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Microbes are being used more and more to make delicious food

A new realm of “precision fermentation” beckons

The fetid salinity of prosciutto, bresaola’s jaw-wearying toughness and the pallid greasiness of lardo, which is cured solid fat, all have their fans—if not, normally, among those in the business of keeping arteries clean. But the single best cured meat in the world comes from north-eastern Thailand. Rice, pork, garlic, salt and herbs are stuffed into a casing and left at room temperature for a few days. When cooked, this naem has a robust pigginess. But it is best eaten raw, with chilies and garlic cloves.

Its sinus-clearing sourness, a perfect balance to the other strong flavours, comes courtesy of bacteria that produce lactic acid. It is a strategy the bacteria evolved to prevent the growth of other, less acid-tolerant microbes; by nobbling the competition they get more food for themselves—and leave the rest safe for human consumption. Such bacteria are also at work in Nigerian ogi, Korean kimchi, and a host of other foods including that lockdown mainstay, sourdough bread.

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