Flavor of Culture



Studies have long suggested that consuming probiotic-rich fermented dairy products such as Kefir improves intestinal health and can reduce both inflammation and cholesterol. Now researchers in Ireland who have analyzed the microbial populations in kefir are using data collected over a 24-hour fermentation period to match individual microbial species with associated flavor compounds.

The microbiologists determined that specific changes the microorganisms undrwent during fermentation were related to specific expressions of flavor, but still don’t quite understand the precise mechanism involved. Acetobacter pasteurianus, for example, was associated with an acidic, vinegary flavor, whereas Lb. kefiranofaciens was correlated with a more cheesy taste. Other species were matched with the metabolites responsible for buttery and fruity flavors found in the beverage.

The research shows that a deeper understanding of microbial behavior during fermentation is valuable to the culinary arts, and that only a slight tweaking of the microbial mix could both improve the health benefits of the beverage and customize the flavor in a coaxing a culinary manner as opposed to a more code-oriented and coercive method.
Studying kefir has other benefits. it also develops a robust model for studying any number of microbial communities where multiple bacterial species such as those found in the gut or the soil can cohabitate in surprisingly complex ways.

Kefir provides an ideal hub for this type of research as it keeps its microbial species to a minimun compared to other fermented foods and only requires 24 hours to fully ferment at room temperature. Cheese, by comparison, requires three months or more to fully ferment. The success of these initial studies has noew encouraged the researchers to explore microbial populations in other foods, including sourdough breads and alcoholic beverages.