Microorganisms with a Taste for Vanilla: Microbial Ecology of Traditional Indonesian Vanilla Curing
Wilfred F. M. Ro Ling
Henk W. Van Verseveld
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The microbial ecology of traditional postharvesting processing of vanilla beans (curing) was examined using a polyphasic approach consisting of conventional cultivation, substrate utilization-based and molecular identification of isolates, and cultivation-independent community profiling by 16S ribosomal DNA based PCRdenaturing gradient gel electrophoresis. At two different locations, a batch of curing beans was monitored. In both batches a major shift in microbial communities occurred after short-term scalding of the beans in hot water. Fungi and yeast disappeared, although regrowth of fungi occurred in one batch during a period in which process conditions were temporarily not optimal. Conventional plating showed that microbial communities consisting of thermophilic and thermotolerant bacilli (mainly closely related to Bacillus subtilis, B. licheniformis,, and B. smithii) developed under the high temperatures (up to 65°C) that were maintained for over a week after scalding. Only small changes in the communities of culturable bacteria occurred after this period. Molecular analysis revealed that a proportion of the microbial communities could not be cultured on conventional agar medium, especially during the high-temperature period. Large differences between both batches were observed in the numbers of microorganisms, in species composition, and in the enzymatic abilities of isolated bacteria. These large differences indicate that the effects of microbial activities on the development of vanilla flavor could be different for each batch of cured vanilla beans.