Bioprocessing for Nutritional Products

Need for fortification and functional ingredients

Food fortification is a vital nutrition intervention to fight micronutrient deficiencies and to reduce their incidence in many low‐ and middle‐income countries. Fortification has always occupied the center stage, and we have witnessed it in several waves. However, the need wave initiated by COVID has been most substantial among the past ones.  With the second wave of pandemic coronavirus, there has been a steady rise in demand for healthy and nutritious food that can help enhance the immune system activity as well as lower stress and anxiety caused due to the lockdown and job security.

Globally, countries are affected by the pandemic, and healthcare experts are investing in the development of vaccines and treatments. Meanwhile, the consumption of nutritional products that help alleviate health and well-being has also become a mainstream concern for health and food experts.

As a result, identification of functional ingredients, understanding the role of the ingredients in the health and well-being, development of technologies to incorporate ingredients, and improve the product quality becomes inevitable.

Fermentation or bioprocessing is one of the oldest methods to extend the product shelf-life and fortify products to add nutrients to final food products. Fermented foods, such as yogurt, bread, cheese, soybean products, etc., are a significant part of the human diet. The crucial roles of fermentation in nutrition include:

  • Enhancing food/ingredients palatability
  • Improving nutritional qualities
  • Alleviating bioavailability
  • Preventing food spoilage
  • Extending shelf-life of products

Bioprocessing and fermented products

Bioprocessing helps to improve the fermentation process and shows direct effects on the nutritional qualities of the ingredients and products.

The commonly consumed fermented products are depicted in Exhibit 1 with their nutritional benefits:

Source: Secondary publications and product databases

Common Fermented Products

  • Kefir: A fermented milk, similar to drinkable yogurt-kefir, is rich in calcium and probiotics. Probiotics help break down lactose that can be easily digested by the lactose-intolerant consumers
  • Sauerkraut & Kimchi: Fermented cabbage product enriched with probiotics and fiber
  • Yogurt: Fermented milk-based product with probiotics. Probiotics in yogurt help digest lactose, further product brand owners, have introduced dairy-free and vegan yogurt options with probiotics. The shelf-based products are labeled with a “Live & Active Cultures” seal, assures the presence of about 17 billion probiotic cultures in a 6-ounce cup at manufacturing time
  • Kombucha: A tangy, effervescent, fermented black or green tea rich in probiotics, and is flavored with herbs or fruit. A small volume of alcohol is also produced during fermentation, nearly 0.5% that can be used in other processes
  • Tempeh: Produced from fermented soybeans, Tempeh is similar to tofu with a firm texture and nut-flavored profile. Tempeh is considered a complete source of vegetarian protein as it comprises of all essential amino acids and is a good source of probiotics
  • Miso: A fermented paste from barley, rice, or soybeans to add umami flavors. Miso is typically found in soups, but also makes salad dressings and marinades even more delicious and gut healthy

Advantages of Fermentation or Bioprocessing

Higher Nutrient Absorption

Fermentation enables food pre-digestion resulting in the release of nutrients that can be better absorbed by the body. It aids to unlock the nutrients from the complex foods by converting them into easily absorbable compounds. For example, fermentation helps release amino acids from proteins and simple sugars from complex carbohydrates.

Ease of Access to Vitamins, Minerals, and Functional Ingredients

Fermentation of vegetables results in a reduction of phytic acid that usually bonds with iron, calcium, and other minerals resulting in reduced absorption. Examples of access to nutrients and its benefits are listed below:

  • Lactic acid and lactobacillus during fermentation results in enhanced digestion
  • Vitamins that include A, B12, and K12 are produced during the fermentation process for products
  • Fermented milk can act as a source of antioxidants, as the antioxidant activity of fermented milk increases by the formation of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), one of the major antioxidants in milk fat alongside vitamins A and E, β-carotene and coenzyme Q10

Biotics Development

The emerging ‘biotics’ segment that includes probiotics, prebiotics, synbiotics, postbiotics, and psychobiotics have gained much attention in recent years. Fermentation is used for the manufacturing of viable and functional probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics. Additionally, the nutritional and functional quality of products can be improved by fermentation using Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB). Recently, fermented foods and ingredients have attracted consumer interest as they facilitate healthy gut microbiota and promote human well-being

Fermented food products comprise of probiotics, the “good bacteria” that further enhances the nutrient absorption and vitamin production. It has been a topic of research that gut is closely linked with the brain, which is also reflected by a 2017 population-wide study that demonstrated that people with depression lacked specific groups of gut microbes. Additionally, Prof. Jeroen Raes mentioned that the research shows that the gut microbiome’s influence on mental health and fermented and probiotic products have a critical role in influencing the growth and development of the gut microbiome.

