How top restaurants work with bacteria, molds and fungi in their kitchens

One of the philosophical divides between raw milk enthusiasts and the regulatory crowd has been how they view bacteria and other microbes. Are they seen strictly as pathogens to be controlled, killed and removed from food, or can they be a value added probiotic? For some perspective on that debate, here’s a story about how leading edge restaurants are taking an interest in what microbes can bring to the table, when it comes to new foods and flavours.

From Lindsey J Smith on The

“We usually think of bacteria, molds, and fungi as unwelcome visitors in the kitchen, but in restaurants worldwide, chefs–famous and acclaimed ones at that–are using microbes to create new flavors, reveals Nature Microbiology. [paywall]

Arielle Johnson, author of the article and a chemist by training, works with numerous restaurants, including Noma in Copenhagen, which is famous for its exclusive use of Scandinavian ingredients. Like MomofukuBar TartineHusk, and many other progressive restaurants across the world, Noma uses science to discover new flavors. Johnson’s current focus is fermentation.

Fermentation is the process through which bacteria and fungi take ingredients like regular tea (kombucha), boring barley (beer), or plain ol’ milk (c’mon we don’t need to explain this one) and biochemically transform them into more flavorful foods. Although it’s becoming part of haute cuisine, it’s nothing new. For thousands of years, fermentation has been a key way of preserving raw food.

“Fermentation’s always been a home thing,” Johnson says. “But I think the sort of reinterpretation that’s happening is opening up people to, I don’t know, different ways of doing it, like more of a creative thing.”


Typically, food gets its flavor either from the conditions it was raised under, or from the transformation to sugars and proteins during cooking. But when certain strains of bacteria come into contact with food under the right conditions, they can also create flavor. For example, cabbage, a relatively bland vegetable, is given a sharp zing when lactic acid bacteria breaks down its sugars to make sauerkraut.

Fermentation is ancient, but what is new is the way restaurants are using it, the article reports. At Noma, for instance, where chefs use exclusively regional ingredients, they cannot turn to lemons or grape-based vinegars to add tart notes to dishes. Instead, for that sour fix, they head to the lab….”

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