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Crit Rev Microbiol. 1999;25(2):121-53.

From field barley to malt: detection and specification of microbial activity for quality aspects.

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  • 1Department of Food and Microbial Technology, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Hevelee, Belgium.


Barley grain carries a numerous, variable, and complex microbial population that mainly consists of bacteria, yeasts, and filamentous fungi and that can partly be detected and quantified using plating methods and microscopic and molecular techniques. The extent and the activity of this microflora are determined by the altering state of the grain and the environmental conditions in the malt production chain. Three ecological systems can be distinguished: the growing cereal in the field, the dry barley grain under storage, and the germinating barley kernel during actual malting. Microorganisms interact with the malting process both by their presence and by their metabolic activity. In this respect, interference with the oxygen uptake by the barley grain and secretion of enzymes, hormones, toxins, and acids that may affect the plant physiological processes have been studied. As a result of the interaction, microorganisms can cause important losses and influence malt quality as measured by brewhouse performance and beer quality. Of particular concern is the occurrence of mycotoxins that may affect the safety of malt. The development of the microflora during malt production can to a certain extent be controlled by the selection of appropriate process conditions. Physical and chemical treatments to inactivate the microbial population on the barley grain are suggested. Recent developments, however, aim to control the microbial activity during malt production by promoting the growth of desirable microbial cultures, selected either as biocontrol agents inhibiting mycotoxin-producing molds or as starter cultures actively contributing to malt modification. Such techniques may offer natural opportunities to improve the quality and safety of malt.

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