food microbiology

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The Versatile Little Bean

Soybeans became widely popular in the last few decades. Low in fat, high in protein, a good substitute for meat, and sometimes fermented. This unassuming little bean has plenty of creative uses. Unfermented types of soy products include tofu, soymilk and in its purest, unprocessed form, edamame. Microbes transform soybeans into products as different as soy sauce, tempeh, natto, and miso.

When I first bought tempeh several years ago, I thought there was something wrong with it. A mysterious white substance glued soybeans together into a solid, congealed slab. It felt slimy and was full of grey spots. Little did I know at the time that microbes help make this tasty treat. (more…)

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How microbes flavor kefir

We can thank microbes for the tangy flavor and the effervescent creamy texture of kefir. This fermented milk product relies on dozens of bacteria and yeasts to convert the lactose and other compounds found in milk to small molecules that contribute to the taste and texture of kefir. As we know get to know more about the microbiology of food, food scientists may be able to streamline production, improve health benefits, and customize the flavors of fermented foods.

So what are these helpful microbes and how do they contribute to the fermentation of kefir? (more…)

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Milky microbes: the making of kefir

Foods containing live active cultures have been touted as beneficial for digestion and immune health. Yogurt, particularly Greek yogurt, has risen to the top of the probiotic trend in recent years. With the uptick of microbiome research and news lately, foods that allegedly improve the gut microbial community has acquired quite a following. Now another fermented milk product named kefir (not to be confused with kaffir lime) is slowly gaining in popularity in our health-conscious world. Though today, many may not know what kefir is or even how to pronounce it ("keh-FEAR"), kefir is sure to attract mainstream attention in the coming years. (more…)

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A year of microbes

Of course there are way too many microbiology stories than I can blog about. Here are some other fascinating finds throughout the year:

A bacteria that eats plastic: Poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) is a component of many plastic products that have accumulated in large quantities in the environment. Researchers have isolated a bacterium that uses PET as its main energy and carbon source. This bacterium can be further developed to efficiently degrade or ferment PET waste products. (more…)

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Microbes at work in your kimchi

Kimchi is the national dish of South Korea and has become a global trend in the last several years. With its distinct and pungent odor, people seem to either love this stuff or despise it with all their passion. Kimchi is a mixture of vegetables and seasonings that is fermented before it is eaten. It is spicy, salty, and tangy all at the same time. (more…)