The Good Belly brand showed mainstream shoppers that probiotics may be ingested through foods other than fermented dairy products such as yogurt and kefir, which had long been the go-to foods for digestive health. Good Belly first put probiotics into refrigerated juice, then expanded into bars and cereal. As the name suggests, these products are designed to be good for the gut.

Probiotics are live microorganisms, most often lactic acid bacteria, which, when consumed in adequate amounts, may provide a health benefit. They join the trillions of bacteria that inherently reside in the gastrointestinal system to help create a better-balanced microflora. This in turn helps regulate an array of bodily functions, including digestion, and positively impacts overall health and well-being.

Probiotics are often taken to counteract the side effects of antibiotics — cramping, diarrhea, ulcers, etc. — as antibiotics destroy good and bad bacteria. They also play an integral role in immune function by preventing the attachment and activity of pathogenic bacteria in the gut. Thus, taking probiotics helps restore good bacteria and encourages their proliferation.

All probiotics are not created equal. The simple term “probiotic” on a food is useful and accepted as it suggests the product is beneficial to health. However, when any specific claim is made, it is best to identify the strain and provide supportive research.

The Good Belly bars and cereal, for example, are made with the Bifidobacterium lactis BB-12 strain, which is associated with immunity and intestinal health. It is one of the most documented probiotic strains with more than 300 published studies.

One bar or one serving of cereal contains at least 1 billion colony-forming units (C.F.U.s). The strain exists in a live yet dormant state in the bar and cereal until ingested, allowing the probiotics to survive without refrigeration.

Chr. Hansen supplies the BB-12 strain, as well as Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG. The latter is documented for its stimulating effect on the human immune system, said Lars Bredmose, senior director of dairy health.

“These probiotics come in freeze-dried form and should be applied to a high-fat solid carrier to ensure survival in a shelf-stable baked product like cereal bars or biscuits,” he said. “Chocolate is a good carrier since it protects the probiotic cultures from water activity during shelf life. The exact application method may vary from product to product, so we advise our customers to seek application expertise and help from our application teams. A producer will want to ensure a daily serving contains 1 billion probiotic bacteria to get the health benefits from the probiotic cultures.”

Mr. Bredmose explained that with digestive health going mainstream in recent years, consumer demand for probiotics outside of the refrigerated dairy case has grown. Baked foods and snacks provide a simple on-the-go format. They also often contain prebiotic fibers, which fuel the growth of the healthful bacteria in the gut.

“Digestive health was one of the key areas driving the functional foods boom in the 1980s,” said Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation, Innova Market Insights. “It is continuing to generate interest as probiotics move further into the mainstream, and awareness of the role of fibers and prebiotics in gut health is also boosting new product development.”

Because most probiotics are heat sensitive, they are often added to finished baked foods in order to ensure their viability, according to the team at Lallemand Baking in collaboration with Lallemand Food Probiotics. This may be accomplished by spraying probiotic solutions onto a product as a last step before packaging or integrating the probiotics into a filling, frosting or icing added at the end of the manufacturing process.

According to Lallemand, while these topical methods of adding probiotics are effective, there are advantages to adding them directly into the dough. By doing this, bakers can eliminate the extra step of spraying or adding the probiotic to other toppings. Adding probiotics directly to the dough also ensures the microorganisms are distributed evenly throughout the dough. Adding probiotics directly to the dough opens up the possibility of using them in both savory and sweet applications.

Lallemand has nine bacteria production facilities around the world with expertise to supply various active freeze-dried bacteria for use in baking. Each one is grown differently and has unique characteristics, ensuring its performance in specific applications.

Such active dried bacteria are said to be in a vegetative state. When provided with adequate nutritional and environmental conditions, they should be able to grow and multiply. While certain microorganisms are unable to withstand drastic changes in their environment, others can remain viable in harsh conditions through the formation of spores, according to Lallemand.

Spores are dormant forms of the microorganism. They have a thick protein coating enabling them to withstand high temperatures, low pH levels and high compression. Under favorable conditions, the spores will germinate and regain their active functions. Lallemand’s Bacillus subtilis strain forms spores and can be added in a freeze-dried form to many baked foods. It will survive the baking process and return to its active state in the human digestive tract
— more specifically, in the stomach — and will exert its beneficial effects throughout the gastrointestinal system.

The strain has been proven to be viable in adequate concentrations over the shelf life of a healthy bread formulation containing a mixture of flours, xanthan gum, water, yeast and salt. In this application, even with high-temperature baking, the probiotic dose remained above the recommended amount to experience benefits. The shelf-life stability of this probiotic strain was also demonstrated in other baked foods applications.

John Quilter, vice-president and general manager, Kerry, noted that the biggest challenge for probiotics is survivability to ensure delivery of efficacious levels. Kerry’s shelf-stable patented probiotic strain — Bacillus coagulans — can withstand manufacturing processes, shelf life and gastric transit. This spore-forming bacteria known as GanedenBC30 has a structure that is much more resistant to the extremes of pH, heat, cold and pressure than vegetative cells, making them a great fit for the fortification of products that are hot, cold, frozen and shelf-stable.

“It is a science-backed probiotic strain that has been shown to provide digestive health, immune health and protein utilization benefits,” Mr. Quilter said. “It is backed by more than 25 published papers. Thanks to the survivability of this strain, it can be added to almost any snack or baked good.”

The strain can now be found in the new Kind Breakfast Probiotics bar line. Each two-bar pack serving provides 500 million C.F.U.s. In New York-based Kind’s breakfast research, they found that the average American only spends 12 minutes eating breakfast, often while on the way to work or school. This product provides the opportunity to reap probiotic benefits in a shelf-stable, on-the-go format. The shelf-stable nature of the cultures allows for them to be mixed right into the bar batter.

The strain is also used in the Mighty Muffin line by Flapjacked, Westminster, Colo. This is a fresh-baked concept, where the consumer simply adds water and microwaves the cup for 35 seconds to produce a warm muffin. Each Mighty Muffin provides 20 grams of protein, with under 20 net carbohydrates and 10 grams or less sugar as well as 500 million C.F.U.s.

Next, the company rolled out new FlapJacked Soft Baked Cookie Bars made with organic whole grain oats. One bar contains 10 grams of protein, prebiotics and 500 million GanedenBC30 probiotic cultures.

Totowa, N.J.-based Cibo Vita, Inc., is introducing Keto Snack Mix to its “snack with a purpose” line of products enhanced for healthy eaters. The nut and seed mix includes probiotic cheddar cheese puffs. The puffs contain Bifidobacterium lactis B420 from DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences. The positive perception of probiotics isn’t limited to just gut health. In clinical studies, consuming 10 billion C.F.U.s per day of this probiotic helped contribute to weight loss.

This article is an excerpt from the February 2020 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on probiotics, click here.