This work reports on the physicochemical characterization of 21 exopolysaccharides (EPS) produced by Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains isolated from human intestinal microbiota, as well as the growth and metabolic activity of the EPS-producing strains in milk. The strains belong to the species Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus vaginalis, Bifidobacterium animalis, Bifidobacterium longum, and Bifidobacterium pseudocatenulatum. The molar mass distribution of EPS fractions showed 2 peaks of different sizes, which is a feature shared with some EPS from bacteria of food origin. In general, we detected an association between the EPS size distribution and the EPS-producing species, although because of the low numbers of human bacterial EPS tested, we could not conclusively establish a correlation. The main monosaccharide components of the EPS under study were glucose, galactose, and rhamnose, which are the same as those found in food polymers; however, the rhamnose and glucose ratios was generally higher than the galactose ratio in our human bacterial EPS. All EPS-producing strains were able to grow and acidify milk; most lactobacilli produced lactic acid as the main metabolite. The lactic acid-to-acetic acid ratio in bifidobacteria was 0.7, close to the theoretical ratio, indicating that the EPS-producing strains did not produce an excessive amount of acetic acid, which could adversely affect the sensory properties of fermented milks. With respect to their viscosity-intensifying ability, L. plantarum H2 and L. rhamnosus E41 and E43R were able to increase the viscosity of stirred, fermented milks to a similar extent as the EPS-producing Streptococcus thermophilus strain used as a positive control. Therefore, these human EPS-producing bacteria could be used as adjuncts in mixed cultures for the formulation of functional foods if probiotic characteristics could be demonstrated. This is the first article reporting the physicochemical characteristics of EPS isolated from human intestinal microbiota.
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