Currently, the industry stakeholders are investing in exploring bioprocessing technology to develop new concepts that can help in:

  • Improving the bioavailability of ingredients
  • Enhancing production (Enzyme/Catalyst activation)
  • Extending shelf-life
  • Extraction and purification

Advances in Bioprocessing Technology for Improving Nutritional Content

Bioprocessing is one of the essential means for the production and development of fermented ingredients that can be used in food products. Bioprocessing entails the application of live cells or biologically-derived products such as enzymes.

It is an alternative method to extract, purify, and derive ingredients using enzymes and/or microbial cells. Value-added products such as low-lactose or fermented milk, bioactive peptide-rich products, clarified fruit juices, etc. are developed using bioprocessing.

Applications & advantages of bioprocessing

Recent concepts in enzyme-based bioprocessing include in situ modulation and transformation of physico-chemical & sensory properties along with the stability of the produces. Live cells – fungal, animal, plant, and microbial are used as starter cultures for better quality food and to modify ingredient properties.

Bioprocessing also helps to utilize and explore new opportunities in using the local and underutilized ingredients, thereby addressing the sustainability goals of the food & nutrition industry.

The crucial advances in bioprocessing to improve the nutrient and product quality include:

  • Production, extraction, purification, immobilization, and directed evolution of enzymes
  • Downstream processing and value-adding of food processing wastes
  • Fermentation and fermented food development
  • Genetic enhancement
  • Bio-separations

Advances in Wheat Bran Bioprocessing

Wheat bran is a crucial source of dietary fibers, vitamins, and minerals. Wheat bran bioprocessing with prebiotics and probiotics helps in increasing its nutritional value by improving the formed biopolymeric complexes. However, its application in bread baking is limited due to its negative impact on dough rheology, texture, and sensory quality. Advanced processes for wheat bran production include:

  • Modeling and combining the techniques of enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation
  • Micronization of wheat bran resulting in the release of enzymes to improve its functionality
  • Recent advances in bioprocessing fermentation with Lactobacillus brevis E95612 and Kazachstania exigua C81116 and enzyme mixtures resulted in accelerating the fermentation processes. The fermentation results in the release of enzymes in the bran (160 and 50 um), thus enhancing the growth and acidification of starter cultures and accelerating the fermentation process. Additionally, fermentation significantly improved dough stability and bread shelf-life.

Nutrient Production/Enrichment

Fermentation can result in the production of phytonutrients that are not commonly present in the raw materials. Following are a few examples for the minerals/nutrients production:

1. Ginseng fermentation to transform ginsenosides

Ginseng fermentation releases extract with end-stage metabolite from ginsenosides, Compound K, which mimics the fermentation environment of the colon. Compound K containing fermented extracts has a higher and faster rate of absorption in humans.

These extracts also demonstrate features such as:

  • Anti-oxidation activities
  • Anti-stress activities
  • Hepatoprotective activities
  • Anti-allergic activities
  • Anti-inflammatory activities
  • Healthy glucose and lipid regulation

2. Germination as bioprocessing for legume proteins

Legumes are high in protein content but less digestible due to the interaction with components like phytate and polyphenols. To improve the protein digestibility and protein biological properties, bioprocessing in the form of germination is one of the prospective solutions.

