On the horizon for health

by Jeff Gelski
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Seeds and yeast strains go back to the beginning of grain-based foods’ history. Now, one specific seed and one yeast strain may affect its future.

Chia seed suppliers are pushing the omega-3 fatty acid and fiber content of their ingredient. Meanwhile, the yeast strain Saccharomyces cerevisiae is used in creating new ingredients known for their immunity benefits.

The Aztecs grew and ate chia seed (Salvia hispanica) in Mexico hundreds of years ago. Composition of chia seed is 36% dietary fiber, 20.4% protein, 19.5% omega-3 fatty acids, 9.5% vitamins and minerals, 7.6% fat and 7.1% omega-6 fatty acids, according to The Chia Co., a company in Australia that manufactures, distributes and markets black and white chia seed.

"It’s just a very, very nutritious seed," said John Alkire, president of AHD International, Inc., Atlanta.

Chia seed is cultivated in Mexico, South America and Australia today. Companies selling it say supply is not a problem.

"There is enough supply in the world right now to make it a commercially viable product for the mass market," Mr. Alkire said.

AHD International offers chia seed, chia meal, chia oil and chia powder through a North American distribution deal with The Chia Co. The irrigation system used by The Chia Co. allows for a reliable supply and a way to control the moisture content of products, Mr. Alkire said.

SK Food International, Fargo, N.D., recently introduced black and white chia seeds. Both colors of chia seed offer the same nutritional benefit, said Paul Berglund, international procurement manager. The company also offers flour, meal and oil from chia seed. Grain-based applications include baked foods, cereals and snacks.

Chia seeds may be sourced from South America and Mexico, Mr. Berglund said.

"Chia is now grown from Mexico down throughout Central and South America," he said. "With such a widespread production area, the likelihood that weather changes could wipe out an entire year’s crop is very small.

"With these regions the growing seasons vary throughout the year as you move from hemisphere to hemisphere, which leads to crop availability year round."

The high omega-3 fatty acid content of chia seeds initially intrigued AHD International, Mr. Alkire said. While looking for ingredients with omega-3 fatty acids, the company kept finding research articles on chia seed, primarily for its use as chicken feed to boost the omega-3 fatty acid content of eggs.

AHD International began extracting the oil out of the seed for its content of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid. The process left a lot of meal left over, Mr. Alkire said. The company used the meal to make baking flour. Now, grain-based foods manufacturers either may mix the whole chia seed into the dough or use the chia flour, which might be as much as 50% fiber, Mr. Alkire said. The chia flour may be used alone or in conjunction with other forms of flour, he said.

AHD International’s chia flour may be used in place of white flour in any baked food, including a variety of bread and baked snacks, cookies and brownies. The company also offers chia seeds, meal, oil and powder.

"It’s one of the products you run across every once in a while and say, ‘Wow, it’s really amazing when you start looking at all the different applications,’" Mr. Alkire said.

Salba Smart Natural Products, L.L.C. has registered Salba as the trademark name for the registered varieties of Salvia Hispanic L. – Sahi Alba 911 and Sahi Alba 912. The company sells Salba seed and products containing the seed, such as tortilla chips, pretzels and tortillas.

Phil Lempert, known as "The Supermarket Guru," rated Salba Smart Thin Twisted Pretzels as a hit and gave it a score of 90 out of 100 on a "New Products Hits and Misses" review this year.

"The pretzels are tasty and crisp and have a good balance of salt," he said. "For those who snack, this is a great alternative that is loaded with heart-healthy omega-3s."

The pretzels have 210 mg of ALA omega-3 fatty acid and 1 gram of dietary fiber per serving, according to Salba Smart Natural Products.

Oprah Winfrey also has promoted chia seeds on her www.oprah.com web site. Mehmet Oz, vice-chair and professor of surgery at Columbia University in New York, talks about the health benefits of chia seed on the web site.

"That’s been the real driver behind the recent growth," Mr. Alkire said of Dr. Oz promoting the seed.

Yes, the chia seed is the same one seen in the Chia Pet commercials. Mr. Alkire said he points that fact out to customers.

"It’s better just to say it because that’s what it’s been known for in the past," he said.

Mr. Berglund of SK Food said, "Primarily, I believe there is a positive association with chia seed and the old chia pets, a sense of nostalgia perhaps. Once people learn of the nutritional benefits and varied uses of chia seed, the association with chia pets is even a more positive one."

Testimony on immunity

The association that consumers have with their food and their health gives promise to ingredients known for immunity benefits.

According to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2008 Food & Health Survey, 71% of respondents agree that specific foods or beverages may improve immune system functions. The 71% was the same percentage given for improving mental performance. Improving heart health, at 78%, came in first.

When asked their interest in foods and beverages that may improve immune system functions, 31% said they currently consume such foods and beverages while 56% said they do not consume them but are interested.

Two companies that use the yeast strain Saccharomyces cerevisiae in their respective ingredients have lined up research reports detailing immune benefits. Biothera, Eagan, Minn., offers Wellmune WGP. Embria Health Sciences, Ankeny, Iowa, offers EpiCor.

Wellmune WGP, which is patent-protected and Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), activates billions of innate immune cells, according to Biothera. Immune cells in the gastrointestinal tract take up Wellmune WGP and transport it to immune organs throughout the body. It enhances the immune function without stimulating the immune system.

