Probiotic Fermentation Explained
Fermentation in Common foods
Did you know that the process of fermentation is used in some of our most common foods? We use fermentation to leaven bread, pickle cucumbers and curdle milk into cheese and yogurt. We use it to transform fruit juices into wine, grain into beer and potatoes into vodka. It’s no surprise then that fermentation is also used in making probiotics!
So what is fermentation?
Definition: Fermentation is the metabolic process of converting sugars and other carbohydrates into alcohol or preservative organic acids and carbon dioxide using bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms.
In other words..
Microorganisms consume sugars and other carbohydrates as their food source. However, just like humans, they digest the nutrients they need and excrete the remaining metabolites (by-products). The metabolites of a microorganisms’ metabolic process can include alcohol, preservative organic acids and carbon dioxide. These metabolites bring about a desired taste in many foods. For example, carbon dioxide is a metabolite that helps bread rise before the baking process. Alcohol is a metabolite that makes a bottle of wine different from a juice box. Organic acid is a metabolite that creates the main flavor of kimchi.
After the desired taste is achieved, the microorganisms or bacteria initially used to produce the metabolite are typically removed by heat treatment, baking, canning or another method.
But not always –
In some cases, such as sauerkraut, yogurts and cheeses, the bacteria are not removed. They become part of the final product after they have changed the properties of the food.
The Uniqueness of Probiotic Fermentation
Probiotic fermentation is unique in that it seeks to grow the bacteria for future consumption rather than use it to produce a metabolite. Different from other food fermentation processes, the metabolite is disposed of and the end- product is a concentrated powder of billions of life-changing strains of bacteria we call probiotics.
In large-scale probiotic fermentation, the probiotic bacteria are placed into a tank of nutrients. The probiotic bacteria consume the nutrients and leave behind a metabolite, which is removed from the end product.
But there’s a lot more to it –
Keeping the bacteria alive makes probiotic fermentation far more challenging than other fermentation processes. Probiotic bacteria are living things! Like any living things, if not given a proper diet and suitable environmental conditions or stored under the right conditions, they become injured or die reducing their efficacy.
Because of this, great measures are taken by a probiotic manufacturer to optimize the count of healthy bacteria and ensure the purity of the product:
- Every step of the growth and preservation process including nutrient selection and growth temperatures is highly regulated and monitored.
- Entire labs are dedicated to crafting the perfect recipe for maximizing probiotic strain growth and probiotic formulation.
- The product and ingredients are tested at regular intervals throughout the process for quality and purity.
How do probiotics actually grow?
The probiotic bacteria are fed a special blend of nutrients. These nutrients provide them the energy to grow.
Note: Every probiotic strain has their own unique diet tailored to optimize their growth and stability.
The process of bacteria growth is called binary fission and happens trillions upon trillions of times in just one batch of probiotics!
Like most bacteria, probiotic strains reproduce asexually (by themselves). In this process, a bacterium (a single bacteria) grows to nearly double its original size. Around this time, the cell splits into two identical copies of the original cell. These two new identical copies continue to make more copies of the original cell.
Common Roadblocks: Keeping Probiotics alive and Keeping Out Pathogens
Possibly the greatest challenge of probiotic development, is keeping the cultures alive.
Probiotic cultures are highly sensitive to many environmental factors including acidity and temperature. They are meant to be living inside your gut where there is no light and a perfect living environment. Until then, a probiotic manufacturer must closely regulate temperature and pH (acidity) throughout the fermentation process.
Another fermentation challenge is keeping out pathogens.
When growing probiotic cultures, it is important that no unwanted or harmful bacteria are also grown in the process. Pathogens are harmful bacteria. A whole batch of probiotics must be thrown out if pathogens are detected by the quality team. This makes sterilization and sanitation a key to success. A probiotic company must follow strict GMP procedures to maintain the purity of their product.
A great deal of skill, science, experience and patience is required to be a probiotic supplier, but it’s all worth it! The end-product is billions of life-changing probiotic cultures that have been scientifically proven to elicit a wide range of benefits from digestive support (ex. DDS®-1) to heart health (LRC™) and weight management (ex. BNR17®).
Click here to learn about how specific probiotic strains can benefit your health.