Process-driven bacterial community dynamics are key to cured meat colour formation by coagulase-negative staphylococci via nitrate reductase or nitric oxide synthase activities.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


International Journal of Food Microbiology (2015)


Arginine; Coagulase-negative staphylococci; Fermented sausage; Meat fermentation; Nitrate reductase; Nitric oxide synthase


The cured colour of European raw fermented meats is usually achieved by nitrate-into-nitrite reduction by coagulase-negative staphylococci (CNS), subsequently generating nitric oxide to form the relatively stable nitrosomyoglobin pigment. The present study aimed at comparing this classical curing procedure, based on nitrate reductase activity, with a potential alternative colour formation mechanism, based on nitric oxide synthase (NOS) activity, under different acidification profiles. To this end, meat models with and without added nitrate were fermented with cultures of an acidifying strain (Lactobacillus sakei CTC 494) and either a nitrate-reducing Staphylococcuscarnosus strain or a rare NOS-positive CNS strain (Staphylococcus haemolyticus G110), or by relying on the background microbiota. Satisfactory colour was obtained in the models prepared with added nitrate and S. carnosus. In the presence of nitrate but absence of added CNS, however, cured colour was only obtained when L. sakei CTC 494 was also omitted. This was ascribed to the pH dependency of the emerging CNS background microbiota, selecting for nitrate-reducing Staphylococcusequorum strains at mild acidification conditions but for Staphylococcussaprophyticus strains with poor colour formation capability when the pH decrease was more rapid. This reliance of colour formation on the composition of the background microbiota was further explored by a side experiment, demonstrating the heterogeneity in nitrate reduction of a set of 88 CNS strains from different species. Finally, in all batches prepared with S. haemolyticus G110, colour generation failed as the strain was systematically outcompeted by the background microbiota, even when imposing milder acidification profiles. Thus, when aiming at colour formation through CNS metabolism, technological processing can severely interfere with the composition and functionality of the meat-associated CNS communities, for both nitrate reductase and NOS activities. Several major bottlenecks, among which the rareness of phenotypic NOS activity in meat-compatible CNS, need to be considered, which is seriously questioning the relevance of this pathway in fermented meats.