Fermentation adds vitamin B12 to plant-based foods naturally

Vitamin B12 is naturally present in animal products, but it could be added to foods such as bread or yoghurt-type products through fermentation.

Vitamin B12, necessary for the maintenance of the nervous system and the formation of blood cells, is only naturally present in animal products. Vegans have thus far had to take supplements or vitamin pills to ensure a balanced diet.

University of Helsinki researchers have now found a way to introduce vitamin B12 into plant-based foods using common food ingredients. The method is the familiar process of fermentation, using the Propionibacterium freudenreichii bacterium, which is used in production of Emmental cheese.

 “When we select the right strains of the microbe and set the suitable conditions, we can induce the bacterium to synthesize large quantities of vitamin B12 in its cells. We have also adopted a method which we can use to establish that the form of B12 being produced is actually beneficial to humans. Some of the microbes generate a form of the vitamin which is useless to humans, and many previous research results may in fact be traced back to this phenomenon,” says Professor Vieno Piironen from the University of Helsinki.

Many applications are possible

The microbes which produce vitamin B12 can be cultivated in a growth medium made of grain or faba bean, for example. These media could then be used as ingredients in a variety of foods, such as bread or yoghurt.

Vieno Piironen explains, “The natural enrichment of foods is one of my favourite research topics. Many vitamins in the B family can be produced through fermentation. We have already carried out many Master's theses and dissertations on the topic, and there are more to come. For example, our multidisciplinary Academy of Finland research project has sequenced the genome of a significant number of Propionibacterium freudenreichii strains. We are only beginning to take full advantage of the data."

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