Microbes, Fermentation and Flavor

Fermentation has been used as a natural flavor enhancing tool by food producers for millennia.

Today food producers, including eatCultured and our parent company Afineur, pair this natural process with modern technology to refine and create tasty flavors in a range of healthy fermented food products

Flavor Basics

Humans detect flavors based on a range of aroma compounds

Aroma compounds are a form of chemical compound that naturally transmit the sensation of flavor through olfactory receptors in our nose and gustatory cells on the palate, tongue, epiglottis, throat and larynx to the brain via nerve signals.

In plants, aroma compounds are formed from fatty acids, amino acids and carbohydrates with saturated and unsaturated, straight‐chain, branched‐chain and cyclic structures as well as nitrogen and sulfur. 

While much research has been conducted into kinds of aroma compounds produced in plants, many of the enzymes and genes that help plants produce these compounds are still not known. In the meantime many flavors can be chemically-synthesized or by culturing plant cells

Animal protein contains its own set of flavors based on the amino acid profile of the food. As with plant-based foods, processing methods like heat induce a series of chemical reactions in animal protein including the Maillard reaction, lipid peroxidation and thiamine degradation, all of which bring about flavor changes. 

fermented food

How Does Fermentation Change Food Flavor?

We owe much of the flavor in fermented foods to the action of microbes on the food.   

During fermentation, these tiny microorganisms metabolize food to bring about chemical changes that create and release flavors.

By breaking down larger, less flavorful compounds into a variety of smaller molecules, microbes amplify existing flavors, expand the depth of flavor and can create new ones too. 

Controlling Flavor in Fermentation

Flavors produced by microbes during fermentation depend on the food being fermented, water and salt content, the conditions for fermentation as well as the kinds of microbes involved in fermenting. 

Certain strains of microbes and cultures will work best on certain foods or produce specific flavors. Lactic acid bacteria, for example, are typically employed in the fermentation of plant-based beverages or foods. By fermenting carbohydrates in the plant into lactic acid, these microbes create an organic compound our senses detect as sour or acidic flavors.

The length of fermentation can also determine the flavor of the food depending on how long microbes are actively metabolizing it. This leads to different concentrations of bi-products such as amino acids and aromatic compounds. It can also render larger molecules into their constituent components, making it easier for our senses to decode as flavors.  

microbes flavor

Microbes as Flavor Enablers

Many food makers, from chefs and food producers to the next generation of biotech brands, are using microbes as "culinary tools" to deliver flavor without the need for over-processing or synthetic preservatives.  

While it's hard to standardize the flavor or nutritional profile of traditional fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, many small-batch food producers now work with fermentation cultures with this goal in mind.

commercial food

On a commercial scale, modern biotechnology also offers producers new ways to curate flavor profile. Firstly, microscopic tools enable producers to study microbes and their role in producing a desired outcome such as flavor.

Secondly, specific microbes can be farmed and cultured to yield specific flavor outcomes based on the food product in question. This, for example, is how many commercial dairy products are produced today as well as the health and flavor benefits in Cultured Coffee

Whatever the production method, many of these foods wouldn't exist or taste appealing if it weren't for the action of microbes as flavor enablers! 


Explore the cutting-edge of microbiology and food fermentation in our awesome blog!

Discover Cultured Coffee, the world's first whole bean coffee crafted using natural fermentation to taste cleaner, smoother... with extra health benefits to boot!


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