Fermentation is one of the oldest Biotechnologies mastered by humans and currently is an indispensable process in a plethora of food industries such as dairies, bakeries, breweries and wineries, fermented fruits, vegetables and meat. Fermentation process is also an essential biotechnological tool for the production of bio-products such as biogas and bioethanol, and for bioremediation. Even though fermentation occurs naturally by microorganisms as yeasts and/or bacteria, most industrial applications rely on outsourced industrialized/dried/preserved starter cultures from global suppliers yielding commercial products often supplemented by chemical processing aids and preservatives to reach required taste, texture, and acceptable shelf-life.
Agri-Food research and development (R&D) firms and/or startups are a rare commodity in the region thus local industrials and MSMEs often rely on imported industrial starter cultures from multinational firms and are often required to buy large batches, an inconvenient process for most of them.
On the other hand, local MSMEs suffer the most of this situation since smaller batches are more costly and often require special storage conditions while leading to unanimous fermented products lacking authenticity and uniqueness; a major challenge for MSMEs to produce competitively and acquire new market shares.
Nowadays, consumers demand is shifting towards natural, authentic, organic, local and functional products. Consequently, the Agri-Food industries and MSMEs are increasingly seeking local ingredients contributing to the fulfillment of consumers‘ demand.
Local and traditional fermented food products are primary sources for natural starter cultures and many studies have proven their technological and health promoting characteristics. In fact, results have proven the relevance of local starter culturea in food fermentation and biotechnological applications such as Biocontrol, Bioremediation, and enzymes.
The Solution Proposed
As researchers at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, we have been conducting research in collaboration with the Lebanese National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS), local Food SMEs and the Institut national de la recherche agronomique (INRA) in France to develop and introduce local starter cultures to local food industries.
In this context, we have been isolating local microorganisms from traditional fermented Lebanese products and characterizing their fermenting abilities during the last two years. Promising natural starter cultures of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeasts and Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) were discovered, namely in the fields of sourdough bread, dairy products and fermented vegetables; in fact, isolates have positively affected the nutritional and sensorial characteristics as well as products shelf-life. Hence the idea of a startup.
The startup will constitute a pioneering platform in Lebanon and the region for natural starter cultures production; it will produce and commercialize starter cultures for food industries and MSMEs. In details, the startup will continue the R&D activities already started under the previously cited projects and collaborations while establishing new collaborations with potential clients. Based on clients’ needs tailored starter culture mixes will be developed, tested and then provided fresh upon its request.
With the ongoing economic crisis Lebanon is currently facing, starter culture market will surely be affected; prices will rise and imports will face many challenges. This is where the startup will compensate the lack of imported materials and encourage local products and sustain local food producers.
Many future plans can be aligned to the objectives of this startup, such as the production of specific enzymes and metabolites produced by certain microorganisms and utile for food industrials.
Target market are local producers of fermented foods. The services of the startup include the provision of two main products: S. cerevisiae yeasts and Lactic acid bacteria (LAB). Primary market of yeasts are bread industries, followed by breweries and wineries, and primary markets of LAB are dairy industries. The startup will be positioned as service provider for industrials producing the aforementioned products.