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Molecular Approaches to Understanding Microbial Populations in Traditional Fermented Grain Products
Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, PR China
Humans have used fermentation to produce foods and beverages since the Neolithic Age. As a relatively low-cost and energy-efficient method of food preservation and processing, grain fermentation has long offered humans a wide variety of interesting, health-promoting, and complex products, including dietary staples, supplementary foods, and beverages. The microorganisms that participate in the fermentation process convert mainly sugars and other carbohydrates to organic acids, carbon dioxide, and alcohols that alter the texture, appearance, flavor, nutritional value, and safety status of the original grain-based substrate. Traditional fermented foods often rely on spontaneous fermentation from mixtures of microorganisms, without close control of the species or strains present. This creates challenges in maintaining product consistency and assuring product safety. For the food scientist, it is critical to understand the microbial profiles and population structures, dynamics, and functioning during fermentation in order to establish controls and achieve a fermented product with high, consistent batch-to-batch quality. Understanding of the microbial ecology of such systems is advancing rapidly thanks to recently developed molecular techniques. In this article interesting recent research on molecular analysis of microbial populations is introduced in order to explain the key techniques and demonstrate their usefulness in advancing the study of traditional grain fermentation processes.
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