Background: Famous Chinese strong-flavored liquor (CSFL) is brewed by microbial consortia in a special fermentation pit (FT). However, the fermentation process was not fully understood owing to the complicate community structure and metabolism. In this study, the process-related dynamics of microbial communities and main flavor compounds during the 70-day fermentation process were investigated in a simulated fermentation system.
Results: A three-phase model was proposed to characterize the process of the CSFL fermentation. (i) In the early fermentation period (1-23 days), glucose was produced from macromolecular carbohydrates (e.g., starch). The prokaryotic diversity decreased significantly. The Lactobacillaceae gradually predominated in the prokaryotic community. In contrast, the eukaryotic diversity rose remarkably in this stage. Thermoascus, Aspergillus, Rhizopus and unidentified Saccharomycetales were dominant eukaryotic members. (ii) In the middle fermentation period (23-48 days), glucose concentration decreased while lactate acid and ethanol increased significantly. Prokaryotic community was almost dominated by the Lactobacillus, while eukaryotic community was mainly comprised of Thermoascus, Emericella and Aspergillus. (iii) In the later fermentation period (48-70 days), the concentrations of ethyl esters, especially ethyl caproate, increased remarkably.
Conclusions: The CSFL fermentation could undergo three stages: saccharification, glycolysis and esterification. Saccharomycetales, Monascus, and Rhizopus were positively correlated to glucose concentration (P < 0.05), highlighting their important roles in the starch saccharification. The Lactobacillaceae, Bacilli, Botryotinia, Aspergillus, unidentified Pleosporales and Capnodiales contributed to the glycolysis and esterification, because they were positively correlated to most organic acids and ethyl esters (P < 0.05). Additionally, four genera, including Emericella, Suillus, Mortierella and Botryotinia, that likely played key roles in fermentation, were observed firstly. This study observed comprehensive dynamics of microbial communities during the CSFL fermentation, and it further revealed the correlations between some crucial microorganisms and flavoring chemicals (FCs). The results from this study help to design effective strategies to manipulate microbial consortia for fermentation process optimization in the CSFL brew practice.