Yogurt. Mozzarella. Sauerkraut. Kimchi. Kombucha. Miso. Sourdough. Beer. What do all these have in common (aside from deliciousness)? They're all achieved through the process of fermentation.
Fermentation is a chemical process in which microorganisms - like mold or bacteria - are intentionally introduced to certain foods to produce desirable changes. Generally, the changes increase the original food's shelf life; they also produce distinct flavors and textures that make the new food appealing to the palate. Think of the tang of sour cream, the umami flavor of miso, or the bubbles in sparkling wine. Evidence suggests that fermented foods and drinks may also promote gut health, which is one of the many reasons why there's been an explosion of popularity in fermented foods and beverages in the past few years.
"Fermented product purchasing is definitely on the rise," says Tedley Pihl, assistant professor of practice in the School of Nutritional Sciences and Wellness, who teaches a lecture and lab on fermentation. "A lot of that has to do with the idea that they enhance health, but that's not the only reason. The pandemic has given people time to explore things like home baking and preserving, which has also contributed to the trend."
For students who are fascinated by fermentation, the Fermented Foods and Beverage course sequence is a great place to start. The sequence includes a lecture and lab, and it explains the science and processing behind a range of popular fermented items, from yogurt and kefir, to sauerkraut and kimchi, to several varieties of alcohol. Students explore different fermentation techniques and learn about safety protocols and government regulations and standards. And if they take the lab course, they get to make - and taste! - their own fermented foods and drinks.
"We make a wide range of foods in our lab," says Professor Pihl. "In the past, we've done sourdough bread, mozzarella, and some foods that are favorites for some of our international students, like miso and douchi from soybeans, kimchi from Napa cabbage and Korean Pear, and kombucha. We've also made summer sausage at the Campbell Avenue Meat Lab, using an award-winning Wisconsin-type formula."
The Fermented Foods and Beverages sequence, listed in the course catalog as NSC 371R (lecture) and NSC 371L (lab) are both being offered in Spring 2023. There are some prerequisites for the lecture course - students should have taken MIC 205A + MIC 205L or MIC 285R + MIC 285L - but none for the lab.
For more information on registering for the course, please speak to your advisor or click here.