Microbial ecology of fermented food
The spontaneous nature of food fermentation has been exploited for thousands of years in all regions and civilizations on Earth to better preserve plant and animal raw materials. Fermentation enables prolonged storage of food, and enhances its taste, texture and nutritional characteristics. Although cultural differences in food handling result in a broad diversity of fermented foods, all fermentation technologies have a common aim: to promote growth of beneficial flora while inhibiting contaminants and pathogenic microbes, thereby improving quality and safety of the final product. Composition and ecology of microbes involved in spontaneous food fermentations that rely on indigenous microflora depend greatly on the production method and type and source of the raw material. For industrial production, starter cultures are commonly added for fast growth and better control of the quality and safety of fermentations. However, food fermentations remain complex ecological processes that often involve a succession of diverse microbes that work in cooperation, symbiosis, competition, or antagonism to develop the desired food quality.
Our research addresses all steps in fermentation, from initial screening and characterization of microbes in fermentations and environmental samples, to characterization and understanding of ecological associations. We aim to develop safer, more controlled adapted cultures and technologies, and to enhance the sensory characteristics, nutritional quality, and safety of fermented foods.