Research on Wellmune WGP was published this year in The Journal of Applied Research under the title

"Randomized Phase II Clinical Trails of Wellmune WGP for Immune Support During Cold and Flu Season." It examined beta-glucan derived from Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

The 12-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study involved 40 healthy adults age 18 to 65. One group took 500 mg a day of Wellmune WGP. The other group took a placebo.

Researchers reported no significant difference in the incidence of symptomatic respiratory infections, but none of the subjects in the WGP group missed work or school because of colds. Subjects in the placebo group missed 1.38 days on average. The study suggests Saccharomyces cerevisiae may modulate the immune system and reduce some risks associated with upper respiratory influenza infections.

A research grant from Biothera funded the study, which was conducted at Miami Research Associates in Miami.

A study on high lifestyle stress was presented at the American College of Nutrition in 2007. It showed that when compared with a placebo group, a Wellmune WGP group reported a 42% increase in vigor, a 38% reduction in fatigue, a 19% reduction in tension and a 15% reduction in stress-induced confusion.

Another study presented at the same time and place involved 75 marathon runners. In contrast with the placebo group, marathon runners taking Wellmune WGP reported a 22% increase in vigor, a 48% reduction in fatigue, a 38% reduction in tension and a 38% reduction in stress-related confusion.

The University of Montana conducted one other study with funding from Biothera and the U.S. Air Force. It was presented at the American College of Sports Medicine in 2008. In comparison with the control group, Wellmune WGP subjects experienced a 23% reduction in upper respiratory tract infection systems and improvement in overall physical health.

The studies on stress especially may interest consumers.

"People relate to stress," said David L. Walsh, vice-president of communications for Biothera. "Everybody is under stress to a certain degree."

The immune system is sensitive to the stresses of normal life, such as travel, personal problems, exercise and change in diet, according to a science report from Embria prepared by Larry Robinson, vice-president of scientific affairs, and Stuart Reeves, director of research and development.

EpiCor from Embria is a dried, complex fermentation product derived from a proprietary process consisting of Saccharomyces cerevisiae and the beneficial metabolites produced during the manufacturing process. Science supporting the product suggests a daily dosage of 500 mg although no recommended daily intake exists. The ingredient is GRAS up to 3 grams per serving in food categories. Grain-based applications include bars, bread and dried cereals.

Embria points to six human clinical trials to show the efficacy of EpiCor. Two trials studied EpiCor’s effect on supporting immune health to reduce potential cold and flu symptoms. Another trial showed EpiCor increased secretory Immunoglobin A (sigA), which is an integral part of the body’s first line of defense. Two other trials involved EpiCor’s effect on reducing allergy symptoms. Another trial focused on how EpiCor responses may be measured in about 2 hours.

Their respective companies regard Wellmune WGP and EpiCor as ingredients that balance, not boost, the immune system. Boosting the immune system may lead to autoimmune diseases. According to the Embria science report, when the immune system is out of balance, the body may mistake healthy cells for invading pathogens and attack them. These attacks may lead to autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Other ingredients on the horizon

Here’s a look at some other innovative ingredients that, although not yet well-known, may find their way into grain-based foods in the future:

Baobab extract — P.L. Thomas, Morristown, N.J., offers an extract from the African baobab tree that may be used as a flavor enhancer in foods and beverages. Grain-based foods applications include cereals, nutrition bars and snacks. The baobab tree also is known as the "upside-down tree" because of its root-like branch formulations.

The extract from the baobab tree (Adansonia digitata) is a source of vitamin C, B vitamins, calcium, amino acids and fiber. PhytoTrade Africa has filed Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) documents with the Food and Drug Administration. Afriplex, Paarl, South Africa, supplies baobab in partnership with PhytoTrade Africa.

Coenzyme Q10 — Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a fat-soluble, vitamin-like substance that is vital in the production of energy. Kaneka Q10, a brand of CoQ10, is manufactured in Pasadena, Texas, and offered by Kaneka Nutrients L.P., a subsidiary of Kaneka Corp. in Osaka, Japan.

The supply of CoQ10 soon may decrease. Asahi Kasei, based in Japan, earlier this year announced plans to shut down a fine chemicals production subsidiary of Asahi Kasei Pharma, which produces and sells CoQ10. According to Asahi Kasei, the global market for CoQ10 reached a crest in 2004 and 2005, but expansion by Japanese and Chinese producers led to overcapacity. Recently price deterioration has been pronounced, particularly in the United States.

Crimson red corn — SK Food International, Fargo, N.D., now offers crimson red corn in organic and conventional form. The ingredient has a clear seed coat, with the color in the alerone, which allows the color to remain intact through processing.

The corn may be used in snack foods, tortilla chips, soft tortillas, flours and meals, said Aaron Skyberg, in marketing for SK Food International. The red color may catch consumers’ eyes and give the product an appetizing/pleasing look, he added.

The corn’s gametophyte gene prevents cross contamination of other corn.

"Currently we have production of our crimson red corn in Nebraska, Ohio and North Dakota, where G.M.O. corn varieties are prevalent," Mr. Skyberg said. "In these production areas, we have been successful and without cross pollination from other neighboring fields."

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Milling and Baking News, July 28, 2009, starting on Page 19. Click here to search that archive.

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