“In the last thirty years, scientists have discovered an entire domain of life, one that may hold as much complexity and diversity as that containing all plants, animals, and fungi. This before-unknown domain, like that called bacteria, has no nuclei. It shows up in unique niches, like the hot pools in Yellowstone, but also in great abundance on the roots of plants – that is, on those roots found in organic, but not in chemically treated soils. Scientists are still getting to the bottom of what Archaeal microbes on plant roots do, but many suspect that they may mediate the flow of minerals and nutrients and fend off pathogens.” (emphasis mine) (Lappé, p.288) “It is not know what they [the archaea bacteria] are doing there, but Goodman suspects that they are mediating the flow of minerals and nutrients, especially nitrogen, warding off pathogens, coupling with other microbes to create the unseen ecosystem that is the basis of agriculture… The archaeal microbes were present in the organic soil but not in the samples from the industrial ag land. We don’t know what the archaeal bacteria have to do with the health of crops, but this simple result indicates we should”. (Manning).
Microbes and food have always had a love-hate relationship. Food producers have learned to harness their power – and sometimes for good use. There is no doubt that organically grown fruits and vegetables are superior in flavor. Now, despite arguments to the contrary made by food manufacturers, they may well be more nutritious for a variety of reasons. There are always studies available to prove any point, especially one where chemically doused foods are more nutritious. But then, like bacteria in the throes of death, food manufacturers mount a valiant effort in trying to convince those near-at-hand that what they say is valid. But, be that as it may, the choice is ultimately made individually.
Bacteria are, to a great extent, resistant to the effects of irradiation because of their ability to repair their damaged DNA. Sometimes, however, their repair is faulty, and the new DNA becomes abnormal, causing a new strain. Salmonella and Campylobacter are easily removed by irridation, but other bacteria are more stubborn. Some, like Clostridium botulinum and L. monocytogenes, have the ability to survive the drying techniques of irridation by converting themselves into tough, little spheres. Food irriadiation, however, exposes an edible product to the equivalent of two and a half million chest X-rays. How many nutrients are left after this bombardment is anyone’s guess, but, at least, most of the germs are gone. Most, not all. Short term studies have shown the destruction of numerous vitamins through this process as well as the formation of new carcinogens. There is also the possible formation of mutant bacteria and viruses. Since the USDA approved such a process in February of 2000, fast food chains, restaurants, school lunch programs, and cafeterias are now using irradiated meat products without the public knowledge.
The most common usage for bacteria in food preparation is with dairy fermentations. Yogurt and cheeses have been made for centuries using bacteria. The ancients may not have known exactly what kind of bacteria that was needed or if what was needed was, indeed, bacteria. All they knew was that the previous batch was required to make a new one. Many people lack the ability to break down and absorb lactose, the sugar molecule in milk. As a result, it enters the gut, producing acid and gas, causing pain and diarrhea. Fermented milk products metabolize lactose into lactic acid, which is more tolerable for many people. The most common fermented milk product is yogurt. The lactobacilli used in the making of many yogurts, however, may not be the same type as found within the common flora of humans as there are many different strains (see Probiotics). The following are some of the bacteria used in the diary industry:
- Acidophilus milk is made with Lactobacillus acidophilus.
- Butter is made from pasteurized cream, to which a lactic acid starter has been added. The starter contains, for example, Streptococcus cremoris or S. lactis, but requires Lactobacillus diacetylactis to give it its characteristic flavor and odor.
- Cheese is often made with Streptococcus and Lactobacillus bacteria. Fermentation lowers the pH, thus helping in the initial coagulation of the milk protein, as well as giving characteristic flavors. In such Swiss cheeses as Emmentaler and Gruyere, the typical flavor is the result of the use of Propionibacterium. Cheese can be classified within two groups – ripened and unripened. Unripened cheeses consist of cottage cheese, cream cheese, and Mozzarella, for example. These are soft cheeses and are made by the lactic acid fermentation of milk. Many different bacteria are used to produce the various cheeses, but Lactococcus lactis and Leuconostoc cremoris are used most often. Soft cheeses can take one to five months to ripen; hard cheeses, three months to a year or more; and very hard cheeses, like Parmesan, can take twelve to eighteen months. The blue veins found in cheeses, like Stilton and Roquefort, are caused by growth Penicillium roqueforti, which is deliberately added now to cheese. Originally, it was found as a natural contaminant of the areas where it was made. The holes in Swiss cheese are the result of Propionibacterium shermanii. The surfaces of Camembert and Brie are innoculated with Penicillium camembertii, which then develops in a skin on the surface. Limburger is soaked in brine to encourage the growth of Brevibacterium linens (it should come as no surprise that this is the same bacteria isolated from smelly feet!)
