Consumer awareness and acceptance of the probiotic 'good bacteria' concept - has mushroomed in recent years. The European market for spoonable probiotic yoghurts alone was worth US$1.6bn (€1.25bn) at retail in 2005, according to Euromonitor International. But scientists believe the bacteria must be alive on arrival in the gut in order to have a beneficial effect, which has posed limitations on their use in processes involving heat, humidity and other harsh conditions.
Dairy products have proved a popular carrier because of the established use of bacteria in yoghurts and because they are usually kept in chilled conditions.
But at HIE in Frankfurt last week, several lead companies in the probiotics field were displaying products using newly developed techniques for incorporating the bacteria and aiding survival at room temperature.
Canada's Lallemand first started speaking about developing new formats for probiotic products in late 2004, and last year it established a new division under its Specialities business called Lal'Food. One of Lal'Food's functions is to find uses for existing documented strains in the portfolio of Lallemand subsidiary Institute Rosell beyond dairy and dietary supplements.
Anne-Laure Clair, food developments engineer, told NutraIngredients.com that the company has developed a way to use coated probiotics in chocolate, which could be used as a filling in biscuits, nutrition bars, or chocolate drops for addition to breakfast cereals.
Crucially, the bacteria need to be added after cooking as they do not survive heat. Moreover, the chocolate vector is said to be ideal since chocolate processing does not require much processing.
In a trial conducted on chocolate pralines stored at room temperature for six months, 86 per cent of probiotics survived the test period, according to the privately held firm.
Clair said that the concept is being used by a US company for a wafer containing peanut butter. Lal'Food has also made advances with probiotic ice creams and chilled juices, for which it is currently seeking collaborations, and is developing some probiotic-coated cereals with undisclosed partners.
Clair said: "The main goal is stability, to guarantee an adequate amount of bacteria in the finished product." One to two billion live bacteria are generally accepted as the necessary amount, and in the present regulatory climate where bold health claims cannot be made in most European markets, this is what consumers look for on the packaging.
Chocolate has been a focus for DSM Food Specialities; a spokesperson told NutraIngredients.com that a bar called Attune containing its Lafti probiotic brand recently launched in the US, and contains five times the amount of probiotics as yoghurt.
In the UK market a Lafti probiotic cheese was launched earlier this year by Butler's Cheese, sold in Walmart-owned ASDA supermarkets.
Meanwhile, Danisco Cultures was also displaying some probiotic foods at its HIE stand, including a shaped cheese slice, suitable for inclusion in a child's lunchbox.