CHICAGO — Breads fortified to build immunity. Crackers designed to keep people regular. Cookies intended to help better use the protein in a glass of milk for dunking.

These are some of the purported functions of commercially available probiotics, which come alone as a supplement, inherently present in some fermented foods or added as an ingredient to others. All these formats have become quite popular among consumers, in particular those with an insatiable quest for baked goods and snacks that positively enhance health and wellness. And that’s what probiotics, by definition, do.

The term probiotic was defined in 2001 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization as “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” The general benefit is supporting a healthy digestive tract. That’s because probiotics are inherently present in the gut, but their concentration can be reduced, or activity can be slowed, due to various stresses including antibiotics, cancer treatments and environmental factors. Consuming probiotics through foods, beverages and supplements may boost their concentration in the gastrointestinal system and, in turn, positively influence metabolic health and assist with disease prevention.

Bacteria that can take the heat

The challenge for many processed foods such as baked goods is that most probiotics are unable to survive the rigors of manufacturing. And to exert a positive effect on the consumer, they must remain viable.

“Most probiotics are fragile, which is why they have traditionally been confined to chilled dairy products,” said Don Cox, R.&D. director, Kerry Functional Ingredients and Actives. “However, these healthy bacteria are now making inroads into the baked goods aisle.”

There are two basic categories of probiotic ingredients. The traditional heat-labile live and active forms are used in refrigerated supplements and cultured dairy foods such as yogurt, and the spore formers are in a dormant state during food processing. This allows spore formers to survive exposure to high temperatures, and they have the most potential in baked foods.

“In the U.S., probiotics were popularized by the dairy category, with more than half of all yogurt sold being fortified with probiotics,” Mr. Cox said. “But growing demand for digestive health and functional products is diversifying the offerings available, including the baked goods category.

“There has been innovation in the probiotic category using spore-forming probiotics, which are much more resistant to the extremes of pH, heat, cold and pressure than vegetative probiotic cells, making them a better fit for the fortification of baked goods.”

Elodie Ruffin, probiotics product manager, Lesaffre Human Care, agreed.

“Not all probiotic strains are able to be incorporated into all matrices,” she said. “Bacillus spore-forming strains are specifically adapted for these types of applications.”

Lesaffre Human Care offers patented LifeinU Bacillus subtilis CU1 for use in baked goods. It is a safe spore-forming bacteria with high stability throughout transportation, processing and product shelf life.

“LifeinU Bacillus subtilis CU1 is able to survive in harsh conditions such as high temperature and humidity, allowing manufacturers to use it in a wide range of functional foods,” Ms. Ruffin explained. “For cereal bar production, it can be added on top of the particulates fraction and then covered by the hot binder to create the final bar that will be formed, laminated and cut. Some bakers may include a small fraction of vegetable oil in their formula at the same moment they pour the binder. Adding LifeinU Bacillus subtilis CU1 through this oil fraction delivers extra shelf stability by minimizing negative impact of possible water transfer or oxidation.”

Kerry markets the spore-forming GanedenBC30 (Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086) probiotic. The bacterial cells can withstand the manufacturing environment and transit into the digestive tract, where they can germinate and deliver their intended health benefits.

“This increased stability allows bakers to add probiotics into better-for-you baked goods including cookies, crackers, bread and biscuits,” Mr. Cox said.

Innovations in the market

Cleveland-based Orlando Baking Co. pioneered probiotic bread in the United States when the company introduced True Grains Seed’licious in 2011 after two years of product development. Since then, the company partnered with the Cleveland Clinic to reformulate the bread and offer additional whole grain benefits. This 100% whole wheat bread is made with probiotic cultures to promote digestive health and features flax, sunflower and chia seeds and millet for a “good source of omega-3 fatty acids” claim.

“As we see it, the True Grains probiotic line positions sliced bread back on top as the greatest thing ever,” said Nick Orlando, vice-president of sales at the family-owned bakery. “Our probiotic breads will appeal to consumers who may suffer from digestive health issues and are interested in the benefits of maintaining a healthy belly.”

Little Duck Organics Inc., New York, developed a line of gluten-free fig bars designed for children, the company’s target consumer. The fillings are made with organic fruits and vegetables and are enhanced with probiotics and flaxseed, the latter being a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Also intended for young consumers, Freed Foods L.L.C., Austin, Texas, now offers Nurturme Organic Ancient Grain Cookies with Probiotics. The gluten-free treats come in cocoa and lemon honey flavors. The company said that seven cookies deliver a complete daily serving of probiotics to support good digestive health.

Packaged Facts expects to see an expansion of probiotics in breads and other baked goods as formulators become more familiar with their inclusion, according to David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts.