ADSA Foundation Scholar Award: Possibilities and challenges of exopolysaccharide-producing lactic cultures in dairy foods.



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Journal of Dairy Science








Exopolysaccharides (EPS) from lactic acid bacteria are a diverse group of polysaccharides exhibiting various functional properties. Two forms of EPS are produced by lactic acid bacteria: capsular and unattached. Capsular EPS does not cause ropiness nor does production of unattached EPS ensure ropiness. The functions of EPS in dairy products are not completely understood. This is for 2 main reasons: the major variations among exopolysaccharides even from the same group of micro-organisms, which makes it difficult to apply information from one EPS to others, and the lack of availability of techniques with the ability to observe the microstructure and distribution of the highly hydrated EPS in fermented dairy products. The introduction of relatively new microscopic techniques such as confocal scanning laser microscopy and cryo-scanning electron microscopy made it possible to directly observe the distribution of fully hydrated EPS in dairy products. Recently, EPS produced by nonropy strains have drawn the attention of the dairy industry. This is because of the ability of some nonropy strains to produce large capsular and unattached EPS that would improve the texture of dairy products without causing the undesirable slippery mouthfeel produced by the ropy strains. Factors affecting functions of EPS are their molecular characteristics and ability to interact with milk proteins. Studying the interaction between EPS and milk proteins is complex because EPS are gradually produced during fermentation, unlike polysaccharides added directly to milk to stabilize the fermented product. The concentration and possibly molecular characteristics of EPS and protein characteristics such as charge and hydrophobicity change during fermentation. Consequently, the interaction of EPS with proteins might also change during fermentation. Exopolysaccharides provide functions that benefit reduced-fat cheeses. They bind water and increase the moisture in the nonfat portion, interfere with protein-protein interactions and reduce the rigidity of the protein network, and increase viscosity of the serum phase. This review discusses the production of capsular EPS and their role in structure formation in fermented milk, the mechanism of ropiness formation, and applications of EPS-producing cultures in reduced-fat cheeses.