Meersman E1, Steensels J1, Struyf N1, Paulus T1, Saels V1, Mathawan M2, Allegaert L2, Vrancken G2, Verstrepen KJ3.

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2015 Nov 20;82(2):732-46. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02556-15.

Microbial starter cultures have extensively been used to enhance the consistency and efficiency of industrial fermentations. Despite the advantages of such controlled fermentations, the fermentation involved in the production of chocolate is still a spontaneous process that relies on the natural microbiota at cocoa farms. However, recent studies indicate that certain thermotolerant Saccharomyces cerevisiae cultures can be used as starter cultures for cocoa pulp fermentation. In this study, we investigate the potential of specifically developed starter cultures to modulate chocolate aroma. Specifically, we developed several new S. cerevisiae hybrids that combine thermotolerance and efficient cocoa pulp fermentation with a high production of volatile flavor-active esters. In addition, we investigated the potential of two strains of two non-Saccharomyces species that produce very large amounts of fruity esters (Pichia kluyveri and Cyberlindnera fabianii) to modulate chocolate aroma. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) analysis of the cocoa liquor revealed an increased concentration of various flavor-active esters and a decrease in spoilage-related off-flavors in batches inoculated with S. cerevisiae starter cultures and, to a lesser extent, in batches inoculated with P. kluyveri and Cyb. fabianii. Additionally, GC-MS analysis of chocolate samples revealed that while most short-chain esters evaporated during conching, longer and more-fat-soluble ethyl and acetate esters, such as ethyl octanoate, phenylethyl acetate, ethyl phenylacetate, ethyl decanoate, and ethyl dodecanoate, remained almost unaffected. Sensory analysis by an expert panel confirmed significant differences in the aromas of chocolates produced with different starter cultures. Together, these results show that the selection of different yeast cultures opens novel avenues for modulating chocolate flavor.