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How microbe cultures can replace chemical additives in our food

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How microbe cultures can replace chemical additives in our food

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With the rise in the use of additives and substances, there are concerns over its impact on health of an individual, particularly children, who are more susceptible to adverse impacts. So, a set of new entrepreneurs are trying to replace chemical additives in food with the more healthy microbe cultures found in fermented food like kimchi, sauerkraut and vinegar.

How microbe cultures can replace chemical additives in our food
A new generation of entrepreneurs is identifying microbe cultures found in fermented food like kimchi, sauerkraut and vinegar and developing strains with the aim of replacing chemical additives with more healthy and sustainable alternatives.
Use of additives
Manufacturers of most processed foods use additives and substances like stabilisers, artificial preservatives, sweeteners and dyes. These act on the food and add varying characteristics ranging from texture to flavour.
According to the US Food and Drug Administration, food additives and preservatives are used for three main reasons -- safety and freshness, nutritional value and improving taste or appearance.
“In the 1960s, food safety regulators in the US, Europe and other regions of the world, approved food additives to assure consumers that their use in foodstuff was safe,” American magazine Modern Farmer quoted certified food scientist Kantha Shelke as saying.
At present, there are over 3,000 added ingredients listed under the FDA that are used by the food industry. These include high-fructose corn syrup, guar gum, nitrates and nitrites, artificial dyes and hormones.
Health concerns
With the rise in the use of additives and substances, there are concerns over its impact on the health of an individual, particularly children, who are more susceptible to adverse impacts.
According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, some artificial food colours may be associated with the exacerbation of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Nitrates and nitrites may have an impact on thyroid hormone production and other additives and substances can lead to oxidative stress.
Some additives such as titanium dioxide which is used in vibrant candies, soups and sauces have been banned by the European Union. The European Food Safety Authority has listed these additives as unsafe for consumption. However, the FDA continues to have them on the list.
Replacing chemical additives
Some companies are exploring ways to replace chemical additives with more natural alternatives.
Live microorganisms in some fermented food improve gastrointestinal health and provide other health benefits like lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases and Type 2 diabetes.
Food additives produced by using micro-organisms also require less water and energy than byproduct reuse. This is likely to reduce the expenditure on farming corn for high-fructose corn syrup and soybeans for hydrogenated oils.
New generation of microbial farmers
New York-based Kingdom Supercultures is experimenting with milk adaptations using microbe cultures. Owners Ravi Sheth and Kendall Dabaghi aim to replace artificial emulsifiers and gums that are used to create a silky smooth beverage with natural microbial strains.
“Instead of having a library of artificial chemicals, we want to start with a library of these natural microbial strains,” Dabaghi of Kingdom Supercultures told Modern Farmer.
Meanwhile, Boston-based The Live Green Co is using a technology platform Charaka that helps to create plant-derived ingredients that can function on molecular and bioactive compounds.
Michroma, based in Argentina, is making natural food colour using fungi.
How is it done?
Researchers at Kingdom Supercultures are using technologies like machine learning to identify undiscovered, uncharacterised microbes found in fermented food. Once identified, these microbial strains will be extracted and merged with other isolates to make “supercultures”, which can affect texture, flavour and functional properties similar to chemical additives, albeit in a more healthy and sustainable way, Dabaghi said.
The company has till now developed such additives for plant-based cheese, yogurt and kombucha. Some of the company’s supercultures are being used in personal care products. In the future, Kingdom Supercultures plans to extend the use of these natural additives in non-vegan foods.
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