A club on campus is revealing the secrets behind the beverage kombucha and other fermented treats.
Yogurt, beer, and kimchi may not seem all that related, but in fact they are distant cousins in the eyes of some students on campus. All three items are fermented, which is a fancy word for using yeast and other additives to transform ingredients in a chemical way — a food and beverage makeover of sorts.
The first of its kind at Cal Poly Pomona, the Fermentation Club creates some of these chemical concoctions during U-hour. The fermentation process artfully turns a glass of boring grapes into a sophisticated bottle of wine. Although seemingly complicated, fermentation is merely converting carbohydrates into alcohol — the building blocks of chemistry.
The club really took off in fall 2015. It started in the home of Analytical Chemistry Professor Gregory Barding. His passion for food science developed through his love for the chemical process behind microbrewing. After an internship in Europe, he returned to the states disappointed that he was unable to find some of his favorite fermented drinks. Since then, he has begun home brewing, and is now the most requested guest for dinner parties.
“As a professor my ambition is to educate and inspire students,” Barding says. “The Fermentation Club provides an opportunity to bring life to complex science in a fun way, while demonstrating how everyday products are created through chemistry.”
The Fermentation Club allows him to engage students outside of the classroom; it is a mere plus that he enjoys conducting fermentation experiments in his personal time.
The club promotes membership of students from all majors and proves that anyone can do chemistry.
“When in a group setting with people from other majors on campus, you forget you’re doing chemistry.” Club President and junior chemistry student, Alan Rios says. “When we’re in the food lab, wearing googles and lab coats, we all look like scientists.”
Senior accounting and technology operational management student David Colvil is anything but a science buff.
“I joined the Fermentation Club because I love drinking kombucha, and I was curious about how it was made,” Colvil says. “I hesitated because I’m a business major, but I wish I would have joined sooner.”
If a matching tee-shirt isn’t enough of a perk, the Fermentation Club goes on annual field trips getting VIP access behind the scenes to wineries and micro brewing facilities. Viewing large-scale profitable operations has prompted some members to turn a hobby into a career opportunity.
“Students from biology to business thrive in the Fermentation club,” Rios says. “Some of our members have gotten jobs at breweries because of their expertise learned during our fermentation experiments.”
The learn-by-doing philosophy at Cal Poly Pomona, comes alive throughout this club. Although the focus is on more than experiments, the club shines light on the forgotten fact that chemistry is everywhere in our lives. The experimental possibilities are endless, as is the drive these students have to create scientific fare.
“I’m a part of a few other clubs, but none of them create hands on learning like the Fermentation Club,” Colvil says.
This story was written by Melissa Forti, public relations intern with the College of Science.