The Role of Yeasts in Fermentation Processes

14 Sep.,2022


yeast hydrolysate

In recent years, vessels have been discovered that contain the remains of wine with an age close to 7000 years. It is unclear whether, in ancient times, humans accidentally stumbled across fermented beverages like wine or beer, or was it a product intended as such. What is a fact is that since then, alcoholic beverages have been part of the diet and culture of many of the civilizations that have preceded us. The typical examples of beer and wine are an example of many other drinks resulting from the action of yeasts. In addition to these two beverages, various companies have developed other types of fermented foods and non-alcoholic beverages prepared in a traditional or commercial manner. The climatic conditions, the availability of raw material and the preferences of each region have conditioned and favored the maintenance of some of these products. In addition to the aforementioned traditional alcoholic beverages produced from fruits, berries, or grains, humans use yeast in the production of chemical precursors, global food processing such as coffee and chocolate, or even wastewater processing. Yeast fermentation is not only useful in food manufacturing. Its uses extend to other products of high interest such as the generation of fuel from vegetable sources.

1. Introduction

Fermentation is a well-known natural process used by humanity for thousands of years with the fundamental purpose of making alcoholic beverages, as well as bread and by-products. Upon a strictly biochemical point of view, fermentation is a process of central metabolism in which an organism converts a carbohydrate, such as starch or sugar, into an alcohol or an acid. For example, yeast performs fermentation to obtain energy by converting sugar into alcohol. Fermentation processes were spontaneously carried out before the biochemical process was fully understood. In the 1850s and 1860s, the French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur became the first scientist to study fermentation, when he demonstrated that this process was performed by living cells. Fermentation processes to produce wines, beers and ciders are traditionally carried out with Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains, the most common and commercially available yeast. They are well known for their fermentative behavior and technological characteristics which allow obtaining products of uniform and standard quality. Many other important industrial products are the result of fermentation, such as yogurt, cheese, bread, coffee. Yeasts also play a key role in wastewater treatment or biofuel production. Upon a biochemical point of view, fermentation is carried out by yeasts (and some bacteria) when pyruvate generated from glucose metabolism is broken into ethanol and carbon dioxide ( ).

The schematic chemical equation for the production of ethanol from glucose is as follows:

C6H12O6(glucose)⟶2C2H5OH(ethanol)+CO2(carbon dioxide)

Under absence or oxygen-limited conditions, ethanol is produced from acetaldehyde, and two moles of ATP are generated. This is not a fully satisfactory reaction for cells, as they have to consume high amounts of glucose to deliver enough ATP to the system. As a consequence, ethanol is accumulated and when this occurs the fermentative activity is stopped [1].

