Sugar-coated: exopolysaccharide producing lactic acid bacteria for food and human health applications
The human enteric microbiome represents a veritable organ relied upon by the host for a range of metabolic and homeostatic functions. Through the production of metabolites such as short chain fatty acids (SCFA), folate, vitamins B and K, lactic acid, bacteriocins, peroxides and exopolysaccharides, the bacteria of the gut microbiome provide nutritional components for colonocytes, liver and muscle cells, competitively exclude potential pathogenic organisms and modulate the hosts immune system. Due to the extensive variation in structure, size and composition, microbial exopolysaccharides represent a useful set of versatile natural ingredients for the food industrial sector, both in terms of their rheological properties and in many cases, their associated health benefits. The exopolysaccharide-producing bacteria that fall within the 35 Lactobacillus and five Bifidobacterium species which have achieved qualified presumption of safety (QPS) and generally recognised as safe (GRAS) status are of particular interest, as their inclusion in food products can avoid considerable scrutiny. In addition, additives commonly utilised by the food industry are becoming unattractive to the consumer, due to the demand for a more ‘natural’ and ‘clean labelled’ diet. In situ production of exopolysaccharides by food-grade cultures in many cases confers similar rheological and sensory properties in fermented dairy products, as traditional additives, such as hydrocolloids, collagen and alginate. This review will focus on microbial synthesis of exopolysaccharides, the human health benefits of dietary exopolysaccharides and the technofunctional applications of exopolysaccharide-synthesising microbes in the food industry.