The F word - fermentation!
“What is fermentation?”
Fermentation is a word which covers a vast amount of processes. The dictionary defines it as “the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms, typically involving effervescence and the giving off of heat”. In my opinion this definition covers everything from chocolate to your compost heap, however it does not cover the fact that there is also creation involved as well as breaking down.
For fermented foods I would give the definition “the purposeful transformation of a food by utilising microbial life”, which I think sums up things much better. It also allows people to realise fermentation is essentially a form of cooking. In the same way we transform foods with heat we can also transform them using fermentation.
In fermented foods the desired inputs and outputs are very specific; a brewer knows exactly what he wants the yeast to impart to his beer, a baker knows exactly what he wants the bacteria and yeast in his sourdough starter to impart.
Hence, I think the word “purposeful” acts as a clear differentiator between fermentation and the simple breakdown of organic matter, which is much better defined by the words decomposition or rotting.
As most forms of fermentation can be elevated to an art in the forms or great wine, beer, bread, cheese, chocolate (and soft drinks creations ) I think it’s a small crime to compare it to random decomposition.
“So are fermented foods living?”
Another distinction I believe gets muddled is the term probiotic. A probiotic is a living microbe consumed for its health benefits, while fermented foods use microbes to transform a food but do not necessarily leave them living in the final product. For example, fermentation is essential to make good bread. It not only produces CO2 to make the bread rise, but over a long prove will decrease various irritating or hard to digest compounds such as phytic acid and gluten. It also increases levels of many vitamins and the bioavailability of certain minerals.
When the bread is baked almost all the sourdough culture is killed. However, all the good work they have done in changing the chemistry of the bread is retained. Real sourdough bread is a fermented food which is much healthier than regular mass-produced bread by quite a big margin but it is by no stretch of the imagination a probiotic. Fermented foods in general have had many health benefits associated with them, but this is most likely due to the changes in the chemistry of the food during fermentation, rather than the living bacteria.
The term ‘probiotic’ is not permitted in the EU, mainly due to the benefits of ingesting living microbes being largely unproven thus far. As so few microbes survive the acid in the stomach, they are unlikely to influence the 40 trillion microbes already in the gut. This was highlighed in a recent study which you can read about here.
“So do your drinks contain living cultures?”
After our water kefir culture has done its work we remove any remnants via filtration. All their good work transforming the sugar and molasses into various healthy compounds is retained, and this is where we believe most of the health benefits arise from.
If we were to leave living culture in the bottles it would create more problems than benefits both for the consumer and ourselves. Here are the main reasons why:
Fermentation would continue!
Gas would build up, carbonating the drink and eventually creating a dangerous amount of pressure in the bottle.
As there is no air in a sealed bottle the fermentation in the bottle would be anaerobic and produce alcohol which is certainly not good for something sold as a soft drink. Undeclared alcohol content over 0.5% vol is not permitted in a soft drink.
Refrigerated transport and storage would be required.
The cost of refrigerated transport and storage would drive up the cost of our product significantly.
Refrigerated transport and storage is also very energy intensive. As an environmentally conscious company this does not fit with our views.
If not stored correctly our customers would receive an inferior and potentially non-compliant product. As we cannot control how every outlet stores our product this is simply not an option.
It’s not the “Middle Way”
We are looking to provide a real alternative to mainstream drinks, not another niche product. By distributing a living probiotic we would not be able to achieve our goal. We could not be cost competitive enough or accessible enough to make a real difference to the health of our consumers.
Our drinks have half the sugar of conventional soft drinks and fruit juices, have no additives of any kind and are full of vitamins and minerals. If everyone switched from high sugar additive-filled soft drinks to something as genuinely good as our products it would make a real difference to overall health.