Natural fermentation precedes human history. Since ancient times, however, humans have been controlling the fermentation process. The earliest evidence of an alcoholic beverage, made from fruit, rice, and honey, dates from 7000–6600 BCE, in the Neolithic Chinese village of Jiahu, and winemaking dates from 6000 BCE, in Georgia, in the Caucasus area. Seven-thousand-year-old jars containing the remains of wine have been excavated in the Zagros Mountains in Iran, which are now on display at the University of Pennsylvania. There is strong evidence that people were fermenting beverages in Babylon circa 3000 BC,ancient Egypt circa 3150 BC, pre-Hispanic Mexico circa 2000 BC, and Sudan circa 1500 BC.
FrenchchemistLouis Pasteur was the first known zymologist, when in 1856 he connected yeast to fermentation. Pasteur originally defined fermentation as "respiration without air". Pasteur performed careful research and concluded:
I am of the opinion that alcoholic fermentation never occurs without simultaneous organization, development, and multiplication of cells, ... . If asked, in what consists the chemical act whereby the sugar is decomposed, ... , I am completely ignorant of it.
When studying the fermentation of sugar to alcohol by yeast, Louis Pasteur concluded that the fermentation was catalyzed by a vital force, called "ferments," within the yeast cells. The "ferments" were thought to function only within living organisms. "Alcoholic fermentation is an act correlated with the life and organization of the yeast cells, not with the death or putrefaction of the cells," he wrote.
Nevertheless, it was known that yeast extracts can ferment sugar even in the absence of living yeast cells. While studying this process in 1897, Eduard Buchner of Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany, found that sugar was fermented even when there were no living yeast cells in the mixture, by a yeast secretion that he termed zymase. In 1907 he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his research and discovery of "cell-free fermentation."
Alaska has witnessed a steady increase of cases of botulism since 1985. It has more cases of botulism than any other state in the United States of America. This is caused by the traditional Eskimo practice of allowing animal products such as whole fish, fish heads, walrus, sea lion, and whale flippers, beaver tails, seal oil, birds, etc., to ferment for an extended period of time before being consumed. The risk is exacerbated when a plastic container is used for this purpose instead of the old-fashioned, traditional method, a grass-lined hole, as the botulinum bacteria thrive in the anaerobic conditions created by the air-tight enclosure in plastic.
The World Health Organization has classified pickled foods as a possible carcinogen, based on epidemiological studies. Other research found that fermented food contains a carcinogenic by-product, ethyl carbamate (urethane). "A 2009 review of the existing studies conducted across Asia concluded that regularly eating pickled vegetables roughly doubles a person's risk for esophageal squamous cell carcinoma."
^Dubos J. (1951). "Louis Pasteur: Free Lance of Science, Gollancz. Quoted in Manchester K. L. (1995) Louis Pasteur (1822–1895)--chance and the prepared mind.". Trends Biotechnol13 (12): 511–515. doi:10.1016/S0167-7799(00)89014-9. PMID8595136.
^Harden, A; Young, WJ (October 1906). "The Alcoholic Ferment of Yeast-Juice". Proceedings of the Royal Society of London (Series B, Containing Papers of a Biological Character ed.) 78 (526): pp. 369–375.Cite uses deprecated parameters (help)
^Steinkraus, K. H., Ed. (1995). Handbook of Indigenous Fermented Foods. New York, Marcel Dekker, Inc.