The nutritional & health benefits of microbial biomass

What is microbial biomass, and why is it interesting for food and ingredient manufacturers?

Anita Harzog NIZO

Anita Hartog, Senior Scientist at NIZO. ©AHartog/NIZO

Anita Hartog (AH): “The term ‘microbe’ is used here in the broad connotation of bacteria, fungi, yeast and algae. Microbial biomass is the result of the fermentation, by these microbes, of organic substrates such as by-products from the sugar industry and other food processing residues, or hydrogen substrates including methanol and methane. Biomass suitable for human or animal consumption has often been referred to as single cell protein (SCP).

“Using these types of edible microorganisms isn’t a completely new concept; during World War I, for example, Germany produced edible yeast for food on a large scale. But the idea of using microbial biomass as a food source really started gaining steam in the 1960s, eventually resulting, for example, in the 1980s launch of mycoprotein (Quorn), derived from the Fusarium venenatum fungus.

“The primary incentive for using microbial biomass to produce food has been its sustainability: it doesn’t require as much arable land or water as raising animals and plants. And it can transform side streams or even discarded substrates into protein, reducing wastage. But microbial biomass can offer consumers and producers much more.

Nizo Feb graphic

Is microbial biomass protein as high in protein as meat and dairy?

AH: “The protein content of algae, such as spirulina, can be as high as 46-65% of its dry weight. Fungi can run to 30-50% protein: mycoprotein, for example, is 45% protein by dry weight. Bacteria can be 50-80% protein. And yeast can have a protein content of around 50% protein by dry weight.

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