Earlier this year, the International Food Information Council (IFIC), Washington, DC, commissioned two surveys that looked at Americans’ awareness of and attitudes toward health, diet and functional foods. Probiotics — live microorganisms often added to foods and supplements that confer a health benefit on the host when consumed in adequate amounts — were one of the food components investigated.

The good news is that IFIC’s 2013 Food and Health Survey found 25% of consumers saying that during the past 12 months, when making decisions about buying packaged foods or beverages, they considered if the product contained probiotics. This is up from 20% in the 2012 survey.

However, according to IFIC’s 2013 Functional Foods Consumer Survey, more than half of consumers say they are getting at least some probiotics, but many claim they are not consuming enough to get a health benefit.

Bakers can assist by fortifying their products with probiotics designed to either withstand the baking process or bypass exposure to high heat.

“We are firm believers that nearly everyone needs a probiotic on a daily basis. That said, we see ­opportunities outside the dairy case as resonating with consumers on a broad basis,” said Michael Bush, senior vice-president, Ganeden Biotech, Mayfield Heights, OH. “The more probiotic-fortified options we can give consumers, the easier it will be for them to incorporate probiotics into their lifestyles.”

Michael Omvik-Grotkjaer, sales director, health food and supplements, Lallemand Bio-Ingredients, Denmark, concurred that probiotics should be added to all types of foods. “Modern-day processing and preparation of food not only destroy pathogenic microorganisms but also kill the non-pathogenic ‘good’ microorganisms necessary to maintain intestinal microbial balance and challenge our immune system,” he said. “By enriching everyday foods such as baked goods with probiotics, humans can build back their immunity as well as improve other bodily functions.”

In the oven

Probiotics have historically been most successful when they are added to refrigerated dairy foods because many fermented cow’s milk products are sources of live and active probiotic cultures. Further, the short, chilled shelf life of fresh dairy foods positively impacts the probiotics’ viability and efficacy.

“When formulating with probiotics, typical challenges that need to be considered are elevated temperatures in processing and storage, and low pH,” said Peggy Steele, global business director, food and beverage probiotics, DuPont Nutrition & Health, Madison, WI. “For probiotics to survive processing, they should be added at a point when there are no more heating steps and the product has been cooled.

“The best way to include probiotics is in a coating, filling, frosting or icing for select bakery items with low-water activity, such as bars, crisp cookies, crackers and wafers,” Ms. Steele said. “Snacks and cereals are also viable vehicles to deliver probiotics.” Application to snacks and cereals involves spraying the finished product with a stabilized probiotic solution in the same way that sugar coatings are done.

Confectionary coatings can be used as a carrier of probiotics because their high-fat matrix protects the bacteria from the deleterious effects of moisture and oxygen. Such probiotic inclusions must be added after baking since they are not protected from high temperatures.

Another option is to choose naturally protected bacteria referred to as spore-formers. “Spore-forming ­bacteria have been used in human and animal nutrition for more than 50 years, principally for their good stability and resistance to stomach digestion,” Mr. Omvik-Grotkjaer said. “When it comes to microorganisms, though, we know that not all species and strains are alike and not all benefit from the same level of documentation. A specific Bacillus subtilis strain, R0179 (CNCM I-3471), is particularly well-identified and characterized. This strain benefits from proven probiotic features and has the ability to be revived in the stomach. Moreover, having been marketed for more than 15 years in Asia as a pharmaceutical to support gut health, B. subtilis R0179 benefits from a good track-record of safe and effective use with more than 100 post-market clinical trials published.

“This bacteria is provided in its dormant state, whereby it is able to resist high-stress conditions such as heat, acid, pressure and lack of nutrients,” Mr. Omvik-Grotkjaer added. “Spores are known to survive for years. They become active again when there are favorable ­conditions for growth.

“Bakers can, therefore, include live bacteria in baked products such as cookies and bread,” he continued. Since January 2012, this bacteria strain has maintained self-approved Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) status.

Mr. Bush agreed that generally only spore-forming bacteria are able to endure baking. “Non-spore-forming bacteria are typically unable to survive harsh manufacturing processes,” he said. “In addition, for a probiotic to be beneficial to the consumer, the cells not only have to overcome the manufacturing process, but they also have to survive changes in temperature, shelf life and harsh stomach acids.

“B. coagulans GBI-30, 6086, is a patented, spore-forming organism that can be found in more than 80 leading food, beverage and ­companion-animal products throughout the world,” Mr. Bush said. “Unlike most other probiotic strains used in foods and beverages, this probiotic is highly stable and can remain viable through processing, shelf life and the low pH of stomach acid. Its efficacy is backed by 17 published studies and has an exceptional safety record with GRAS status from the Food and Drug Administration.”

There are multiple ways that beneficial bacteria can be incorporated into baked goods. “It highly depends on the product and the manufacturing process,” Mr. Bush noted. Bake time, temperature and moisture are all factors that need to be considered when choosing the right application. “We work with our partners throughout product development to determine what inclusion rate and application process will be best, based on the manufacturing process,” he said.

Once the product is formulated, Mr. Bush indicated that additional product testing will determine ­viability and stability. “Our spore-forming probiotic bacterium can be formulated into a wide variety of food matrices, including baked goods,” Mr. Bush said. “The way in which our probiotic is incorporated depends on the product itself and the manufacturing process. Just as in the application details, limitations are also process-dependent, with bake time, temperature and moisture being critical factors. The dosage of probiotic incorporated depends on the specific claims that a manufacturer wants to include on the finished product.”

