The appropriate solution to the problem of quality variability and microbial stability of traditional non-alcoholic pearl millet fermented beverages (NAPMFB) is the use of starter cultures. However, potential starter cultures need to be tested in the production process. We aimed to identify and purify bioburden lactic acid bacteria from naturally fermented pearl millet slurry (PMS) and assess their effectiveness as cultures for the production of NAPMFB. Following the traditional Kunun-zaki process, the PMS was naturally fermented at 37 °C for 36 h. The pH, total titratable acidity (TTA), lactic acid bacteria (LAB), total viable count (TVC) and the soluble sugar were determined at 3 h interval. The presumptive LAB bacteria were characterized using a scanning electron microscope, biochemical tests and identified using the VITEK 2 Advanced Expert System for microbial identification. The changes in pH and TTA followed a non-linear exponential model with the rate of significant pH decrease of 0.071 h-1, and TTA was inversely proportional to the pH at the rate of 0.042 h-1. The Gompertz model with the mean relative deviation modulus, 0.7% for LAB and 2.01% for TVC explained the variability in microbial growth during fermentation. The LAB increased significantly from 6.97 to 7.68 log cfu/mL being dominated by Leuconostoc, Pediococcus, Streptococcus and Enterococcus with an optimum fermentation time of 18 h at 37 °C and 4.06 pH. L. mesenteroides and P. pentosaceus created an acidic environment while E. gallinarum increased the pH of the pearl millet extract (PME). Innovative NAPMFB was produced through assessment of LAB from PMS to PME fermented with L. mesentoroides (0.05%) and P. pentosaceus (0.025%) for 18 h, thereby reducing the production time from the traditional 24 h.
Keywords: Enterococcus gallinarum; Leuconostoc mesenteroides; Pediococcus pentosaceus; fermentation; lactic acid bacteria; pearl millet.