The coronavirus (COVID-19) has definitely had an impact on what consumers expect from their food. While health and wellness has long been a trend, the pandemic has added fuel to that fire. 

“Consumer preferences and trends are always changing, but overall health and wellness has been on the rise for decades now, and COVID-19 has only intensified it,” said Alison Pomaville, ingredient application scientist, Martin Bauer. “When it comes to functionality, interest in protein and fiber will continue, but immunity is currently front and center as the world adjusts to the new normal of living with COVID-19.”

Immunity support is the latest consumer trend as people grasp at their diets to shore up personal wellness.

Despite bread’s reputation for being heavy on carbs, it has proven to be a reliable staple as more families eat at home. Its place as a staple food makes it a reliable carrier for some of these immunity-supporting benefits that shoppers are seeking.

All signs of immunity research in recent history point to the gut, and consumers have taken notice. IRI reported that probiotic beverage sales grew 30% from 2016 to 2017, and probiotics continue to be the largest category in the total digestive health market. That growth is driven by the growing science behind gut health.

“Research suggests that more than 70% of our body’s immune system resides in the gastrointestinal tract,” said Hannah Ackermann, registered dietitian and corporate communications manager, Comet Bio. “Diet plays an important role in maintaining a healthy balance of good bacteria in our microbiome.”

Supporting the microbiome can take the form of adding dietary fiber, prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics to baked goods.

“Baked items are well-suited for adding fiber to consumers’ diets, which support gut health,” explained Jenn Adams, business development manager, IFPC. “Inulin, dietary fibers and polysaccharides have the ability to increase cytokine secretion and the activity of natural killer cells, thereby boosting immune support.”

Comet Bio offers Arrabina, an Arabinoxylan plant fiber extract that has been shown to promote the growth of bifidobacterial and support a healthy immune system. As a fully soluble powder with low viscosity, Arrabina provides a prebiotic benefit without formulation changes at less than 3 grams per serving in wheat bread, chocolate muffins and brownies, Ms. Ackermann explained.

ADM’s line of dietary fiber ingredients, Fibersol, has been clinically shown to nourish the gut microflora. These ingredients in-crease soluble fiber in baked goods without impacting taste, aroma or texture. Fibersol also can function as a prebiotic, encouraging the growth of beneficial bacteria within the digestive tract.

Probiotics are live bacteria that can promote a healthy digestive system. Typically seen in dairy products, recent advances in heat-resistance and encapsulation has allowed them to be incorporated in baked goods.

“Outside of the usual dairy-enriched foods, Lallemand has a specific type of probiotic strain that is resilient and robust to stand up to wide range of baking stress,” said Joanna Wozniak, business development manager, Lallemand Food Probiotics. “It has been and continues to be a value-added ingredient in many food products.”

Probiotics added to a bread dough, for example, must be resistant to heat to withstand the oven, and they also must remain stable throughout the products’ shelf life. Lallemand’s B. subtilis Rosell-179 probiotic bacterial strain maintains both of these benefits throughout the baking process.

Probiotics can also be added through spray-on systems or encapsulated. Probiotics can be formulated into chocolate, spreads or icings.

“Although these methods are all good ways to add probiotics, there is undoubtedly an advantage in adding the probiotic directly into the product during dough preparation,” said Shamla Moodley, marketing manager, Lallemand. “This would not only eliminate the need for an added step at the end of the process, it would also ensure a more uniform distribution of the microorganisms.”

Prebiotics may feed and support probiotics that, in turn, support gut health, but the latest advancements involve postbiotics, the waste created by probiotics.

“Postbiotics are uniquely tolerant to heat and are better suited to the baked goods category than probiotics since postbiotics do not contain living microorganisms,” said Paula LaBine, marketing director, ADM.

ADM launched its heat-treated BPL1 postbiotic that can be used across bakery applications. According to Ms. LaBine, it is beneficial to metabolic health while easy to use in bakery formulations.

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