Once upon a time, geese had the foresight to build up fat reserves before their long migrations. Inspired by this phenomenon, humans now produce foie gras to delight our taste buds, although the ethics associated with the force-feeding method are perplexing. However, recent advances in the exploration of microbiota seem to bring the respectful dimension that this refined dish deserves. Let’s go on a very tasty adventure!
Let’s start our journey by jumping back in time and going back 4,500 years… We are in Egypt and the inhabitants observe that geese eat more before their migratory journey. This gave the Egyptians the idea of fattening up the geese so that they could be eaten full-fat. Then the Romans followed suit and discovered the precious taste of the fat-rich liver of fattened geese. The dish “foie gras” was born. This force-feeding technique then spread to the Jewish community in Central Europe and, century after century, was adopted by France, which is now the world’s leading producer and consumer of foie gras. However, this dish, with its exceptional taste signature, is the subject of much ethical controversy, leading to the search for alternative methods of making foie gras.
And it was in the south-west of France, in Toulouse, a privileged place for foie gras production, that Professor Rémy Burcelin, Director of Research at INSERM, brought to light a link between the microbiota and hepatic steatosis in humans in 2010. Seeing this as a very promising prospect, he and his research team decided to explore this subject in geese, and in 2015 created the company Aviwell. His work, combined with artificial intelligence tools, led to the identification, isolation and cultivation of the commensal intestinal strains responsible for lipid accumulation in the liver. The resulting mixture was fed to goslings from birth, allowing the selected bacteria to colonise the body and create a gut flora conducive to the development of a fat-rich liver.
This is how a natural and universal process for making foie gras was developed by designing a microbiotic mixture, administered to the animals by the producers themselves, without the use of force-feeding.
Once again, bacteria are showing us their full potential, allowing festive tables to reconcile flavour, tradition, innovation and respect.