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Feasting on Microbes

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Yesterday was my semi-annual Microbe Lunch so I thought I would share my menu and some pictures. I do this every semester to celebrate the end of my laboratory course. I prepare a Feast made up entirely of foods and beverages that involve microorganisms. These may be foods in which the microorganisms are a major component of the food, involved in the preparation of the food, growing the food or preparing an ingredient. My goal is to impress upon students (and my colleagues) the beneficial role of microorganisms. Many of these items you may have heard about and hopefully others are new to you. I hope you try them out. You might be amazed at the important role microorganisms have on the food you eat. Since I started doing this, it has been interesting to see many of these items appearing more often in regular grocery stores and not just the health food or international markets. What I also like to stress is that every culture (pun intended) has some type of fermented/preserved food so it is also a great way to bring cultural awareness to a science course. If you can recommend any foods I'm always looking for new items to add. Here's my menu with some brief commentary.


Miso soup - fermented soybean paste
Kefir - a fermented milk beverage. Very similar to yogurt but drinkable. Lot's of kid oriented packaging now available.
Yoghurt - fermented milk (Greek and traditional)
Assorted soft and hard cheeses - this year's menu included emmentaler, bleu, gouda, chevre, butter kase, brie, camembert, cheddar, edam, fromage blanc, havarti, Limburgher (bonus points for trying this one)
Breads including sourdough bread - bread is obvious but traditional sourdough also includes bacteria for the souring process. Hard to find traditional sourdough in Missouri but Panera sourdough is close enough.
Crackers - only varieties made with yeast
Summer sausage - fermented meats (note the ingredients: lactic acid starter culture)
Quorn - delicious meat substitute made from a fungus. You can buy it in different formats that look like chicken nuggets, chicken cutlets, chicken patties, etc. When I started doing this it was not available in the US (only in the UK) but now can be found almost everywhere.
Sauerkraut - fermented cabbage
Kimchi - spiced, fermented cabbage from Korea
Pickles - any pickled fruit and vegetable is traditionally made through fermentation but most commercially produced products bypass the fermentation and just use vinegar. Nevertheless, the vinegar was produced by microbes.
Tempeh - fermented soybeans. A great meat substitute. I love to cut it up in cubes, marinate it overnight and then stir fry it the morning of my feast.
Olives - As with pickles, the preservation involves fermentation by microbes
Soy sauce - fermented soybean
Coffee - coffee beans are prepared using a fermentation process
Chocolate - the cocoa bean is processed using a fermentation step
Tea - also produced by fermentation of the leaves
Vinegar - fermented wine
Diet soft drinks - aspartame is produced by microbes
Soft drinks with high fructose corn syrup - high fructose corn syrup is made using microbial enzymes
Root beer and ginger ale - non-alcoholic fermented beverages
Spirulina - cyanobacteria (used to be called blue-green algae but they are bacteria, not algae). A high protein supplement. Many people add it to shakes and other drinks for a protein boost.
Mushrooms - Hard for some people to believe that these things are classified as microbes but what you eat is the fruiting body produced by these microbes.
Soybeans and Peanuts - these and other legumes grow with the help of nitrogen fixing bacteria in the plant's roots.
Quark - another type of fermented milk. A little thicker that yogurt.
Vegemite - a spreadable yeast extract.
Natto - fermented soybeans from Japan

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Total Micro over here ! Yes , I too shop at Whole Foods - have ever read the book - By Ty Bollinger Cancer (Think outside the Box) great book - really gets those enzymes moving ! Yes , nutrient geek over here and Proud of it - Been wanting to get this blog for the past few days - finally - Happy that I did :) Thanks - for spreading the Word - LIL Racer emoticon
    1991 days ago
    Ooo! Ooo! (Mr. Kotter, or in your case, probably Dr. Kotter?) I thought of some: Buttermilk? & Butter???
    (Just my guesses, really.)
    : )
    1993 days ago
    Wow. Thanks for that. You taught, I learned.
    I'm sad to say that I don't have anything to add at the moment.
    A question: Do you know if having a reaction to antibiotics would translate to risk when eating these types of food?
    : )
    1993 days ago
    Yum! I have yogurt for breakfast most days, add unflavoured milk kefir to my fruit juice every day, had sauerkraut for dinner just tonight. Generally, I include most of the 'western' foods you mention, but I really need to get more adventurous with the fermented soy foods. Any I've had I've enjoyed.
    Your "Feast" is a great way to show science in everyday things. Neat idea!
    1995 days ago
    Thanks for sharing.
    My wife and I were discussing your blog as I read it.
    We were waiting for the alcohol to be mentioned.
    1995 days ago
    I was impressed that you have a lot of vegan foods in your list! (Since I'm a vegan, though not a perfect one.) Very interesting and learned something new.
    1996 days ago
    Great blog, very interesting, learned new things thank you
    1996 days ago
    Good catch Kevin. I've also corrected the character issue and added labels to the pictures.

    Yes, mead certainly qualifies. Unfortunately, since some of my students are under age and I do this on campus I am not allowed to bring the more interesting beverages. We do spend time talking about it in class and we also do an optional tour of a local winery and a brew pub. Those who are of age and not driving are allowed to sample.
    1996 days ago

    Comment edited on: 12/8/2012 3:31:22 PM
    "Tempeh – fermented soybeans. A great mead substitute."

    It's obviously a typo, "mead" should be "meat," but that got me thinking. Alcohol is produced by yeast, so technically any alcohol product could make your list, correct?

    Alcohol as a product of microbes will probably impress a lot of undergrads more than cheese does.
    1996 days ago
    What a cool post, and cool idea! I had no idea so many foods have/use microbes. I've definitely learned something new today. Neat!

    1996 days ago
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