Microbial Protein: An Essential Component for Future Food Security

Microbial Protein: An Essential Component for Future Food Security

Akash Saklani (Gurukula Kangri University, India) and Navneet (Gurukula Kangri University, India)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7350-0.ch006


In the next 30–40 years, the food production system will face the challenge of increasing the production and availability of food products. Compared to the other foods, meat products are the least environmentally friendly. This chapter explores the opportunities of including microbial protein—the dried cells of microorganisms, such as algae, fungi, actinomycetes, and bacteria—in the food system to improve food security. Since ancient times, different microbes have been used as part of the diet all over the world. Recently, the term single cell protein gained popularity to describe the dibble single-cell microorganisms. The health benefits of such products are well-known, and the environmental impacts of their production are low. Emerging meat substitutes based on microbial proteins combined with the right technologies is one of the promising trends in food production that is analyzed in comparison with conventional proteins.
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Microbial protein is a form of dehydrated microbial culture of cells or a purified form of protein which is obtained from microorganisms, such as algae, fungi, yeast and bacteria. This source has the potential to provide protein to humans1 and is already marketed as dehydrated, low fat content but rich of vitamins food (Garcia-Garibay, Gómez-Ruiz, Cruz-Guerrero, & Bárzana, 2014). Microbes always play a significant role in the processing of food by converting various fibres into edible form, for example, in fermenting dough, making sauerkraut, miso, tempeh as well as beer and many other fermented products (Caplice & Fitzgerald, 1999). Microbial proteins, as in the case of fungi and algae, have been used as a direct food source for millennia (Anupama & Ravindra, 2000). Microorganisms have been applied in the processing of foods and to produce different types of compounds, such as organic acids, as well as enzymes from fermented food products. At present, microbes are applied in the manufacturing of biotechnological compounds ranging from antibiotics and industrial alcohol to cellular proteins. The ability of microbes to change less useful substrates into something that has higher value is an important approach in enhancing the quantity and quality of food.

With growing global population, projected to reach 10 billion by 2050 (Ezeh, Bongaarts, & Mberu, 2012), it is estimated that the world will need to produce 70% more food compared to 2006 (Ranganathan, 2013). This is not an easy task under the current food practices.

Food security is achieved “when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (Committee on World Food Security, 2012, p. 4). Many social and political issues can escalate when there is food insecurity and malnutrition, particularly in a developing country. Developing countries are also faced with continuously increasing population numbers, which makes it difficult to secure sufficient levels of high quality food. In some instances, this may result in a high percentage of malnourished people and food insecurity which ranges from food shortages to full-scale famines and when people live in fear of starvation and hunger.

Food security can be guaranteed only with adequate food that contains all nutrients and energy required by the human body. Food also should be safe and free from any contaminant or toxic materials. Considering the world population growth and available resources on this planet, the increase in food production must be achieved by using less labour, less water and less cultivated land. Microbial resources, used to make or modify food, have potential in improving the global food security scenario. They enhance properties, such nutritional value, taste, texture and shelf life and microorganisms are a natural source available everywhere in the world.

Microbial resources, however, are still considered a non-conventional source of food and proteins, especially in developing countries, but the demand for them is now on the increase. In comparison with other food sources, microbial protein is a great source of additional proteins in the human diet without representing a food material on their own. The microorganisms primarily act as agents of production which transform the principal raw material and improve its protein content generating high biological value (Kirsop,1985).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Algae: A large and diverse group of aquatic organisms; they range from unicellular microalgae (e.g., chlorella) to multicellular formations (e.g., giant kelp); seaweed is the most complex marine algae.

Protein: An organic substance – polymer chains of amino acids, considered an essential nutrient for the human body; there are 20 types of amino acids representing the building blocks for the human proteins – 11 are non-essential which can be synthesized by the human organism and 9 are essential which need to be provided by food.

Bacteria: Single-cell organisms; they can live outside (on land and water) or inside the human body.

Yeast: Single-cell fungi used in the preparation of food (e.g., bread) and drinks (e.g., beer).

Microbial Protein: A form of dehydrated microbial culture of cells, obtained from microorganisms.

Fungi: A large group of eukaryotic organisms whose cells consist of a nucleus enclosed within membrane; the fungi kingdom covers 80,000 species, including the most commonly known mushrooms, yeasts, and molds.

Actinomycetes: Gram-positive bacteria (that is, retain the crystal violet stain from the Gram test) used in antibiotics and food.

Single-Cell Protein: Protein obtained from microorganisms consisting of one cell (also referred as unicellular).

Fermentation: A process of chemical breakdown of food substances by bacteria, yeasts or other microorganisms which improves the taste and preserves the products.

Food Supplement: A concentrated source of nutrients, such as amino acids, fatty acids, fiber, minerals, and vitamins that is taken to correct food deficiencies; within Europe food supplements are regulated as foods and this is the approach taken in this chapter.

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