In early 2020, populations around the world were told to stay at home. The impact on wellbeing was huge – but amidst the struggle to keep morale high, many people turned to new hobbies and habits in order to lift their spirits.
One of those hobbies was the practice of fermenting food.
Fermentation is a natural process that converts sugars into valuable nutrients. Humans have been fermenting foods for thousands of years.
Living History Farms details how food with ‘notoriously poor holding qualities’ – namely dairy, including the milk of cattle, sheep, goats, and camels – was naturally fermented and consumed.
In the mid-1800s, a French chemist named Louis Pasteur discovered the connection between yeast and the fermentation process. This made him the first ever zymologist – someone who studies the science of fermentation.
His original definition of fermentation was ‘respiration without air’.
At that time, the only purpose of fermentation was to increase the hold time for foods, before they became unusable.
But in 1910 a Russian bacteriologist, Elie Metchnikoff, pointed out that Bulgarians were living an average of 87 years – which was an exceptionally long lifespan for that time period. Metchnikoff began to inspect lifestyle factors that might contribute to Bulgarians’ longevity – and noticed that they consumed significantly more fermented milks than other cultures.
That was a pivotal moment for our understanding of the benefits of fermented foods – leading to the study of bacteria in fermented products that can improve human gut health.
Today, research shows that fermented foods have numerous active health benefits, including…
…which means that fermented food can protect against a huge range of serious health conditions and diseases, and support overall good health.
People around the world started cooking and baking more during pandemic lockdowns – along with other at-home activities that could provide relief from uncertainty and stress. And the art of fermentation grew in popularity. Almost anything can be fermented if you know how to do it; so people made everything from sourdough bread to sauerkraut.
But the rise of fermentation wasn’t just because it offered a distracting activity to do at home.
Research about the potential correlation between fermented food and lower COVID-19 severity went mainstream – as did broader knowledge about the immune-boosting effects of fermentation.
So people had an additional incentive to learn about fermentation processes: it was a way to increase live microbes in their diets, which might improve gut immunity and support the body’s response to infections.
Yes – consumers got a taste for fermented food products. And as life has become busy again, people are fermenting less at home and spending more on fermented food brands – with many producers reporting significant sales increases since 2020.
Globally, the fermented food market was valued at just under USD $575 billion in 2022, and it’s expected to reach $989 billion by 2032.
It wasn’t only down to the pandemic. Other factors, like a rise in health conscious consumers and the prevalence of diet-related disease around the world, are also driving the fermentation boom.
But lockdown gave us the time to look closely at our diets. And consumers have a new found love for fermented food.
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