Living Intentions popcorn contains 2 billion colony-forming units of probiotic cultures.

As consumers search for new ways to manage their health, probiotics may be the next source they turn to. According to “The Gut Health Mega-Trend” report by Schieber Research, phrases like “best foods for gut health” have seen a 350% increase in Google searches over the past five years while “best foods for inflammation” has seen a 250% increase.

“The rapid growth of the global probiotics market is due to increased interest in functional foods as well as rising incidence of digestive and gastrointestinal disorders,” said Rosanna Pecere, executive director, International Probiotics Association Europe. “Consumers are becoming more aware that a well-balanced microbiota is essential for the normal functioning of the body, and they’re looking for ways to ensure that the correct balance is maintained.”

A recent survey of 220 nutraceutical industry professionals by the organizers of Vita Foods Europe revealed that food companies and ingredient developers are listening to this growing demand. When asked to choose the three most important health benefit areas for their companies, nearly 23% of respondents named digestive health, with the same number identifying general wellbeing and healthy ageing. This was the first time that digestive health has been a top concern for the industry in the three times that the poll has been conducted.

“Growth in the functional food and beverage market has also been driven by consumer interest in healthy living,” said Yiannis Kourkoutas, Ph.D., Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Democritus University of Thrace. “This is particularly true among younger demographics, but population ageing has also been conducive to sector expansion.”

Dr. Kourkoutas noted that large-scale research efforts have found that the composition of gut microbiota is associated with a growing number of health problems besides local gastro-intestinal disorders, which include neurological, respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.

As more research supporting probiotic claims emerges, bakers and snack makers have begun tapping into this growing health trend.

“We’re seeing innovation in snacking with added probiotics like never before,” said Elizabeth Moskow, culinary director at Sterling-Rice Group. “With the invention of shelf-stable and heat-resistant, lab-created probiotics — we’re seeing snacks from popcorn to kale chips coming out with added benefits.”

Living Intentionsis an early adopter of the trend and offers a line of popcorn that contains 2 billion colony-forming units of probiotic cultures. The snack is available in four varieties: Tandoori Turmeric, Salsa Verde, Cinnamon Twist and Berry Smoothie.

For consumers looking for a nutrient-dense breakfast, flapJacked delivers a line of probiotic muffins with 20 grams of protein. The company’s Mighty Muffins use GanedenBC30 to impart digestive benefits and offer a convenient way for on-the-go consumers to enjoy a healthy snack.

Bakeries such as ShaSha Co. also have launched probiotic products. The company offers four flavors of organic cookies, which include lemon ginger, cocoa and ginger snaps. The baked foods are made with whole grain flour and contain both prebiotics and probiotics.

While adding popular nutrients such as protein and fiber to products has become a prevalent default, opportunities abound when it comes to developing snacking items with probiotics.