What is Fermentation?

Brendan McGuigan

In a general sense, fermentation is the conversion of a carbohydrate such as sugar into an acid or an alcohol. More specifically, it can refer to the use of yeast to change sugar into alcohol or the use of bacteria to create lactic acid in certain foods. This process occurs naturally in many different foods given the right conditions, and humans have intentionally made use of it for many thousands of years.

Tanks for fermenting beer.
Tanks for fermenting beer.

The earliest uses of fermentation were most likely to create alcoholic beverages such as mead, wine, and beer. These beverages may have been created as far back as 7,000 BCE in parts of the Middle East. The fermentation of foods such as milk and various vegetables probably happened sometime a few thousand years later, in both the Middle East and China. While the general principle is the same across all of these drinks and foods, the precise methods of achieving it, and the end results, differ.

Wine fermenting in a vat.
Wine fermenting in a vat.

Beer is made by taking a grain, such as barley, wheat, or rye, germinating and drying it, and pulping it into a mash. This mash is then mixed with hot water, and some fermentation begins. After being further treated, the liquid is transferred to a vessel, where yeast is added to the mixture. This yeast “eats” the sugar present in the mash and converts it into carbon dioxide and alcohol. After a few weeks of fermentation and a further period of conditioning, the beer is ready to be filtered and consumed.

Fermenting milk in a yogurt maker.
Fermenting milk in a yogurt maker.

Wine is created using a similar method that also involves fermentation. Grapes are crushed to release the sugar-rich juices, which are then either transferred quickly away from the skins or left to rest for a time to absorb some of the flavor, tannins, and color of the skins. Yeast is then added, and the grape juice is allowed to ferment for a number of weeks, at which point it is moved to different containers and processed at a slower rate, and eventually aged or bottled.

Glasses of white wine.
Glasses of white wine.

Pickling foods, such as cucumbers, may be accomplished by submerging the vegetable one wants to pickle in a salty water solution with vinegar added. Over time, bacteria create the lactic acid that gives the food its distinctive flavor and helps to preserve it. Other foods can be pickled simply by packing them in dry salt and allowing a natural fermentation process to occur.

Barley, which is used to make beer, a fermented drink.
Barley, which is used to make beer, a fermented drink.

Milk can also be cultured, and people have been using this process with dairy products for nearly 5,000 years. It is speculated that early dairy products, such as yogurt, was the result of a natural processes that occurred when the milk was cultured by bacteria that dwelt in skin sacks used to store dairy. Yogurt these days is made by adding a number of special bacteria, such as L. acidophilus and L. bulgaricus to milk and keeping it at the proper temperature. The bacteria begin converting the sugar in the dairy to lactic acid, eventually creating what we know as yogurt.

Cucumbers can be fermented in a brine solution to make sour pickles.
Cucumbers can be fermented in a brine solution to make sour pickles.

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Discussion Comments

anon310516

How is soy fermented?

anon283371

Why does the rate of conversion of raw materials to produce a fermentation process vary during the beginning, middle and final stages of the process?

anon205982

i just want to know why sucrose,maltose or dextrose is not use in alcohol fermentation? please answer!

anon199515

which companies are into fermentation? I am working in india in fermentation.Please let me know which companies in india and in the world are working in fermentation.

anon161363

what is a fermenter made out of? I wouldn't mind details, please.

anon155899

I am doing research. I would just like to ask if what are the other alternatives that can I use to hasten the fermentation process except on molasses?

anon144471

i am wondering why does fermentation happens.

anon141691

This is a very useful text and it has helped me a lot. My tuition teacher will definitely accept this answer. Regards: Kausalyah

anon138790

thank you so much. this info really helped me with my science project and thanks to you i will probably get first place at the science fair.

anon129475

Which organism can carry out the process of fermentation?

anon124545

what other ingredients other than yeast or sugar, that would be added to the fermenter?

anon109173

Does fermentation happen only in microbes?

anon102647

I want to ask what the do's and don'ts of fermentation are, and what the is the main example of fermentation?

Please help me because this is my report in chemistry.

anon78696

What kind of science experiment or investigation can we do to do with fermentation?

anon73054

how is aerobic and anaerobic related to fermentation?

anon71074

Which product ferments quicker in yeast?

Water, starch, sucrose, or glucose.

anon64090

What would i do for making fermentation fast?

randolfh

could i make wine out of sugar cane? if so, how do I prepare it?

anon54755

fermentation is the process of breakdown of organic substances and reassembly into other substances.

anon52127

how do i produce acetone from fermentation?? Any idea? thanks. please reply ASAP.

anon51151

Cool fact: The chinese used to use fermented soybeans to treat skin infections (2,000 B.C)

anon51013

i am doing a science project and i had to explain fermentation what it is and what it does.

anon44284

I am making an organic fertilizer using molasses among other things. How do I speed up the fermentation process so there is no 'scum' left at the top of the bucket?

anon37240

I don't know where you got that source from but if the enzymes stop working at 14% how come some wines are as high as 18% e.g. dessert wines, these are not fortified, they reach 18% purely through fermentation. i'll tell you a legitimate fact about fermentation, it is a exothermic reaction. meaning heat is given of as a byproduct from converting the sugar into alcohol/CO2

anon35692

i am a second year bio tech student.now i want do my project on fermentation. so help me to do my projects. and what are the things have to done to finish my project successfully? Please answer me sir!

anon26475

so what is the theory of how to make yogurt using bacteria?

please answer!

dharanaresh

what are the different physical parameters to be controlled in fermentation process (related to instrumentation engg) for automation using plc.

anon21548

somerset,

While your most commonly used yeasts for table wines do indeed cease (or slow incredibly) when alcohol levels reach the low to mid teens, some wine and even ale yeasts can be coaxed into fermenting to more than 20%. A number of non-fortified wines can be purchased commercially in this range. For beers, one of the only commercial examples comes from Sam Adams, and is called Utopias.

anon19997

I just want to say that a hydrometer is a good way to measure the alcohol content of liquids. Also, I just want to say thanks for this information. Even though I'm only 13, I know a lot. You guys got a really good thing going on her. You have a lot of information.

Sincerely, hardcoresoccergirl

anon19700

Fermentation involves the endogenous electron acceptor to break down organic compounds.

somerset

An interesting fact about fermentation of wine is that enzymes that break down sugars into wine become inactivated when the level of alcohol reaches about 14%. This is the reason why wine, or any alcohol product created by fermentation is less than 14% alcohol.

Most familiar wine is made from grapes, but "sake" for instance is made from rice, and "mead" is made from honey. Other products are made by fermentation as well, such as pickles, sauerkraut and olives.

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