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Jim Steele: Fermented education

[audio:http://news.cals.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/jim_steele_fermentation_science.mp3|titles=Jim Steele: Fermented education]

Transcript

Sevie Kenyon

Brewing up an education: We’re visiting today with Jim Steele, Department of Food Science, University of Wisconsin Extension and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison Wisconsin, and I’m Sevie Kenyon.  Jim, can you give us some examples of fermentation that people would run into in their everyday lives?

Jim Steele

Well actually a third of the foods you consume are derived from fermentation.  So if you look at beer, bread, cheese, sausage, are all examples.  But so is soy sauce, sour kraut, and then probably the biggest fermentation at all, especially in the state of Wisconsin, is just silage.  Silage is a fermented product that we’re feeding to cows, obviously in huge quantities in this state.

Sevie Kenyon

Jim, can you take us through the steps a little bit of what fermentation does?

Jim Steele

Well, fermentation is the conversion of carbohydrates to alcohols or acids.  Fermentation is something that we’ve done in order to preserve foods.  We didn’t start of trying to make cheese, we started off trying to figure out how to preserve milk.  Unquestionably the first time we made cheese was really spoilage.  So I like to say that fermentation is nothing more than spoilage that went well.  We had somebody who was a courageous individual who ate that curdled milk the first time and thought, “you know, it’s not so bad.”  Alcoholic fermentation is much the same story, same with bread, same with soy sauce.  You know a wide variety of fermentations are really spoilage we’ve learned to control.

Sevie Kenyon

Jim, can you give us an idea what fermentation means to a place like Wisconsin?

Jim Steele

The cheese industry is huge in this state.  The brewing industry has a long history, huge employment numbers in this state.  We have the largest soy sauce manufacturing plant if not in the world, the second largest soy sauce manufacturing plant in the world.  Fermented foods is really central to the business as well as the culture of this state.

Sevie Kenyon

Jim, can you give us an idea of some things people might not think about as being fermented food?

Jim Steele

I’m not sure if people would know about soy sauce being a fermented food.  I mean we really talk about soy sauce is not just a fermented food, it’s a brewed product.  And so it has great similarities to the brewing industry.

Sevie Kenyon

Ok Jim, can you give us an idea what you’re doing here at the University?

Jim Steele

The courses that we’re teaching are fermentation sciences with a emphasis on food fermentation and really strongly emphasizing the beer and the cheese fermentations.  The course itself is just an incredible opportunity to be able to integrate knowledge of chemistry, engineering, as well as the microbiology of food.  And so we’re asking students to put together information they’ve learned about in previous classes, put that together and then develop critical thinking skills to understand how does the chemistry of the product also effect the microbiology.  Additionally, there is great job opportunities in fermentation sciences and so in the department of food science, we’ve placed 99% of our students into jobs in the food industry over the last 20 years. We see fermentation sciences as another way to attract people into our discipline and then be able to really provide the industry with extremely well-qualified employees who day 1 are productive.

Sevie Kenyon

We’ve been visiting with Jim Steele, Department of Food Science, University of Wisconsin Extension and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison Wisconsin, and I’m Sevie Kenyon.