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Enzymes: Leading the Creation of a Better and More Sustainable Future for Food

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Why We Need a More Sustainable Food System

As the world continues to confront the coronavirus pandemic, we have a striking opportunity and obligation to create a more inclusive, resilient and sustainable food system. Today, our food system is responsible for more than 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, with food loss and waste alone accounting for 8 to 10 percent. The pandemic exposed the fragility of our global food supply chains. From field to fork, unprecedented stresses led to disruption at every level and many weaknesses in our food system were exposed.

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By 2050, our global population expected to swell to almost 10 billion people and coupled with rising incomes and urbanization, demand for animal-based protein will increase. The World Resources Institute has predicted that by 2050, we will require 50 percent more food and 70 percent more animal-based protein to feed everyone. If we continue with our current-day food production practices and consumption patterns, we would need to convert a landmass twice the size of India to agriculture, leading to significant deforestation and biodiversity loss. It would also result in a failure to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Food producers all over the world are responding by adopting sustainable practices to reduce their environmental impact. On this sustainability journey, enzymes have become an increasing important ally, due to their high efficiencies, specificities and their ability to create more efficient food production processes.

The use of enzymes in food preparations is an age-old process. Humans have, unknowingly at first, used enzymes to their advantage for millennia in industries such as cheese making, brewing and bakery. The term enzyme was first coined in 1877 by Wilhelm Kühne; while the original purpose of including enzymes in manufacturing processes was to merely to improve the existing process and reduce cost. However, it is now well established that enzymes make production processes more sustainable and enhance product quality.

How Are Enzymes Used to Make Better Products and Planet?

In most cases, the enzymes used in food are used as processing aids, where they aid in the manufacturing of the food but do not have a function in the final product. Enzymes deliver many benefits, they improve the quality of the final product, they enable the use of more sustainable raw materials, they create production efficiencies, they reduce waste and they also enable the use of waste by-products. Some examples of where enzymes support the creation of more sustainable better-quality products include:

In the bakery industry, concerns about animal welfare and sustainability as well as egg allergies and cost are making egg replacement and reduction an imperative for food and beverage manufacturers. Kerry’s Biobake LP enzymes enables bakers to reduce egg content in recipes, specifically croissants, donuts and muffins, facilitating a switch from caged eggs to organic or free-range eggs without an increase in production costs and allowing manufacturers to reduce CO2 emissions and land use.

In the brewing industry, the most common brewing grain is barley. However, it is a cool-season, temperate-climate cereal, and in many parts of the world, it is not widely grown. Exogenous enzymes, such as Kerry’s Hitempase Pro, have enabled brewers to use alternative local grains for brewing such as sorghum, maize, rice and cassava. These enzymes have enabled the production of a consumer-acceptable beer at an economically attractive price point. The benefits to the local economy of using local gains is significant, it creates employment, provides incomes for local farmers and supports the overall economy.

How Can Enzymes Lead the Creation of a More Sustainable Food System Through Reducing Food Waste and Supporting the Circular Economy?

An estimated third of all food produced is lost or wasted, resulting in resources and efforts for producing this food being lost as they end up providing no nutritional benefit.

Tackling the key environmental challenges associated with food production would mean looking at ways to prevent food loss and waste.

If we can reverse the trend on food waste, we would save enough food to feed 2 billion people, more than twice the amount of people who are undernourished while also making a significant contribution toward reversing climate change.

The traditional linear economy is one based on an ethos of take-make-dispose, with insufficient consideration given to the impact or opportunity from our waste streams. Circular economy utilizing food waste gives us a great opportunity to upcycle “waste” into “value added” products, thus reducing waste accumulation and increasing resource productivity. Enzymes are fast becoming a hero in the circular economy due to their ability to turn waste streams into a potential revenue stream.

The bakery industry represents the largest volume of food waste. It is a major challenge for bakeries as they seek to ensure fresh availability for consumers yet also to minimize surplus. Increasing the shelf life of baked goods by two days reduces those items going to waste by 40 percent. In bakery applications, enzymes not only reduce waste, but also improve production efficiencies and enhance the quality of baked goods. With donuts for example, Kerry’s Biobake enzymes can double shelf life while maintaining the softness, moisture, volume and other desired sensory attributes.

Meat is the highest value category of all food waste offenders. Twenty percent of meat produced globally goes to waste and it is the most carbon intensive category of food waste globally. Specific protease enzymes can help meat processors efficiently transform meat protein waste into valuable resources that can be utilized in a variety of applications, including biofertilizers. Proteases valorise animal by-products that would otherwise be waste bound, helping meat processors become more sustainable in their manufacturing process.

In the fish industry, where waste is also a major challenge, advances in enzyme technology have enabled the extraction of value from fish waste, converting protein-rich fish by-product waste into cost-efficient fish oils and proteins.

What Does The Future Hold For Enzymes?

The future of our food production will rely on advances in microbiology, artificial intelligence, fermentation bioprocess. Within this, enzymes have the power to transform and add positive value to food, to make it healthier, more sustainable and to add value to waste streams.

Innovation in enzymes through collaborations between experts in biochemistry, bioinformatic, molecular modelling, enzymology, molecular biology, fermentation, system biology, food science and regulatory should drive enzymology research for waste stream valorization and play critical role in acceleration of circular economy.

However, one key challenge for the use of enzymes within the food industry is the lack of consistency across the global regulatory landscape. Different countries have different views on type of requirements for supporting enzymes evaluation and approvals, potentially due to the different degrees of knowledge among regulatory authorities. To advance this, the food industry is actively working with institutions including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), with a view to standardise the enzymes’ regulatory landscape. This consistency would greatly support innovation and new product development as food producers could launch new products simultaneously to multiple markets, in the confidence of full regulatory compliance.

With advancements in enzymes engineering, these natural biocatalysts are fast becoming pivotal tools to valorize agri-food and by-products waste, unlocking the recovery of essential nutrients and, in many cases, converting by-products waste streams into substantial revenue returns. When you couple this incredible potential with increased consumer focus on health, environment, sustainability and the ongoing research and innovation focus on enzymes optimization, it is clear that the future of enzymes is to positively disrupt our food system by building a more efficient and sustainable food chain. NIE


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Angelica Schiavone, MSc, Marketing Manager – Enzymes, Applied Health & Nutrition Kerry. Schiavone is marketing manager for enzymes at Kerry’s Applied Health and Nutrition division, where she has responsibility for leading and delivering global marketing plans and initiatives for Enzymes. Prior to Kerry’s Applied Health and Nutrition, she has worked in Kerry Foods based in Italy and Ireland and in Bord Bia – The Irish Food Board promoting Irish food and beverage globally.

Shekhar Kadam, PhD, Global RD&A Senior Scientist – Enzymes & Brewing Ingredients, Applied Health & Nutrition Kerry. Kadam is global RD&A senior scientist for Enzymes & Brewing Ingredients at Kerry’s Applied Health and Nutrition division. Kadam is a food scientist with 11-plus years of experience in industrial and academic ecosystem including technical leadership on enzymes application, new product development and innovation.