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Microbial food cultures - Probiotics and starter cultures
Saturday, 27 February, 2021, 14 : 00 PM [IST]
Abhilasha Shingote & Dr Surendra Sadawarte
Probiotic means simply life for originating from the Greek words ‘pro’ and ‘bios’. The most commonly quoted meaning was brought out by Fuller in 1989. Probiotics are live microbial feed supplement which beneficially affects the host animal by improving its intestinal balance. This correct definition is still commonly referred to, despite continual contention.

Today, probiotics are quite every day in health-promoting ‘functional foods' for humans, as well as therapeutic, prophylactic growth supplements in animal production human health. Other commonly studied probiotics include the spore-forming Bacillus spp.Bacillus spp. holds an added interest in probiotics as they can be kept in the spore form and therefore stored indefinitely on the shelf. It is often reported that a probiotic must be adherent and colonise within the gastrointestinal tract (GIT), it must replicate to high numbers, it must produce antimicrobial substances, and it must withstand the acidic environment of the GIT. The most commonly used probiotic is LAB, namely, lactobacilli spp. are usually characterised by Gram-positive, nonmotile, nonsporulating bacteria that produce lactic acid as their main by-product due to fermentation.

Some features of bacterial species as probiotics

Type of probiotic bacteria


B. animalis/ bifidusregularis

Gut health, digestion

B. longum

Digestion, irritable, bowel syndrome

B. animalis

Immune system, digestion, irritable bowel, colds

L. acidophilus

Irritable bowel, diarrhea, antibiotic-induced diarrhea, lactose intolerance, immune system, pollen allergies

L. paracasei

      Travelers diarrhea, ulcers

L. plantarum

      Irritable bowel, immune system, colds

L. caseiimmunitas

Immune system, colds and flus, diarrhea

L. caseishirota

Immune system, digestion

L. lactis

Immune system

P. acidilactici

Ulcerative colitis

S. boulardii

Antibiotic-induced diarrhea, acne, irritable bowel

Starter cultures

Food fermentation has been used for centuries as a method to preserve perishable food products. The raw materials traditionally used for fermentation are as diverse as: fruits, cereals, honey, vegetables, milk, meat and fish. It is possible to obtain a large variety of different food products by selecting different raw materials, starter cultures and fermentation conditions. The diversity covers, but is not limited to products as: wine, beer, vinegar, bread, soy sauce, kochujang, sauerkraut, kimchi, pickled olives, fermented milk products as buttermilk and yoghurt, a variety of cheeses and sausages.

Starter culture is a microbial preparation of large numbers of cells of at least one microorganism to be added to a raw material to produce a fermented food by accelerating and steering its fermentation process. The group of lactic acid bacteria (LAB) occupies a central role in these processes, and has a long and safe history of application and consumption in the production of fermented foods and beverages.

They cause rapid acidification of the raw material through the production of organic acids, mainly lactic acid. Also, their production of acetic acid, ethanol, aroma compounds, bacteriocins, exopolysaccharides, and several enzymes is of importance. In this way they enhance shelf life and microbial safety, improve texture, and contribute to the pleasant sensory profile of the end product.

The production of lactic acid, by fermenting lactose is the major role of dairy starters. The acid is responsible for development of characteristic body and texture of the fermented milk products, contributes to the overall flavour of the products, and enhances preservation. Diacetyl, acetaldehyde, acetic acid, also produced by the lactic starter cultures, contribute to flavour and aroma of the final product. Most of the cultured dairy products are produced using commercial starter cultures that have been selected for a variety of desirable properties in addition to rapid acid production. These may include flavour production, lack of associated off flavours, bacteriophage tolerance, ability to produce flavour during cheese ripening, salt tolerance, exopolysaccharide production, bacteriocin production, temperature sensitivity, etc.

Types of fermented foods and their starter cultures


Raw material

Starter culture





Grape juice

Yeast, lactic acid bacteria



Yeast, lactic acid bacteria

Soy sauce


Mould (Aspergillus), lactic acid bacteria

Sauerkraut, Kimchi


Lactic acid bacteria

Fermented Sausages


Lactic acid bacteria

Pickled vegetables

Cucumbers, olives

Lactic acid bacteria

Fermented milks


Lactic acid bacteria



Lactic acid bacteria

The manufacturers of fermented foods have the choice of either acquiring the starter culture in a ready to-use, highly concentrated form, or to make a propagation of the culture in the factory. The choice between the two types of process will be influenced by a number of factors as: the number of different products produced, degree of automation, presence of expertise in microbiology and finally the economy. The highest level of safety and flexibility is achieved by using a commercial starter culture for direct inoculation. Such cultures are supplied either as frozen or freeze-dried highly concentrated and highly active cultures.

(The authors are M. Tech. research scholar, College of Food Technology, VNMKV, Parbhani and assistant professor, College of Food Technology, VNMKV,Parbhani. They can be reached
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