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Plant-Based Fermentations New Trend of Nutrition and Health

As consumers’ demands for environmental protection and health continue to increase, plant-based foods have become a new trend to replace animal-derived foods. Plant milk, plant beverages, and plant meat are emerging in an endless stream. This is not only beneficial to people who want to reduce their intake of animal protein, but also it is the gospel of vegans. According to Mintel market data, the global plant-based market has maintained a steady growth trend in the past five years. In 2019, new plant-based products increased by 150% compared to 2015. Global raw material supplier giant ADM said that 2020 “will be another breakthrough year for plant-based categories”. BIS Research Institute also recently investigated and predicted that the plant-based market will reach US$480.43 billion by 2024, and the compound annual growth rate from 2019 to 2024 is expected to be 13.82%.

With the expansion of the plant-based market, fermented plant-based products have gradually attracted the attention of consumers. Fermented plant-based products refer to products that are fermented by probiotics using plant-based raw materials as fermentation substrates. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) define probiotics as "live microorganisms that are beneficial to the health of their host after being taken in an appropriate amount."

Probiotics can be colonized in the human or animal intestines and reproductive system, and regulate the homeostasis of the human body. They have a major impact on the health of the host by inhibiting the proliferation of harmful bacteria, promoting nutrient absorption, and metabolizing and synthesizing nutrients. The combination of plant-based and probiotics once again amplifies the concept of health, and the potential market is immeasurable. According to different substrates, currently fermented plant bases are mainly divided into five categories: fermented plant protein, fermented fruit and vegetable juice, fermented grain, fermented tea, and other types of fermentation. 

Fermented plant protein is a product made by probiotic fermentation with plant protein as raw material, with or without auxiliary materials. The main product categories are fermented vegetable protein drinks and vegetable yogurt. Compared with animal protein, vegetable protein has the characteristics of low fat content, low calorie and no cholesterol. After fermentation by lactic acid bacteria, the protein is degraded, which is easier for human body to digest and absorb, and does not produce lactose. It is suitable for patients with lactose intolerance. At present, plant-based yogurt has developed the fastest, with continuous and steady growth for 5 consecutive years. Plant yogurt made from soybeans, coconuts, and almonds has appeared on the market, mainly in the European and American markets, with a market share of 81.1%, and a market share of only 10.96% in the Asia-Pacific region. The market share of China's plant-based yogurt is only 8.42% of the Asia-Pacific market, indicating that plant-based yogurt is still a blue ocean market to be developed in China. Although the market size is far smaller than that of Europe and the United States, it has also shown a trend of rapid growth. Since Nongfu Spring launched “Plant Yogurt” in 19, Sanyuan and Zhenyang have also launched plant-based yogurt.

Fermented fruit and vegetable juice 

GB/T 31121-2014 "Fruit and Vegetable Juices and Beverages" defines fermented fruit and vegetable juice as: Juice that is made from fruit or vegetable, or fruit and vegetable juice (pulp), concentrated vegetable juice (pulp) after fermentation with water as the raw material, with or without other food raw materials and (or) food additives. For example, apples, oranges, hawthorns, dates, etc. are fermented to make beverages of the proportion of 67.46% 13.64% 6.31% 1.63%. The difference between fermented fruit and vegetable beverages and traditional fruit and vegetable beverages is that by fermenting the fruits and vegetables, the nutrients of the fruits are retained to the greatest extent and the juices are given a special fermented flavor. At the same time, the fermentation of probiotics will also produce a large number of metabolites, which will help improve the intestinal environment and enhance the human immune system. Fermented fruit and vegetable juices are very popular in Europe, America, Japan, Korea and other countries, but they are still in their infancy in China.

In 2014, the concept of fermented fruit and vegetable juice beverages was formally proposed and gradually matured, and it is widely regarded as a milestone in the development of fruit and vegetable juice beverages. With the popularity of lactic acid bacteria beverages in China, the market development prospects of fermented fruit and vegetable juice beverages will be very broad.

At present, a large number of fermented fruit and vegetable juice beverage products have emerged on the market, but the quality is uneven. The reason for this is that different companies have inconsistent standards for fermentation process control. Enterprises should choose high-quality strains and strictly control the fermentation time in order to produce high-quality products with good fermentation flavors. 

