SLU news

More Fermented legumes and cereals for better Healthy Planet

Published: 15 March 2024

The way we produce and consume food has never been more critical. The global food system, with its large carbon dioxide emissions, has livestock farming as a primary contributor due to excessive greenhouse gas emissions, land and water resource consumption, loss of biodiversity, and concerns about animal welfare. However, the shift toward sustainable plant-based diets, focusing on minimally processed foods, can significantly reduce the global food system's impact and potentially improve human health with higher protein content, dietary fiber, and micronutrients.

Scientifically proven, plant-based diets can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 50% and lower the risk of heart diseases, among other positive effects. An initiative at SLU in Uppsala, the PhD project named "Fermentation of plant material of European origin for better texture, taste, and nutritional properties of tempeh-like foods," funded by HealthFerm and Crops for the Future, is dedicated to developing plant-based food alternatives, utilizing fermentation as the main bioprocessing technique for technological transformation.

Tempeh, a fermented soybean product from Indonesia, enjoys high demand and popularity for its culinary versatility, sensory acceptability, and exceptional nutritional profile. In Sweden, a unique non-soybean version has been created using locally grown faba beans and oat kernels, two common crops in the Nordic countries.

Fermentation enhances the nutritional profile, improves the protein digestibility and micronutrient bioavailability, moreover it can reduce or eliminate anti-nutrients naturally present in legumes and grains.

Thanks to the research collaboration between SLU and the University of Turku in Finland, a detailed study of metabolites at each critical production point of tempeh has begun, as well as studies on volatile and non-volatile compounds responsible for the final product's aroma and flavor. This data can be correlated with the descriptive profile that a panel of trained people in sensory analysis performs on the product to determine which part of the production process and final product would have the desired characteristics for consumers.

But how can the biological and metabolic changes in legumes and grains due to fermentation be detected? The study of UNTARGETED METABOLOMICS by LC/MS offers the possibility to track changes in the food matrix due to fermentation processes. This research aims to deeply inquire into the components present in the raw materials and those developed in the tempeh food, discovering new compounds formed through fermentation, such as increased amino acids, phytochemicals with potential antioxidant capacity, and components that have not been published in fermented food based on faba beans or oat kernels.

Metabolomics is a valuable technique that can be used across the food chain to produce a sustainable, resilient, and robust system. It ensures the production of high-quality food, verifies the effectiveness of bioprocessing techniques such as fermentation under controlled conditions, and offers the opportunity to make better choices that will optimize production on an industrial scale, potentially nourishing millions of people more sustainably. Developing plant-based fermented food based on science and its potential scalability offers an idea that producers and other stakeholders can consider viable and attractive to potential consumers seeking new alternatives.

Plant-based foods are more than a trend; they are the future, and the future is deliciously green.

The project is financially supported by the EU research project “Plant-based Fermented Foods for Healthier and More Sustainable Diets”(HealthFerm) and by Crops for the future - C4F, SLU.

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