Fermented Foods: Nature’s Happy Accident
How Did Fermentation Happen?
Ever wonder how fermentation came about? Fermentation is a rather remarkable phenomenon that practically dates back to the beginning of time, but no one back then knew why or how fermentation happened. It wasn’t until relatively recently that a really smart man who understood science and biology and all sorts of things figured it out, leading to safer practices and products.
A Brief History Lesson
You’d have to go back as far as 7000 B.C. to find the first known fermented product. That’s when cheese was first produced in Iraq. Wine wasn’t discovered until 6000 B.C., this time in the Near East. And even while kombucha was popular thousands of years ago, it wasn’t until 1851 A.C. when Louis Pasteur discovered the science of pasteurization (hence the name), that people began to understand the process behind fermentation.
Until Pasteur came into the picture, fermentation was just nature’s happy accident. People believed fermentation was a spontaneous phenomena. No one really knew what caused it; they just enjoyed its results in beer and wine, most notably. But with little knowledge of how fermentation happened, fermented products came with an inherent risk: contamination and over-fermentation which resulted in high alcohol levels. Pasteur was asked to help solve this problem and that’s where his contribution to this particular science really took shape.
Pasteur was a French physicist and chemist who is known for all kinds of scientific breakthroughs, including the Pasteurization Method, the creation of vaccines, and molecular asymmetry. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, Pasteur discovered not only how pasteurization actually happened, but that it could be controlled. He found microbial organisms were responsible for fermentation, namely a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). When sugar and oxygen are added, fermentation begins as billions of bacteria multiply. This is the basic fermentation process of any food or beverage. He recognized these bacteria were harmless to humans, but “bad” bacteria could also flourish if not killed by heating the concoction to a certain temperature, hence “pasteurization.”
Hail to Kombucha!
Now, kombucha dates back to as early as 221 B.C. Like other fermented products, no one really understood the science behind kombucha until Pasteur came around. Kombucha is made by putting the kombucha culture into brewed sugared tea and leaving the mixture to ferment for a period of days or weeks at a controlled temperature. The bacteria thrive and produce what we know and love as kombucha.
Of course, that’s not the end of the story. Kombucha is flavored using all kinds of ingredients and some kombucha is pasteurized to eliminate all bacteria. Pasteurization may solve one potential problem (contamination), but it causes another (kills beneficial bacteria). Some manufacturers add beneficial bacteria back in, but it’s not the billions of colonies that are produced naturally during fermentation.
Related: What Is Craft Brewed Kombucha?
At Brew Dr. Kombucha, we use only organic botanicals and flavorings that give our kombuchas their unique taste. Our tea leaves are sourced from organic growers all over the world, making our kombuchas stand out amongst all of the other brands on the market. And thanks to Pasteur, we know how to control fermentation so that a minimal amount of alcohol is produced during the fermentation process and all of the beneficial colonies of bacteria are unharmed. This is referred to as “raw” kombucha, as we never heat our kombucha to pasteurize it. While heat pasteurization is effective in eliminating harmful bacteria from contaminating kombucha, our meticulous process and methods ensure a safe product every time. No harmful bacteria are able to contaminate our kombucha and all of the beneficial bacteria remain.
There is plenty of science to back up the claims that these bacteria have nutritional and functional benefits to humans. From delivering vitamins and enzymes to our cells to improving gut microbiome in the digestive tract, these “good” bacteria may pack a healthful punch. We wouldn’t dream of killing them since we know how to control which colonies of bacteria form.
So, the next time you purchase raw kombucha, recognize you are holding somewhat of a miracle in a bottle. With the unique flavor and potential benefits from the naturally-occurring probiotics, it’s no wonder the kombucha market is growing at such a fast pace. While Pasteur didn’t invent fermentation, he did help us understand how it happens so we can leverage the science to make incredible and delicious products. Thanks, Louis!