Fermented Grains 

Fermented grains are mainly made from grains, with or without other raw materials and/or food additives, and fermented with probiotics. Grains are rich in protein, carbohydrates, soluble dietary fiber, amino acids, trace elements, antioxidants and phytonutrients, etc. After fermentation with probiotics, such as yeast and lactic acid bacteria, the nutrients are more abundant and have probiotics effect, which also makes the grain have good flavor and unique taste.

Grain fermentation is inseparable from human life.

Around the world, the use of grain fermentation to produce food has a long history, such as brewing, brewing vinegar, and fermented pasta. Now, through another innovation, some fermented grain beverages have also begun to appear in human daily life. For example, "Kvass" is made by fermentation of rusks. Its color is similar to beer and is slightly red. It has moderate sweetness and sourness, and its alcohol content is only about 1%. It is widely welcomed by the public.

Fermented tea 

Fermented tea uses tea as a substrate, with or without other food raw materials and (or) nutrients. Through the metabolism of probiotics, the tea undergoes physiological and biochemical changes to obtain a special flavor, which is often used to make fermented tea drinks. After modern scientific separation and identification, tea contains more than 450 organic compounds and 15 inorganic compounds, which are beneficial to human health and disease prevention. After the tea is fermented with probiotics (mainly Lactobacillus and Acetobacter), the flavor substances change and the effective ingredients increase. Among them, Kombucha is the most representative fermented tea beverage. Kombucha can not only satisfy consumers' demand for low sugar and other functions in tea beverages, but also promote digestion. Its main health concept has opened up the market for fermented tea beverages.

In the past few years, the global Kombucha market has developed rapidly. In 2018, the global market for Kombucha has reached USD 55 million. By 2026, the market will expand to USD 1.18 billion. The compound annual growth rate from 2019 to 2026 will be 42.35%. According to market data from Mintel, the Kombucha market is still mainly concentrated in Europe and the United States, while the Asia-Pacific is an emerging market for Kombucha. The main Asia-Pacific market is in Australia, and China only accounts for 5% of the Asia-Pacific market and 1% of the global market. As the origin of Kombucha, China has great market potential. However, it is still difficult to promote Kombucha in China. The main reason is that the special smell of fermented tea is difficult to be accepted by consumers. After years of optimization of fermentation formula and high-quality tea leaves and excellent strains with good fermentation flavor, Wecare probiotics has successfully launched kombucha fermentation broth, which can be used for terminal beverage preparation. 

Other fermentations 

Due to the impact of the epidemic, Chinese herbal medicines and other functional plant materials have attracted the attention of the general public. People hope that they can improve their immunity by ingesting such products. Due to the particularity of the raw materials, most Chinese herbal medicines are not allowed to be used as ordinary raw materials in food. The research on fermented Chinese herbal medicines mainly exists in the medicine and health care industry. However, there are still food companies that ferment functional raw materials to produce products to meet consumers' health needs. 


Future development trend

Today's consumers have more and more demands for health. At the same time, the deterioration of the environment has forced more consumers to expect that while ingesting delicious and nutritious foods, they can also meet ecologically sustainable development.

Fermented plant-based products use plant-based instead of animal sources for fermentation, which not only relieves the pressure of animal husbandry on the environment, but the combination of plant-based and probiotics also has richer nutrition, which will be an important development direction for the food industry in the future. At present, fermented plant base has just entered the consumer's field of vision, and its potential market cannot be underestimated. Whoever sets foot in first will taste this "cake" first. However, opportunities and challenges coexist. The probiotic industry in China started late, and most of the probiotic markets are still monopolized by foreign giants. At the same time, the concept of plant-based alternatives to animal sources has not been fully popularized in China. Whether local food companies stick to their existing product concepts or follow the trend of the times to increase market development for fermented plant-based products remains to be considered. However, only if local companies use high-quality plant-based materials as raw materials and high-quality strains for fermentation, and develop products with good taste and high nutritional value that are in line with the health of the Chinese people, can they take the lead in taking the lead in the domestic fermented plant-based market.