small food processing businesses. Appropriate
quality control procedures need to be developed and implemented. These procedures
need to be developed with the processors who must understand and apply them.
Documentation of the traditional methods of food fermentation and research
to identify improved methods of production are meaningless if the results
are not disseminated to those who are likely to put them into practice. There
is a danger of mystifying the fermentation process by enrobing it in scientific
Fermented foods often are considered as poor man's food. As soon as a family
can afford to, they move away from carrying out home fermentation. This is
a pity, because as we have seen earlier, fermented food products have many
nutritional advantages which surpass western-style fast foods and processed
Fermented foods should be recognised as part of each countries heritage
and culture and efforts made to preserve the methods of production. A recognised
body (government or non-government) should take the responsibility for the
collection of details and the promotion of fermented food products.
Consumers need to be made aware of the numerous benefits of fermented foods
and their prejudices against fermented foods, especially those traditionally
produced at the home scale, dispelled.