The present study aimed to evaluate the effect of selected Lactiplantibacillus plantarum strains on both microbiota composition and volatile organic compound profile of Sicilian table olives. Two mixed cultures, named O1 and O2, were set up for pilot-plan scale fermentations at 5% of NaCl. Uninoculated table olives at 5 and 8% (C5 and C8) of salt were used as control. The fermentation process was monitored until 80 days through a dual approach, which included both classical microbiological and 16S amplicon-based sequencing and volatilomics analyses. Compared with control samples (C5 and C8), experimental samples, inoculated with starter cultures (O1 and O2), exhibited a faster acidification with a more pronounced drop in pH. Metagenetics data revealed significant differences of microbiota composition among samples, highlighting the dominance of lactobacilli in both experimental samples; a high occurrence of Enterobacter genus only in control samples with 5% of NaCl; and the presence of Bacteroides, Faecalibacterium, Klebsiella, and Raoultella genera only in control samples with 8% of NaCl. Furthermore, microbiota composition dynamics, through the fermentation process, significantly affected the volatile organic compounds of the final products, whereas no compounds involved in off-odors metabolites were detected in all samples investigated. In conclusion, the addition of the proposed starter cultures and the use of low concentrations of sodium chloride positively affected the microbiota and volatile organic compounds, ensuring the microbiological safety and the pleasant flavors of the final product.
Keywords: VOCs; 16S amplicon-based sequencing; colture-independent approach; lactobacilli; olives fermentation.
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