Bacteria in food production
Bacteria are used to make a wide range of food products. The most important bacteria in food manufacturing are Lactobacillus species, also referred to as lactic bacteria.
It would be impossible to make cheese without a starter culture. As the culture grows in the milk, it converts the sugar lactose into lactic acid, which ensures the correct level of acidity and gives the cheese its moisture. As the cheese ripens, the culture gives it a balanced aroma, taste, texture. It is also responsible for the ‘holes’ in cheeses such as Emmenthal. Choosing the right mixture of culture is essential for a high-quality cheese.
In yoghurt and other fermented milk products, the culture is responsible for the taste and texture of the final product. Depending on the acidity, the product will have either a mild or strong taste, and the viscosity depends on the quantity of polysaccharides – chains of sugar molecules – that are produced.
In recent years, probiotic cultures have become popular in dairy products because of their health benefits. These cultures are all very carefully selected strains, and there is good evidence that they help improve digestion, safeguard the immune system, and keep the body’s intestinal flora in balance.
Meat starter cultures are used to make dried, fermented products such as salami, pepperoni, chorizo and dried ham. Lactic bacteria develop the flavour and colour of the products. In addition, a wide variety of moulds are use to ripen the surface of sausages, preserving the natural quality of the product and controlling the development of flavour.
Yeasts are responsible for the fermentation process which produces alcohol in wine. However, lactic bacteria also play an important role, as they convert the unstable malic acid that is naturally present in wine into the stable lactic acid. This conversion gives the stability that is characteristic of high-quality wines that improve on storage.
Lactic bacteria are used in many different tablets and capsules sold as supplements in the healthfood industry. Our hectic modern lifestyles often lead to an imbalance in the intestinal flora; travel and medical treatment are two of the major culprits. By taking supplements containing lactic bacteria, this balance can be restored, improving the quality of life.
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While yeast is responsible for causing bread to rise, lactic bacteria also play an important role as they form the ‘sour dough’ fermentation. This offers a number of benefits to bakers, such as a dough that is easy to handle and uniform, with a shorter resting time, a good aroma and a product that stays fresher for longer.
Lactic bacteria are also playing an important role in the preparation of sauerkraut.