- Kefir includes many different microbes, including yeasts, lactobacilli, lactococci, and leuconostocs. Depending on geographical locations, the precise types of microbes will vary.
- Yogurt usually requires the addition of Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Lactococcus thermophilus, and/or Streptococcus thermophilus to the milk.
Bacteria are not only used for fermentaion in the dairy industry, but for use in other such food production as in the processing of coffee and cocoa, the manufacturing of food additives, and other such processes such as the making of xanthan gum and vinegar. Bacteria, and most viruses do not tolerate acids. This is the reason that vinegar retards the growth of most bacteria. The following is a list of other foods where bacteria and other microbes are necessary for the making of certain foodstuffs.
- Vitamins are the most important non-prescription medications. Most are economically made synthetically, but some are produced biosynthetically, that is, partly from synthetics and partly from bacteria. Such yeast extracts as Vegemite and Marmite are rich in B vitamins. Microbes may be used to elaborate precursors in the making of Vitamins A, C, and the B family. Using sugarbeet molasses as a growth medium, Pseudomonas denitrificans is made to produce Vitamin B12. Members of the genus Propionibacterium are also used to make this vitamin. Although many bacteria and fungi produce riboflavin (B2), the fungus Ashbya gossypii produces it in huge quantities.
- MSG (monosodium glutamate) is manufactured by Corynebacterium glutamicum, a cousin of the diptheria germ.
- Citric acid used to be extracted primarily from lemons, but worldwide demand for it forced the commercial industry to seek other sources. The fungus, Aspergillus niger, when grown on sugarbeet molasses, produces huge quantities of citric acid.
- Glutamic acid requires Corynebacterium glutamicum for its formation. Biotin is a cofactor essential for lipid synthesis in bacteria. By growing C. glutamicum on limited amounts of biotin, it causes the bacterial membrane to leak sufficient quantities of glutamic acid.
- Lysine – The bacterium, Brevibacterium flavum is used in the industrial biosynthesis of lysine. Mutants no longer susceptible to feedback inhibition have been isolated to be used industrially to increase the yield of amino acids.
- Baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) provides a variety of enzymes that enable carbohydrates to be broken down producing sufficient carbon dioxide to give bread its characteristic texture.
- Beers, etc. – Traditionally, the natural yeasts on grape skins determine the quality of wine produced. These natural yeasts, especially Saccharomyces cerevisiae (beer in Spanish is “cervesa”) and Saccharomyces ellipsoideus, ferment the grapes to make wine. It used to be a risky business leaving it up to nature to decide the quality. Now winemaking has become a regulated science with the use of these yeasts. Beers, lagers, and ales generally rely on the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, although lager yeasts will probably always be known as Saccaromyces carlsbergensis.
- Sauerkraut-making requires the bacteria Leuconostoc mesenteroides and Lactobacillus brevis to ferment sugars that provide a variety of such organic products as lactic acid, acetic acid, ethanol, and mannitol. These bacteria are known as ‘heterofermentative’ bacteria. Later a ‘homofermentative’ bacteria, Lactobacillus plantarum takes over, producing only lactic acid. Later, Enterococcus faecalis and Pediococcus cerevisiae assume the fermentation process if the salt brine is not what it sould be.
- Sourdough bread requires the help of a yeast, Saccharomyces exiguus, along with lactobacilli, to provide its characteristic texture and flavor.
- Dill pickles are simply fermented cucumbers. Streptococci starts the process of fermentation, but as the pH level falls, leuconostoc and pediococcus species, as well as Lactobacillus plantarum continue the process.
- Olives are edible only after fermentation with Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus mesenteroides.
- Coffee and chocolate require Erwinia dissolvens, leuconostoc, and lactobacillus species plus the yeasts of the genus Saccharomyces to remove the tough outer coats. The microbes do not affect the taste of coffee but are necessary to confer the characteristic taste to cocoa and chocolate. The bacteria S. napoli and S. eastbourne often use chocolate as a vector. It is thought that the chocolate provides protection for the bacterium as it passes through the acidic environment of the stomach. This was observed when higher incidents of illness were reported in children.
Soy sauce is made from a mixture of soy beans and rice fermented by a variety of bacteria and fungi. These include Lactobacillus delbrueckii, Aspergillus oryzae, Aspergillus soyae, and Saccharomyces rouxii.
- Meat products, like salami and bologna sausages, require some fermentation with Pediuococcus cerevisiae, Lactobacillus plantarum and some members of the genus Bacillus. Country cured hams use fungi of the genus Aspergillus and the genus Penicillium in their fermentation process. Izushi (sushi), a Japanese delicacy made from a mixture of fish, rice, and other vegetables is produced by fermentation with lactobacilli.
*Note: Are you aware of the effect of drugs prescription and over-the-counter on your body’s nutrients? Check here.