Cheese may be a better carrier of probiotic bacteria than other dairy products, suggest tests carried out by DSM Food Specialties.
Adding the bacteria to cheese can also help dairy firms refresh old brands and offer consumers a new way of getting gut health benefits.
Consumers are increasingly aware of the health benefits associated with probiotics, including improved intestinal health and immune system stimulation.
In a series of tests on cheese, DSM added its Lafti series of probiotics comprising three strains - Lactobacillus acidophilus LAFTI L10, Bifidobacterium lactis LAFTI B94 and Lactobacillus casei LAFTI L26.
Probiotic counts were made at regular intervals throughout the cheese ripening and an expert panel evaluated samples for texture and taste.
The results indicate that cheese has a number of advantages as a delivery system for probiotics over fresh fermented products, said DSM. As the pH is higher, survival rates of probiotics in cheese may be superior.
The company claims that all Lafti strains examined in the trials showed excellent survivability until the end of the commercial life of the product, an important factor in the substantiation of health claims.
"During trials, LAFTI showed extremely positive results when added to a range of cheeses, including cheddar, gouda and soft cheeses such as stracchino," said DSM functional food ingredients senior technical service officer Nelleke van Oorschot.
"Not only did we see excellent survivability of the different strains, it was noted that LAFTI may even positively influence certain cheese attributes, offering a deeper, more complete flavour."
Earlier this year, DSM claimed that these strains were more stable at room temperature than competing products. In June, For example, the firm assessed the stability of its Lactobacillus acidophilus (LAFTI L10) strain at room temperature over almost 18 months and found the decline in bacteria each month to be far lower than in the three to five market leaders.
Finnish dairy Valio has been marketing a probiotic cheese for some years in its domestic and surrounding markets and last year rolled it out in Belgium. Aveve also produces a low-fat cheese containing lactobacillus casei. It claimed last year to have seen yearly growth of between 20-25 per cent.
Probiotics remains a major growth market. The European sector is set to more than triple in value over the next few years, according to Frost & Sullivan, to reach $137.9 million (€118.5m) in 2010.