Consumers are becoming more aware of probiotics as bakeries capitalize on this trend. But since live bacteria are sensitive to heat, bakers must use sophisticated technologies to deliver a probiotic health benefit.
Probiotics first showed up in the dairy case. Then they found their way into the supplement section. Now, they're appearing in the bakery aisle. And they're alive!
Probiotics are “live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host,” according to a 2001 report of an Expert Committee of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. For the bakery industry, which has made an art of keeping things from growing in its products, the idea of harboring live microorganisms is not only novel, it's a tremendous challenge. One strategy is to avoid the oven and add probiotics to a topping, icing or creamy filling after baking.
Scientists continue to document the health benefits of probiotics, but the most generally accepted benefits are associated with digestive health. A landmark 2001 study by the American Gastroenterological Association revealed that the population experiences more than 285 million cases of gastrointestinal disease at a cost of $42 billion every year. While probiotics have been popular in Europe and Asia for many years, they didn't really take hold in the United States until 2006, when Dannon launched Activia® yogurt, which promises to help regulate the digestive system. First year retail grocery sales of this product surpassed $100 million, a feat that less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all new products launched in the United States reportedly accomplish. But can bakery products touting probiotic benefits rack up similar sales?
New to the market
A number of different bacteria are considered “probiotic.” However, the science is still emerging on all the positive benefits of these friendly bugs. While clinical trials have documented benefits of specific strains of bacteria, bakers need to understand that health benefits are strain specific. They should turn to their probiotic supplier for substantiation of the specific claims that can be made for the strains they are using, and also the level that needs to be present in the finished product to support each claim. Let's look at some of the recent probiotic bakery introductions in both the United States and international markets.
Flowers Foods, Thomasville, Ga., rolled out Mrs. Freshley's SnackAway™ Peanut Butter Wafer Bars last September. The improved, reduced-sugar, 90-calorie wafer is an excellent source of fiber and contains the probiotic bacteria Lactobacillus rhamnosus. According to the company Web site: “Food with probiotics contain beneficial bacteria that can promote a healthy digestive system.”
At the Food Ingredients Europe 2007 trade fair in London this past October, chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut launched the world's first probiotic chocolate produced on an industrial scale. This innovation was the result of a joint effort between Barry Callebaut and Lallemand, a probiotics producer. Since both high temperatures and pressures typically involved in processing chocolate can have a negative influence on probiotic cell-counts, this was quite an accomplishment.
The company uses a specific combination of two probiotic strains, and its special process enhances survival of probiotics in the chocolate matrix. Barry Callebaut is targeting fall of 2008 for the roll out of probiotic chocolate in the United States. Initially, it will be offered as a liquid chocolate product, suitable for enrobing bakery foods, such as granola bars.
Barilla, an Italian company, introduced a probiotic biscuit with chocolate in September. A Canadian cereal manufacturer introduced Yog Active, a probiotic muesli cereal with Lactobacillus acidophilus active yogurt pearls. San Francisco-based Attune Foods introduced a yogurt and granola Probiotic Wellness Bar that boasts more than five times the live active cultures in yogurt. This bar contains three probiotic cultures, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei and Bifidobacterium lactis. Refrigeration is recommended but not required. Adding yogurt powder, incorporating a yogurt filling or enrobing with a yogurt coating may be a good strategy for bakers, as it helps consumers who are familiar with probiotics in yogurt become comfortable with probiotics in other foods.
“We're really on the front edge of the potential for probiotics in bakery products. We're starting to see some momentum increase,” notes Jim Kopp, vice president, Lallemand Nutritional Food Ingredients, Montreal. Potential delivery vehicles include chocolate, inclusions, icings and dairy-based fillings injected after baking. Probiotics are sensitive to heat, moisture and oxygen. Most probiotics should be refrigerated and used within a year after purchase.
“Proper freeze-drying technology can produce probiotic bacteria with superior stability,” says Gregory Leyer, global probiotic technical director, Danisco USA Inc., Madison, Wis. Probiotics could be incorporated into a grain topping applied to bread after baking, and this application has good potential for probiotics because of breads' short shelf life. When properly preserved and stored, probiotic bacteria remain alive but dormant, and start to grow again when they reach the warm, moist environment of the body, Leyer adds.
To deliver these healthful bacteria in a bakery product, commercial bakers are advised to work with a probiotic supplier who understands the baking environment. Kopp explains, “Bakers will have to consider the entire matrix to determine which factors will affect survival rates. There are no hard and fast rules, but generally a temperature of 130°F for less than one minute does not affect the probiotic bacteria. A water activity level below 0.4 is also favorable for survival.”
Bringing a new probiotic bakery food to market involves testing for actual bacterial count at the end of shelf life. Kopp works closely with potential customers, but limits testing to those applications with good potential. He does not recommend bread because of the high baking temperatures.
“One good candidate for incorporating probiotics is a high solids filling, like a sandwich cookie creme filling. Icings also have good potential as probiotic carriers, as do fillings for sweet rolls, and chocolate inclusions. Systems with high fat and high protein help protect bacteria from humidity and moisture. Our expertise allows us to know which ingredients in a particular formula may have to be changed to maximize survival,” adds Kopp. Lallemand has the capability to test for probiotic survival at the end of shelf life. Refrigeration will often extend shelf life.
An alternative approach to using probiotics is to incorporate a spore-former. “One strain of Bacillus coagulans, Ganeden BC30, has probiotic benefits with highly viable cells that survive the manufacturing process,” notes Rodger Jonas, national business development manager, P.L. Thomas & Co., Morristown, N.J. Up to 78 percent of this strain has been shown to survive the gastric environment. Thomas & Co. has tested this probiotic and found viable cells in a muffin that was baked at 350°F for 20 minutes, frozen immediately and then stored frozen for 14 days. This strain has recently received GRAS status.
Keeping probiotics viable in a bakery food is only half of the story. The body presents its own challenges. Most of the reported benefits of probiotics occur in the lower intestine and colon. To reach this destination alive, the friendly bacteria must survive the acidic environment of the stomach and the secretions of the pancreas, including enzymes and bile. Studies have shown that encapsulation can increase survival rates.
“Wholesale bakers actually need to test the viability of bacteria at the end of shelf life,” says Kopp. “If the product is being sold for a probiotic benefit and the regular shelf life is 14 days, but the shelf life of the probiotics is only 10 days, then it will be necessary for the baker to label the product with the shelf life of 10 days.”
Probiotics vs. prebiotics
Most experts agree that probiotics need to be ingested on a regular basis, typically once a day, to exert an ongoing benefit. Their population in the gut can be enhanced by the presence of prebiotics, specific ingredients that serve as food for the probiotics. Examples of prebiotics include inulin, resistant starch, polydextrose, certain lactose derivatives, such as lactulose and tagatose, and certain gums including gum acacia, guar gum and pectin. Products that contain both prebiotics and probiotics are “symbiotic.” Bakery foods are great delivery vehicles for prebiotics.
Warburton's Ltd. of Bolton, U.K., introduced “Healthy Inside” bread. Although this product claims to “wake up your friendly bacteria,” it does not contain any actual bacteria, but rather includes the prebiotic fiber inulin. According to the manufacturer, three slices of its bread provide one-third of the daily 5 g recommended intake.
“There are publications that have come out that have documented some effects of dead microbes. And, that's completely fine, and they may even overlap in some mechanistic way with live microbes, but that's just something else, that's not probiotics. So, the term probiotic has to be reserved for live microbes,” emphasizes Mary Ellen Sanders, PhD., president, Dairy and Food Culture Technologies, Centennial, Colo.-an important point when considering adding probiotics as a health benefit to formulations.
Bakers who want to capitalize on this health benefit should remember that saying “contains probiotics” is not as easy as saying “contains whole grain.” But there may be some great opportunities in this “live-ly” new niche.
Some Reported Probiotic Benefits*
- Improves digestive health
- Enhances the immune system
- Improves lactose digestion
- Reduces the incidence or duration of some diarrheal illnesses
*Note that benefits are strain specific
For more information see www.usprobiotics.org