Fermentation

Your guide to the science, business and policy of using fermentation to produce animal-free meat, eggs, dairy and seafood.

Animal-free chicken
Photo credit: Quorn
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What is fermentation?

Sustainable protein companies are using fermentation in innovative ways to produce foods that deliver the distinctive flavours and textures of animal products, without farming animals.

Fermentation can be used to produce sustainable protein that looks, cooks and tastes like meat, through a process similar to the way foods like beer and yoghurt are made.

Precision fermentation uses yeast to produce real egg or dairy proteins (like whey and casein), delivering the familiar flavour and texture of foods like cheese and milk, without using animals.

Why do we need fermentation?

Fermentation is an incredibly efficient process. It enables proteins to grow very quickly – sometimes doubling in size within hours, compared to months or years for animals.

This means that, compared with farming animals, meat and other sustainable proteins made using fermentation are less resource-intensive. They have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water use, water pollution, antibiotic resistance, and foodborne illnesses. 

The fermentation process can even help to reduce food waste, by transforming agricultural surplus and byproducts into nutritious and delicious food.

How are sustainable proteins made with fermentation?

Fermentation companies that make meat use a method similar to beer and yoghurt production to grow large quantities of proteins – often naturally occurring mycoproteins sourced from earth – with a meaty texture. 

Precision fermentation companies use organisms such as yeast to produce pure milk, egg or collagen proteins, or ingredients such as heme. This process is the same one that has been used for decades to produce medicines like insulin and food enzymes like rennet (which is found in many cheese products). 

Gene sequences for milk, egg or gelatin proteins (such as whey and casein) are introduced into the yeast, which then produces these proteins in the same way as animal cells. 

The result is pure milk and egg protein without antibiotics, E. coli and salmonella, or faecal contamination. These proteins can then be mixed with other ingredients like sugar and plant-based fats to create a final product like ice cream, cheese or whole milk.

How can we advance fermentation in Europe?

Creating the flavours and textures of animal products using fermentation involves using new science and technology. Many approaches are yet to be rigorously explored or optimised for making sustainable proteins, and access to the latest technology is limited – so we are only in the early stages of innovation. 

To uncover the full potential of sustainable proteins made with fermentation, we need public investment in open-access research and development to support innovation and make these foods accessible for consumers across Europe.

Formo precision fermentation cheese

The science of fermentation

Learn more about the science and technology behind fermentation – and the white spaces where more research is needed to accelerate the transition to a sustainable, secure and just food system.

The business of fermentation

Europe’s fermentation sector is growing rapidly, with companies producing everything from fish fingers to cheese. In 2020, European fermentation companies raised:

  • Over €50 million.
  • Five times more than the almost €10 million they attracted in 2019.

The policy of fermentation

To deliver on their potential to help tackle the climate and ecological emergency, protect public health and enhance food security, sustainable proteins made with fermentation need government support.

GFI Europe advocates public investment in fermentation R&D, evidence-based regulation of new foods, and clear labelling rules to help consumers make more sustainable choices.

Latest news on fermentation

Collaboration, capacity and craveability – building the roadmap to a sustainable protein future

GFI Europe’s new market research reveals the key challenges facing plant-based and cultivated meat in Europe

Sustainable protein innovation priorities

Infrastructure investment vital for plant-based and cultivated meat industries, according to new research

A study of Europe’s plant-based and cultivated meat industries has found infrastructure investment is required to help the sector expand.

UK Parliament

Social Market Foundation report calls for UK government investment in sustainable proteins

The Good Food Institute Europe responds to a new report calling on the UK Government to invest in sustainable proteins to meet its climate targets.

Beyond Meat plant-based meatballs

National Food Strategy calls for £125 million investment in sustainable proteins

The National Food Strategy has called on the UK government to invest £125 million in sustainable protein startups and a new commercial “cluster” for the sector.

Scientist researching plant-based meat

Horizon Europe announces €32 million for sustainable proteins

Horizon Europe has announced €32 million in funding, in its biggest-ever package of support covering plant-based, cultivated meat and fermentation.

Plant-based burger with sweet potato fries

Record €2.6 billion invested in sustainable proteins in 2020 – 3x the amount invested in 2019

New data released today by the Good Food Institute reveals that globally, 2020 was a record period of investment in companies creating sustainable alternatives to conventional animal-based foods.