Germination, through hydrolysis, blocks the trypsin inhibitors and eliminates the inhibition caused due to phytate. Germination helps to:

  • Deactivate anti-nutritional factors
  • Hydrolyze indigestible proteins
  • Improve the properties and content of proteins of different legume seeds

Advanced Technologies to Address the Challenges in Bioprocessing

Industry players are investing in research to innovate advanced downstream and upstream technologies for efficient ingredient extraction and processing. Bioprocessing is an essential tool in nutritional processing; however, its application includes a few critical challenges that are listed below:

  • Difficult scaling-up process in context to new ingredients/microbial cells
  • Need to maintain the constant temperature for microbial cells or heat-sensitive ingredients
  • Cost-efficient bioprocessing
  • Energy-intensive process
  • Purification and isolation of the required ingredient
  • Real-time/remote/continuous monitoring for standard conditions
  • Constant monitoring of the nutrients in the culture media

The above-enlisted challenges are critical and need to be addressed using advanced technologies. Two advanced technologies that address the majority of the difficulties include nanosensors and computational modeling.

Nanosensors

Nanosensors address the potential challenges of real-time monitoring, continuous updates, and alerts regarding the processing, maintaining the feasible bioprocessing conditions, as well as maintaining the cost-efficiency.

Exhibit 2 demonstrates one of the futuristic approaches for the application of nanosensors.

Source: Published technical article

Nanosensors and complex modeling are employed to improve bioprocessing monitoring and improve output. The application of nanosensors is cost-effective and helps in real-time monitoring of the raw material, processing, and end-product quality. Additionally, these sensors are coupled with advanced computational and communication tools to generate alerts in case of any predictive adverse or undesirable conditions.

Computational Modeling

Computational modeling processes are used to design the correct recipe of enzymes, and raw materials are in an application that results in obtaining a range output using raw vegetables and designed enzymatic preparations.

Computational modeling helps to reduce the combinational errors in processing and result in the production of value-added products. Computational modeling also can be employed to result in energy- and resource-efficient processing, minimize wastage, and excess ingredient use, thus making the process cost-efficient.

Examples of application of computational modeling in bioprocessing are enlisted below:

  • Modeling of complex processing that combines enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation for wheat bran
  • Sourdough fermentation using enzymes which are mixed based on computational modeling
  • Fermentation of soybean using GRAS microorganisms and remove anti-nutrients
  • Cellular agriculture processing for cultured meat

Opportunities in Bioprocessing

Functional products processing

With the increasing awareness regarding the use of enzymes and fermented products for health and well-being, industry players are exploring the potential of bioprocessing to improve the nutritional values of traditional ingredients such as cereals. Traditional fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, etc. are claimed to reduce the stress and have seen an increase in the demand in the global market.

Cereal crops such as wheat bran, which is high in fibers, can serve as a potential nutritious and cheap raw material. Fermented grain by-products intensify its nutritional profile and act in improving the digestion and modulating the gut microbiome. Wheat bran has gained interest in the nutrition industry, and its utilization in commonly consumed food products such as bread and other bakery products has created research opportunities in the fermentation/bioprocessing technologies.

Source: Technical article publication

The advances in research include the use of complex enzymes to increase the stability of nutrients and fermentation to enhance nutrient bioavailability. The advanced studies are focused on influencing the bran microstructure resulting in:

  • increasing solubility of arabinoxylans (dietary fiber)
  • obtaining the maximal output of protein

Exhibit 3 depicts wheat bran processing comprising of two stages – hydrolytic splitting by enzymes (xylanase, endoglucanase, and cellulase) and fermentation of the resulting extract by microorganisms.

Prospects of Bioprocessing – Cellular Agriculture Techniques

Cellular agriculture technology utilizing tissue engineering techniques can help overcome the scaling-up the production. Full-scale cultured meat bioprocessing is at the conception stage and hypothetical for the same.

Exhibit 4 demonstrates the essential factors and parameters required as input data to design a viable and competitive process.

References

  1. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fsufs.2019.00044/full
  2. Effects of Fermentation on the Nutritional Properties of Food
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0740002013001184
  4. https://rfiingredients.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/RFI-Ingredients_Fermentation_White-Paper_5.13.pdf
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0924224420304647
  6. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2019.00098/full
  7. Blogs & Expert Opinion Publications
  8. Food and Bioprocessing Magazines
  9. Company Websites
  10. Regulatory Databases – FDA, EFSA
  11. WHO

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