I was literally weaned on probiotics, but not just any acidophilus bacterium. My Greek grandfather made yoghurt in the basement and it was my job to turn the swaddled glass jars of fermented milk so the incubated cultures could do their magic. Thanks to newly released Greek-style yoghurt brands — from Stonyfield Farm, Fage and Greek Gods — the rest of America is also acquiring a fondness for this ancient, creamy concoction, and they are learning that the health properties of probiotics are not mythology.
The state of the American gut is even gaining media attention. Jennifer Graham's Wall Street Journal column, 'Gut Feelings' (April 11, 2008), speaks to this country's infatuation with digestion. "Whom shall we thank for this newfound intimacy with intestinal flora?" she asks — baby boomers, of course, specifically woman who are, dare I say it, my age. Actress Jamie Lee Curtis, age 49, is the self-proclaimed 'ice breaker' hired by Dannon to get Americans talking about their gut feelings. As Graham says, no subject is off limits. Tennis bad boy John McEnroe breaks more than the ice in a television commercial for Kellogg's All-Bran cereal with the pun, "Who knew No. 2 could feel this good?"
Prebiotics are the next boomer 'biotic' to infiltrate the marketplace and water-cooler conversations. This is good news for the ingredients community, especially when one considers how these plant-based beneficial bacteria do more than aid digestion. They help regulate blood sugar, optimize nutrient intake, reduce inflammation and allergic reactions, and even aid in weight loss (see page 20 for Mark J Tallon's Ingredients Focus on prebiotics). As paleobotanist Jeff Leach says in the same article, microbiologists should be "jumping on Oprah's couch" proclaiming the benefits of prebiotics.
From a novel-ingredients perspective, food scientists from companies like Beneo-Orafti, National Starch and Pharmachem are extracting prebiotic fibres, starches and plant sugars with the hope of satisfying America's sweet tooth, all the while reducing damaging elevations in blood sugar (see Science Review on page 28). Time will tell whether inulin, slow-carb sugars and starch-resistant fibres become household names, or at least silage for another Wall Street Journal column.
Lastly, if you would like to digest more on this topic, tune in to Fi's June webinars on digestive health and prebiotics, scheduled respectively for June 10, and June 18 and 19 (details are on page 50). As always, the Fi editorial staff welcomes your comments and questions about the industry and our publication.
Náse kalá (May you be well, in Greek),