May 20, 2008 By Dr. Gregor Reid
Bacteria purposely added to bread – now that’s a switch!
The tidal wave of probiotics that hit the European market some five to 10 years ago, is coming to town. As bakers, are you ready, and should you care?
“Probiotics?” Yes, that’s acidophilus and yogurt, right? “Wrong!“ Okay, how about friendly bacteria or bugs that balance your gut flora? “Wrong!” Before rushing off on your next trip to Mexico with a coated loaf under your arm, thinking you can freely drink the water, let’s pause for station identification.
Companies left, right, and centre, are coming onto the market with yogurt, fruit drink, milk, cereal, ice cream and pills, claiming to be probiotic. Some even come with colourful handouts claiming that probiotics prevent colon cancer. Yes, bakers could follow behind the crowd, feeding off the crumbs, or they could stand up, and take another path.
The United Nations and World Health Organization commissioned an Expert Panel in 2001 to define Probiotics, and come up with Guidelines for what they are, and what they are not. As chair of both panels, and now president of the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (www.isapp.net ), which has endorsed the definition and Guidelines, I despair when companies ignore all the good work that has been done to raise the standards from the tainted reputation that probiotics once had. For the record, the definition is “live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” In other words, a defined organism(s) (for example, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1, not Lactobacillus rhamnosus and not Lactobacillus sporogenes, an organism that does not exist), in suitable, viable counts at end of product shelf life, in a formulation that has been proven against placebo or standard therapy, to actually have a defined, positive physiological effect, on a suitably sized sample of people.
In other words, why add which bacterium in what amount to bread, have it retain suitable viability without spoiling the taste; and if you do, what end result would make the consumer want to buy it? Please don’t simply spray some manufacturer’s pet strain onto your product and call it a probiotic! You might make some money short term, but consumers, Health Canada and a major player who can quadruple your market if you’ve data – namely the local MD – will find you out eventually. I, for one, will be letting the world know you don’t have a probiotic!
You needn’t spend your family or shareholders’ profits on doing R and D, but you need to spend something to differentiate yourself and build a solid story in the market. You’ll get your money back in the longer term, just ask Danone about that. You can start with asking some questions. Do consumers want probiotic bread? If so, for what? For replacing the beneficial bacteria in the mouth or gut, or helping modulate immunity? Are there bacterial types in breads from ancient times that could be re-added to today’s products? Which bacteria would be beneficial that are not being given in the new dairy and dried products on the shelves? Is the benefit better if the bread has nutrients that the bacteria can use in the gut (prebiotics)? Can a manufacturer (Lallemand, Chr. Hansen, Danisco) produce these organisms in suitable form for application to bread? Does this affect the taste and shelf life?
I’d put money on there being “probiotic breads” in Canada in 2007, but I’d prefer to see a true, proven probiotic product hit the shelves later, and knock all its impersonators out of the water. Better still, I’d like to see the companies who make false claims go to a place where they only dispense bread and water. I think there’s a TV series about these people trying to get out!
Dr. Gregor Reid, B.Sc. Hons., PhD, MBA, ARM, CCM
President, International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics
Professor, Microbiology & Immunology, and Surgery, University of Western Ontario
Program Leader, Advanced Surgical Technologies
Director, Canadian Research and Development Centre for Probiotics,
Lawson Health Research Institute,
268 Grosvenor Street,
London, Ont. N6A 4V2
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