"Ethno-microbiology" of ethnic Indian fermented foods and alcoholic beverages

J Appl Microbiol. 2022 Jul;133(1):145-161. doi: 10.1111/jam.15382. Epub 2021 Nov 30.


The concept of "ethno-microbiology" is to understand the indigenous knowledge of the Indian people for production of culturally and organoleptically acceptable fermented foods by natural fermentation. About 1000 types of common, uncommon, rare, exotic and artisan fermented foods and beverages are prepared and consumed in different geographical regions by multi-ethnic communities in India. Indian fermented foods are mostly acidic and some are alkaline, along with various types of alcoholic beverages. A colossal diversity of microorganisms comprising bacteria mostly belongs to phylum Firmicutes, filamentous moulds and enzyme- and alcohol-producing yeasts under phyla Ascomycota and Mucoromycota, and few bacteriophages and archaea have been reported from Indian fermented foods. Some microorganisms associated with fermented foods have functionalities and health promoting benefits. "Ethno-microbiology" of ethnic Indian people has exhibited the proper utilisation of substrates either singly or in combination such as fermented cereal-legume mixture (idli, dosa and dhokla) in South and West India, sticky fermented soybean food (kinema and related foods), fermented perishable leafy vegetable (gundruk and related foods), fermented bamboo shoots (soibum and related foods) and fermented fish (ngari and others) in North East India, and fermented meat and sausage-like products in the Indian Himalayas, fermented coconut beverage (toddy) in coastal regions, and various types of naturally fermented milk products (dahi and related products) in different regions of India. This review has also highlighted the "ethno-microbiology" knowledge of the people involving the consortia of essential microorganisms in traditionally prepared amylolytic starters for production of cereal-based alcoholic beverages. The novelty of this review is the interpretation of ethno-microbiological knowledge innovated by ethnic Indian people on the use of beneficial microorganisms for food fermentation to obtain the desired fermented food products for consumption.

Keywords: India; bacteria; ethno-microbiology; fermented foods; alcoholic beverages; yeasts and moulds.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholic Beverages
  • Animals
  • Beverages / microbiology
  • Edible Grain
  • Fermentation
  • Fermented Foods*
  • Food Microbiology*
  • Fungi
  • Humans
  • Vegetables