The Kvass of 2014? ‘Next generation’ fermented functional drinks show promise

By Ben BOUCKLEY contact

- Last updated on GMT

Kombucha is well-established in the States, and this is one well-known packaged brand, but health concerns do center on home-brewed varieties due to the use of a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). (Alf Altendorf/Flickr)
Kombucha is well-established in the States, and this is one well-known packaged brand, but health concerns do center on home-brewed varieties due to the use of a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). (Alf Altendorf/Flickr)
Brands are increasingly using modern bio-technology to develop ‘next generation’ fermented functional beverages, researchers say, but they warn that many drinks still face challenges prior to possible commercialization.

Led by Alan March, researchers from Teagasc Food Research Centre and University College Cork note that the global functional food and drink market grew 150% between 2003-2010 according to Leatherhead Research (2011), and could grow a further 22.8% this year to €21.7bn in terms of terms. This is just one fairly conservative estimate.

Fermented milks – especially yogurt-style products, are the most popular functional beverages, with kefir in Western Europe and North America and ymer in Denmark good examples of popular drinks.

In fact, dairy products (and fermented drinks in particular) recently accounted for approximately 43% of the functional beverage market (Ozer & Kirmachi, 2010).

A panacea for all human ills? Well, more research is needed…

Health claims for fermented drinks range from gastro-intestinal health and anti-cancer potential to positive endocrine, cardiovascular, immune and nervous system effects, and Marsh et al. say in vitro ​and animal studies give cause for optimism.

“In addition to harnessing traditional beverages for commercial use, there have recently been innovative efforts to develop non-dairy probiotic fermented beverages from a variety of substrates, including soy milk, whey, cereals and vegetable and fruit juices,”​ they write.

Yogurts and fermented milks (containing lactic acid bacteria) are currently worth €46bn globally, with North America, Europe and Asia accounting for 77% of the market.

Kefir (from the Caucasian mountains but now worth €79m in the US) is popular, while fermented camel’s milk Shubat is popular in Asia and fermented milks are widely consumed in Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Kenya and Ghana.

Non-dairy fermented drinks: Kvass, Amazake, Kombucha

Non-dairy fermented drinks are made from cereals popular in tropical regions and Africa in particular, where natural microbials ferment grains including maize, millet, barley, oats, rye, wheat, rice or sorghum.

Better-known in this space drinks include Russia’s kvass, brewed using rye bread, rye and barley, and amazake from Japan – a sweet fermented rice beverage that is a highly nutritious non-alcoholic precursor to sake.

Beyond milk and cereal-based formulations, other fermented beverages include kombucha, a fermented sweetened tea from China that is now enjoying global success – it is tipped to corner a €363m market in the US by 2015.

However, Marsh et al. note that beverages making health claims need to be backed by credible science in the form of randomized, controlled and replicated human intervention trials.

“This form of evidence is rare for these beverages (and particularly so for non-dairy forms), and the generation of such data is an expensive and unappealing prospect for industry – but nonetheless remains a critical area for proof-of-concept and future research,”​ they write.

Developing palatable flavor profiles is crucial

Nonetheless, the authors say that the perceived healthiness of fermented drinks – particularly in their home markets – contributes to their market potential and justifies investing in more research, which they say could then underpin health claims that conform to regulations and satisfy consumers.

“Most of the beverages…are still in the early stages of commercial development, and require further extensive, sensory, physical and chemical characterisation to develop a palatable flavor profile and viable product,”​ they write.

“One aspect that cannot be underestimated in the development of beverages is the need to accurately assess the market potential for such a product,”​ Marsh et al. write.

They add that the obvious hurdle is consumers’ willingness to accept unfamiliar products, while the right combination of starters and substrates, optimum nutrition and flavor development and scientifically supported health benefits are also important.

Nonetheless, taste, price and base nutritional composition are more important that functional properties, Marsh et al. conclude, stating their belief that the outlook for fermented beverages is “more promising than ever”.

Title:​ ‘Fermented Beverages with Health-Promoting Potential: Past and Future Perspectives’

Authors:​ Marsh, A., Hill, C., Ross, R.P., Cotter, P.D.

Source: Trends in Food Science & Technology​, 38 (2014) 113-124

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1 comment


Posted by Kombucha Brooklyn,

Love the piece, excited to be a part of this growing niche market! Definitely swing by our office to check out our classes and home brew kits (we also distribute kombucha on tap!). We've updated our bottles as well. Cheers

--Kombucha Brooklyn

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