1.1. Yeasts

Yeasts are eukaryotic microorganisms that live in a wide variety of ecological niches, mainly in water, soil, air and on plant and fruit surfaces. Perhaps the most interesting habitat at this point is the latter, since they directly intervene in the decomposition of ripe fruit and participate in the fermentation process. In this natural environment, yeasts can carry out their metabolism and fermentation activity satisfactorily as they have the necessary nutrients and substrates [2]. On a nutritional level, yeasts are not particularly demanding compared to other microorganisms such as lactic acid bacteria. However, their growth is supported by the existence of basic compounds such as fermentable sugars, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and also oxygen. Upon a morphological point of view, yeasts present a high morphological divergence, with round, ellipsoidal and oval shapes being the most common. In fact, in the identification processes, microscopic evaluation is the first resource followed by other more discriminatory tests such as microbiological and biochemical ones. In a next stage, the classical classification includes other more laborious tests such as those of sugar fermentation and amino acid assimilation [2]. The production and tolerance to ethanol, organic acids and SO2 are also important tools to differentiate among species. The reproduction of yeasts is mainly by budding, which results in a new and genetically identical cell. Budding is the most common type of asexual reproduction, although cell fission is a characteristic of yeasts belonging to the genus Schizosaccharomyces. Growing conditions that lead to nutrient starvation, such as lack of amino acids, induce sporulation, which is a mechanism used by yeasts to survive in adverse conditions. As a result of sporulation, yeast cells suffer from genetic variability. In industrial fermentation processes, the asexual reproduction of yeasts is advisable to ensure the preservation of the genotype and to maintain stable fermentation behaviour that does not derive from it for as long as possible. At the metabolic level, yeasts are characterised by their capacity to ferment a high spectrum of sugars, among which glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose and maltotriose predominate, found both in ripe fruit and in processed cereals. In addition, yeasts tolerate acidic environments with pH values around 3.5 or even less. According to technological convenience, yeasts are divided into two large groups namely Saccharomyces and non-Saccharomyces. Morphologically, Saccharomyces yeasts can be round or ellipsoidal in shape depending on the growth phase and cultivation conditions. S. cerevisiae is the most studied species and the most utilized in the fermentation of wines and beers due to its satisfactory fermentative capacity, rapid growth and easy adaptation. They tolerate concentrations of SO2 that normally most non-Saccharomyces yeasts do not survive. However, despite these advantages, it is possible to find in the nature representatives of S. cerevisiae that do not necessarily have these characteristics.

1.2. Non-Saccharomyces Yeasts

Non-Saccharomyces yeasts are a group of microorganisms used in numerous fermentation processes, since their high metabolic differences allow the synthesis of different final products. Generally, many of these yeasts capable of modifying the sensory quality of wines are considered as contaminants, so eliminating them or keeping them at low levels was a basic objective in the past [3]. In order to eliminate their activity in wine fermentation, it is usual to disinfect the tanks and fermentation containers using sulfite. This perception has been modified year after year, gaining relevance the action of these yeasts in the spontaneous fermentation, since they contribute positively in the final sensory quality of the wine. These yeasts are the majority in the initial phase of spontaneous fermentation to the point where the concentration of ethanol reaches 4 and 5% v/v. At that point, between alcohol and the exhaustion of dissolved oxygen, their growth is inhibited [4]. When the process is completed, Saccharomyces yeasts, the most resistant to ethanol, predominate and complete the fermentation. It has been reported that some non-Saccharomyces yeasts are able to survive toward the end of the spontaneous fermentation and exert their metabolic activity, thus contributing positively to the sensory quality of wines. Based on this evidence, in recent years, many researchers have focused their studies in understanding the nature and fermentative activity of the non-Saccharomyces yeasts [5]. The findings demonstrated the enormous potential of these yeasts for use in the fermentation of traditional and nontraditional beverages. Despite the fact that most non-Saccharomyces yeasts show some technological disadvantages compared to S. cerevisiae such as lower fermentative power and production of ethanol, non-Saccharomyces yeasts possess characteristics that in S. cerevisiae are absent, for instance, production of high levels of aromatic compounds such as esters, higher alcohols and fatty acids [6]. In addition, it has been reported that the fermentative activity of these yeasts is manifested in the presence of small amounts of oxygen which leads to an increase in cell biomass and the decrease in ethanol yield, a strategy that can be used to reduce the ethanol content of wines produced in coculture with S. cerevisiae [7]. With the aim of exploiting the positive characteristics of non-Saccharomyces yeasts and reducing their negative impact, fermentations with mixed and sequential cultures with S. cerevisiae can be performed to produce fermented beverages with different sensory profiles [8]. The most important fact is related to the potential for producing a broad variety of compounds of sensory importance necessary to improve the organoleptic quality of wines and beers. The findings reported so far in literature have led to rethink the role of these yeasts in fermentative processes and to evaluate their use in the development of new products. Among the most studied non-Saccharomyces yeasts that reached special importance for researchers include Candida, Kloeckera, Hanseniaspora, Brettanomyces, Pichia, Lanchacea and Kluyveromyces, among others.