HGF as partner in the new EU Research Project HEALTHFERM just launched!

New EU Research Project HEALTHFERM Just Launched: Plant-based Fermented Foods for Healthier and More Sustainable Diets.

HGF is part of an interdisciplinary consortium of 22 international partners, which targets with the help of community science the societal and industrial transition from traditional to sustainable plant-based fermented foods by design for a healthy everyday diet.

Fermented foods are consumed in Europe and across the globe. Especially in the past decades, fermented foods have been hailed for their nutritional and perceived health benefits. Yet little is known about the impact of fermentation on human health or how fermentation can be leveraged to enhance the use of sustainable plant-based raw materials. The new EU research project HealthFerm, a collaboration of 22 partners from across Europe, will shed light on this forward-looking topic. Funded through the European Union’s Horizon Europe Framework Programme for Research and Innovation and the Swiss government, the project has a budget of EUR 13 million over the next four years. HealthFerm is coordinated by the KU Leuven, Belgium, and the consortium kicked off its activities with the 1st of September.

HGF, with support of ICC, will be responsible for organising the training and capacity building activities in the project by combining HGF activities with the project activities as much as possible.

Fermented foods are ‘foods made through desired microbial growth and enzymatic conversions of food components’ . Humans have consumed different types of these foods for thousands of years. First, fermentation processes occurred spontaneously rather than intentionally, and the main benefit was the increased shelf-life of foods. In the 19th century, people started to understand the actual fermentation processes better. It was not until the early 20th century that fermented foods gained a reputation for being beneficial to health. At present, they are more popular than ever due to their perceived healthiness.

Interestingly, little concrete evidence exists for their actual health benefits. There are few dedicated studies describing the mechanisms behind any impact of fermented foods on human health, and in-depth knowledge of how fermentation microorganisms and fermented foods interact with the human gut microbiome is missing. Only with the availability of such knowledge will it be possible to design fermented foods with optimal health benefits, rather than relying on spontaneous fermentation processes. At the same time, there is a global trend toward a more sustainable food system by reduced consumption of animal-based foods. Unfortunately, using plant-based ingredients in many food products remains challenging due to, e.g. flavour or processing issues. In Healthferm, new plant-based fermentations will be designed to improve the palatability of plant-based ingredients and leverage their use in a range of foods.

These areas are where HealthFerm will leave its mark: The project has been established to understand better the interaction between food fermentation microbiomes, fermented grain-based foods and the human gut microbiome and how they support human health. At the same time, HealthFerm will use these newly gained insights alongside microbial resources and fermentation technology to develop novel, healthy and nutritious foods based on legumes (pea and faba bean) and cereals (wheat and oat), with particular attention to the inclusion of side stream stemming from the processing of these grains. Consumer attitudes towards fermented foods will be studied throughout Europe.

“The research undertaken in HealthFerm will potentially have a wide-reaching impact on not only individual, societal and planetary health, but also the wider EU food industry through greater resource efficiency and increased use of plant-based raw materials,” explains Prof. Christophe Courtin, Professor of Food Biochemistry at the KU Leuven and Coordinator of the project.

At the heart of HealthFerm lies a community-science approach for developing innovative plant-based food fermentations. Citizens, artisans and companies will collect food fermentation microbiomes in Europe and worldwide to be analysed for their potential to devise these novel foodstuffs that can serve as alternatives to fermented dairy drinks, yoghurts and meat-based products and confer sensorial and health benefits, not only to these alternatives but also to more common products like (sourdough) bread. A specially developed online interface will support this effort.

Prof. Courtin adds: “Of particular interest to us is also how dietary changes including fermented foods can reduce inflammation and prevent chronic diseases such as obesity, metabolic syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. This we would like to understand better based on human intervention studies and will do so in comparison to a standard plant-based diet. Alongside, we will also optimise fermentation processes and investigate further the consumer perceptions towards fermented and plant-based foods in Europe.”

The HealthFerm consortium responsible for this innovative endeavour comprises academic, clinical and industrial partner institutions from Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Romania, Sweden and The Netherlands. Two Swiss partners complete the consortium. The project officially kicks off its activities with the first meeting in Leuven, Belgium, on September 1 and 2, 2022.

For more details, please visit the project’s website.

Project Key Facts

Full Name
HealthFerm – Innovative pulse and cereal-based food fermentations for human health and sustainable diets
Start Date
1st September 2022
48 months
€13 million
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium