Quiet contributor

by Jeff Gelski
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Food scientists recognize the term prebiotic fiber, and food and beverage formulators are becoming more aware of the benefits prebiotic fibers may add to their finished products. But getting consumers to understand prebiotic fiber through front-of-package labeling may take some work.

The term prebiotic fiber is not yet well known by American consumers, said Harvey Chimoff, head of global marketing for Tate & Lyle, P.L.C.

"The best word to use is fiber and then quickly link fiber to a benefit," he said of product packaging.

Tate & Lyle’s research shows consumers associate fiber with digestive health, the immune system and weight management, he said.

Sixty-four per cent of Americans find maintaining good digestive health to be a greater challenge than maintaining a good credit score, according to an on-line survey conducted in February and March by Kelton Research and commissioned by Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill. Kraft also said its research shows more than 70% of Americans claim they are not at all familiar with prebiotics, and of those who are familiar, less than 4% were able to define prebiotics correctly.

The International Food Information Council uses this definition for prebiotics: "nondigestible food ingredients that beneficially affect the host by selectively stimulating the growth of one or a limited number of bacterial species in the colon, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, which have the potential to improve host health."

For probiotics, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, the IFIC uses this definition: "live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host."

"Consumers are becoming more aware of probiotics and their link to digestive health," Mr. Chimoff said. "I don’t think you are seeing a correlation in terms of usage of the probiotic term and understanding of the term prebiotic. It’s not happening yet."

Recognition of the term prebiotic in the United States is low when compared to Europe, but it is growing because of the launch and advertising of many mainstream consumer products, said Joe O’Neill, vice-president of sales and marketing for Beneo-Orafti, which is based in Tienen, Belgium, and has a U.S. office in Morris Plains, N.J. Kraft Foods markets the benefits of prebiotic in some of its Live-Active brand products, he said. Cereals, cheese and beverages sold by Kraft include prebiotics.

Orafti offers ingredients that source prebiotic fiber in the form of inulin and oligofructose from chicory root. Orafti inulin comes in a range of seven powders with different properties. Another Orafti ingredient, Orafti Synergy1, is recognized in the cultured dairy industry for its benefits in improving calcium absorption and increasing bone mineral density, Mr. O’Neill said.

Scientific data backs up Orafti prebiotic claims, Mr. O’Neill said. The company uses alternate growing seasons in both hemispheres to grow chicory year round and will increase the quantities of chicory grown in Chile this year to meet market demand.

"Chicory root is the most practical and economical source of high-quality inulin for use as a food, beverage and nutritional supplement ingredient," Mr. O’Neill said.

Sensus, Roosendaal, The Netherlands, contracts Dutch and Belgium farmers for the production and supply of chicory root, which the company uses to produce Frutafit and Frutalose inulin/fructooligosaccharides (FOS). Frutalose "Sweet Liquid Fiber" delivers 50% of the sweetness of sugar and is 90% soluble prebiotic fiber, said Scott Turowski, technical sales representative for Sensus America Inc., Monmouth Junction, N.J.

"Frutafit and Frutalose chicory root fiber from Sensus has been shown to be an effective prebiotic fiber at a dose of 5 grams per day," he said. "Given these results, claims related to digestive health can be made at doses as low as 1.25 grams per serving."

Vita-Pakt, Covina, Calif., sources inulin and oligofructose for its organic milled flour from the wild sunflower root Helianthus tuberosus L., which is native to North American prairies. The wild sunflower root is more than 65% dietary fiber, including more than 55% inulin and FOS. The flour has a creamy white to beige color and a nutty, slightly sweet aroma and flavor. The wild sunflower root also is known as Jerusalem artichoke, which is a misnomer because it is neither from Jerusalem nor an artichoke, according to Vita-Pakt.

The company had a booth at the BakingTech 2008 event held in March in Chicago and run by the American Society of Baking. Vita-Pakt promoted its organic milled flour from wild sunflower root for applications in bread, cookies, muffins, breakfast cereal, nutrition bars, beverages, smoothies, pasta, and dry soup mixes and sauces.

Tate & Lyle uses corn in two of its ingredients that offer prebiotic fiber. Promitor soluble corn fiber comes in dry and liquid form and may function like corn syrup, Mr. Chimoff said. The ingredient is heat and acid stable. Promitor resistant starch works like a flour replacer and may be used in such applications as baked foods and extruded snacks.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, April 1, 2008, starting on Page 41. Click
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