Samples of cocoa beans were taken on two separate occasions during heap and tray fermentations in Ghana, West Africa. In total 496 yeast isolates were identified by conventional microbiological analyses and by amplification of their ITS1-5.8S rDNA-ITS2 regions. For important species the identifications were confirmed by sequencing of the D1/D2 domain of the 5' end of the large subunit (26S) rDNA. Assimilations of organic acids and other carbon compounds were conducted. For dominant yeasts intraspecies variations were examined by determination of chromosome length polymorphism (CLP) using pulsed-field gel electrophoresis. For the heap fermentations maximum yeast cell counts of 9.1x10(7) were reached, whereas maximum yeast counts of 6.0x10(6) were reached for the tray fermentations. Candida krusei was found to be the dominant species during heap fermentation, followed by P. membranifaciens, P. kluyveri, Hanseniaspora guilliermondii and Trichosporon asahii, whereas Saccharomyces cerevisiae and P. membranifaciens were found to be the dominant species during tray fermentation followed by low numbers of C. krusei, P. kluyveri, H. guilliermondii and some yeast species of minor importance. For isolates within all dominant species CLP was evident, indicating that several different strains are involved in the fermentations. Isolates of C. krusei, P. membranifaciens, H. guilliermondii, T. asahii and Rhodotorula glutinis could be found on the surface of the cocoa pods and in some cases on the production equipment, whereas the origin of e.g. S. cerevisiae was not indicated by the results obtained. In conclusion, the results obtained show that fermentation of cocoa beans is a very inhomogeneous process with great variations in both yeast counts and species composition. The variations seem to depend especially on the processing procedure, but also the season and the post-harvest storage are likely to influence the yeast counts and the species composition.
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