Ganeden has performed dozens of clinical studies on B. coagulans GBI-30, 6086. Studies show immune system benefits at 500 million colony forming units (CFUs). “When combined with a healthy lifestyle, one billion CFUs per day supports the digestive system,” Mr. Bush said.

In the marketplace

In 2011, Cleveland-based Orlando Baking Co. pioneered probiotic bread in the US by introducing True Grains Honey Wheat and True Grains Seed’licious. The latter is wheat bread textured with flax, sunflower and chia seeds plus millet. The True Grains line is the result of a two-year developmental process between Orlando Baking and Ganeden.

“As we see it, the True Grains probiotic line positions sliced bread back on top as the greatest thing ever,” said Nick Orlando, vice-president of sales at his family-owned bakery that has been in operation since 1872. “Our probiotic breads will appeal to consumers who may suffer from digestive health issues and are interested in the benefits of maintaining a healthy belly.”

Earlier this year, The Cookie Department, also of Cleveland, launched the Cherry Bomb, its sixth cookie and the first to include probiotics. Developed with gluten-free consumers in mind, the Cherry Bomb cookie has a soft, brownie-like consistency and is made from all-natural ingredients with no preservatives or artificial sweeteners.

“Customers had been asking us for a great-tasting, good-for-you gluten-free cookie, and we have delivered with the Cherry Bomb,” said Pam Marcus, co-founder and CEO. “Knowing that people who require a gluten-free diet often suffer from digestive problems, we knew we had to include a probiotic.”

Indeed, there is a growing attraction to probiotics by consumers who require a gluten-free diet. This motivated Udi’s Healthy Foods LLC, Denver, to add probiotics to its gluten-free Soft n’ Chewy Ancient Grain Granola Bars. And at the end of 2012, La Vita Health Foods, Suffern, NY, introduced a line of gluten-free cookies and fudgy brownies under its Zena’s brand.

Probiotics can serve consumers with other special nutritional needs. Most recently, CredibleCravings, Irvine, CA, introduced a namesake organic gluten-free snack bar line developed specifically for expecting and nursing women. “We teamed up with experts to identify the essential vitamin and mineral needs and ideal energy sources for the perinatal period, then selected natural, fresh ingredients to meet those needs,” said Stephanie Baker, founder.

“Our goal at CredibleCravings is to help mothers create a nourishing environment for their growing babies by maintaining optimal health during pregnancy and while breastfeeding,” said Rebecca Hodgson, an oncology pharmacist and CredibleCravings team member. “We feel that the addition of a probiotic during this time will help meet this goal.”

Consumers eat baked foods often enough to make these products ideal candidates for probiotic addition. Bakers are overcoming obstacles through the use of specialty strains selected to withstand the rigors of the baking environment, as well as through the post-bake addition of probiotic-­enriched inclusions.

EU uncertain over probiotics

As of Dec. 14, 2012, the term “probiotic” can no longer appear on food labels in many European Union (EU) countries. How this will impact the future of probiotics in the US is uncertain.

Many factors contributed to this state of affairs in the EU, according to Mary Ellen Sanders, PhD, Centennial, CO, a global authority on probiotics. “First, there was a lack of clear direction from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) panel regarding what research was required to get a claim approved,” she said. “Then, in EFSA’s review of the research that was submitted, the panel excluded many well-conducted studies on probiotics because the studies were on patient (not healthy) populations or disease outcomes. Such studies — although clearly demonstrating a positive role of probiotics on health — are considered not appropriate for food claims,” Dr. Sanders said.

Finally, she noted, the high standard of evidence required by EU authorities may be unrealistic for foods. “However, as regulatory expectations become clearer and as assessors become more knowledgeable, I expect that specific probiotic claims are likely to be approved in the EU,” she said. “Nonetheless, until this time, even the word ‘probiotic’ is restricted in most of the EU.”

This does not mean probiotics have been taken out of foods. Rather, strain identity and sometimes cell count are simply stated on ingredient legends and product labels, according to Mirjana Curic-Bawden, senior scientist and application manager, fermented milk and probiotics, Chr. Hansen Inc., Milwaukee, WI. “EU consumers have been around probiotics for more than 25 years. They are familiar with probiotic brands, the strains and their function.

“Though it is necessary to set high standards and differentiate between well-documented and poorly or non-documented probiotic strains, it is a disservice to consumers to remove the word ‘probiotics’ from package labels because it helps them quickly identify such products,” Ms. Curic-Bawden said. “Savvy consumers can find the probiotics they are looking for by reading the small print on product labels. If strain identity (scientific name and designation) is disclosed, consumers can search the Internet, look for credibility and find the science behind it.”

Dr. Sanders predicted that use of the term “probiotic” as a general descriptor may be a real possibility because the word itself is not making a health claim. Health claims are strain-specific. “There are active discussions among some stakeholders on this right now,” she said. “But if I understand correctly, the EU is involved in discussions of the rules for the category of ‘general descriptors,’ and only after those are developed, will they address if ‘probiotic’ is appropriate as a general descriptor. So I don’t expect that a ruling on such use is imminent.”