Lactic acid fermentation of cereal flours resulted in a 100 (rye), 95-100 (wheat), and 39-47% (oat) reduction in phytate content within 24 h. The extent of phytate degradation was shown to be independent from the lactic acid bacteria strain used for fermentation. However, phytate degradation during cereal dough fermentation was positively correlated with endogenous plant phytase activity (rye, 6750 mU g(-1); wheat, 2930 mU g(-1); and oat, 23 mU g(-1)), and heat inactivation of the endogenous cereal phytases prior to lactic acid fermentation resulted in a complete loss of phytate degradation. Phytate degradation was restored after addition of a purified phytase to the liquid dough. Incubation of the cereal flours in buffered solutions resulted in a pH-dependent phytate degradation. The optimum of phytate degradation was shown to be around pH 5.5. Studies on phytase production of 50 lactic acid bacteria strains, previously isolated from sourdoughs, did not result in a significant production of intra- as well as extracellular phytase activity. Therefore, lactic acid bacteria do not participate directly in phytate degradation but provide favorable conditions for the endogenous cereal phytase activity by lowering the pH value.