The previous posts on the blog have dealt with some of the health benefits of foods preserved by fermentation. It’s no surprise the probiotic bacteria that culture fermenting food benefit the eater in addition to helping make delicious foods like kimchi or yogurt! The process behind fermentation seems relatively simple: put microbes and what you want to ferment together, seal it, and let it sit for a while. Well, why does this happen and what does it mean?
The process of fermentation is a spontaneous one; that is, it has a negative change in Gibbs free energy. Thermodynamically speaking, that just means that it is going to happen, and it will happen so that we get the delicious products of that chemical reaction. If you don’t believe me, look through this college chemistry lecture from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Besides reviewing the concept of spontaneity, it shows some of the practical uses of knowing whether something is thermodynamically spontaneous and how it can further be analyzed thermodynamically in real world applications. For example, thermodynamic analysis of bioethanol production (essentially a modern biotech application of the ancient process of fermentation) can help find more efficient ways to produce biofuels or, perhaps more importantly to some, fine wines and other drinks of choice.
For most of its history, beer was produced through spontaneous fermentation, or letting natural fermenting bacteria and yeast produce the alcoholic slurry that captured the hearts (and stomachs) of the people. Basics about fermentation have been explained in previous blog posts, but the important part to remember is that anaerobic respiration is similar to, but not quite the same as fermentation, with the latter using only substrate level phosphorylation to end up preserving the desired project with the production of alcohols, lactic acids, acetic acids, and fermentative alkaline solutions. As complex as they may seem, these processes have been happening naturally, though. The old proverb “let nature take its course” has been providing humans with a means of saving food for the long haul and introducing some beneficial bacteria into their natural flora: a real boost to their immune system.
Like a ball rolling down an incline or water down a stream, the process of fermentation is a favored one – it will be hard to stop it from happening. So what can you do now knowing that fermenting something is not that difficult, and science is behind your effort to make it happen? Well, those probiotic bacteria only work when inside your body, so follow these steps to get producing your own flavorful probiotics that will keep for months!