What is the FUNBREW Project?


Beer brewing produces an estimated 39 million tons of spent grain by-product per year. This spent grain, usually used as animal feed or discarded, is rich in fiber and protein and so is a potential source of valuable nutrients.

The FUNBREW project aims to establish new technologies for transforming this spent grain into a healthy edible product for use in sustainable food production. Ultimately, the project hopes to find ways to feed the by-product of beer brewing into cereal-based food for human consumption, such as baked goods, pasta, and breakfast cereals.

You can follow the project on Twitter: @funbrewproject

A box of brewer’s spent grain (BSG)

But how are they going to do this? The focus of this project is to create bioprocessing technologies from fundamental and applied research techniques, such as using controlled fermentation with microorganisms to enhance the product. The hope is these techniques can be scaled up to be used in the food industry.

The FUNBREW research project is comprised of a partnership of four research institutions in three countries across Europe:

The project coordinator is Dr Rossana Coda from the Grain Technology and Bioprocessing research group at the University of Helsinki. We interviewed her to get an in-depth look into this exciting project:

Colonies of Lactic Acid Bacteria

What microorganisms are you using in your research?

”The microbes [we use] are food grade lactic acid bacteria, non-GMO, and isolated from different sources. The aim now is to screen and select them for the capability for growth in the food matrix [of spent grain fibres] and for metabolic traits with the ability to improve the functional profile and overall quality of brewer’s spent grain (BSG), to make it more suitable for food uses.

Our brewers’ spent grain comes from each of the project partners´country”:

Spent grain fermented by lactic acid bacteria

Can you describe the current fermentation process?

”We are working on setting up very simple bioprocessing/fermentation technologies as a more feasible, low cost, and sustainable technology is more easily up-taken by industry. This is why high-performance starter [microorganism strains] and fermentation conditions should be found. Fermentation technologies will be based on the use of these starters and presumably also food grade enzymes.’’

The by-product of beer brewing is rich in antioxidant compounds.

What equipment are you using?

”At the beginning, we are working in laboratory conditions and using small scale equipment (e.g., bioreactors, incubators with temperature control and so on) monitoring the most important process parameters such as pH and acidity. However, the project foresees upscaling of the process by using equipment most commonly employed by the food industry to ferment different type of food substrates.’’

What is going to happen with the FUNBREW project during 2019?

”We will go in depth into the metabolic performance of the bacteria through high-throughput phenotypic microarray and we will monitor what happens during the fermentation of BSG through different microscopy techniques to observe how the main components are modified by the bacterial and enzymatic activities.’

To follow the deconstruction of BSG by enzymes and bacteria, specific parts in the cell walls (β-glucan, arabinoxylan) are labelled with antibodies and examined with confocal laser microscopy (CLSM). To visualize the morphology of cell walls, protein structures and starch residues, light microscopy (LM) are used.”

This first image shows BSG from Dugges Brewery, milled and untreated where β-glucan is shown in green and arabinoxylan is shown in red (CLSM):

This second image shows the same sample where protein is stained green and cell walls are unstained. No starch is visible (LM):

The FUNBREW project will present their research at FEMS2019, so if you are attending make sure you don’t miss their workshop SUSFOOD – Biotransformation of agro-food by-products and minor crops into functional ingredients and novel foods, starting at 14:30 on Tuesday 9th July, in the Leven, Morar & Ness room, SEC Centre, Glasgow.

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