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News Article

Agreement reached on definition of fermented foods

The definition clarifies relation to probiotics and prebiotics while encompassing the wide range of fermented foods that exists.

Fermented foods are “foods made through desired microbial growth and enzymatic conversions of food components” according to a panel of the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics convened in 2019 to agree a definition of fermented foods. Fermented foods have been part of the human diet for thousands of years but a common definition for the purposes of research has been lacking, according to the association. The panel also clarified the difference between probiotics and fermented foods and summarised current knowledge on fermented foods.


The panel’s task

The panel of 13 experts from a wide range of fields, considered questions like what is fermentation? are fermented foods the same as probiotics? do microorganisms from fermented foods establish in the gut? do fermented food provide a health benefit?


The definition in more detail

The definition of fermentation requires the activity of microorganisms in the process but doesn’t require them to be alive in the final food product. The definition also distinguishes from food spoilage by including the word “desired”.

The panel excluded foods from the definition that use fermented ingredients such as some condiments. It also excluded foods made with added microorganisms that haven’t gone through the fermentation process and chemically derived versions of fermented products like some vinegars or pickles.

The difference between fermented foods and probiotics, according to the panel, is that the foods do not have to provide a proven health benefit from a defined organism.


The benefit of having a formal definition

Mary Ellen Sanders, Executive Science Officer of ISAPP, says, "To date, different people have had different ideas of what constitutes a fermented food. The new definition provides a clear concept that can be understood by the general public, industry members and regulators."

This definition follows on from definitions of prebiotics and probiotics by the same association. The final definition is close to one used by Marco et al. in 2017.


Find out more

Search for: "fermented beverages" or "fermented foods" or fermentation



Maria L. Marco, Mary Ellen Sanders, Michael Gänzle, Marie Claire Arrieta, Paul D. Cotter, Luc De Vuyst, Colin Hill, Wilhelm Holzapfel, Sarah Lebeer, Dan Merenstein, Gregor Reid, Benjamin E. Wolfe & Robert Hutkins. The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) consensus statement on fermented foods. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology (2021).

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • I. Hoskins
  • Date
  • 07 January 2021
  • Subject(s)
  • Food science