Kombucha and cosmetics are driving growth in the probiotic and prebiotic markets by making products that use non-classic strains of bacteria.

The e-commerce market for probiotic supplements was estimated at $973 million across 20 countries in 2020. America accounts for almost half of those sales. Ewa Hudson, director of insights for Lumina Intelligence, shared this info at the Probiota Americas 2020 Conference. (Lumina and Probiota Americas are parts of William Reed Business Media, the parent company for FoodNavigator.com.) The session, New Horizons for Prebiotics & Probiotics, included Lumina’s insight into non-classic bacteria strains and a panel discussion with leaders in the probiotics field.

In 2020, 32% of all probiotics in America — and 41% of the best-selling ones — contained non-classic species. Hudson said this species classification is a messy space, especially from a consumer’s perspective, because there are so many species. Kombucha includes the most  non-classic probiotic species — of those products with probiotics, 93% include non-classic bacteria .

Most products with probiotics include one of the four common bacteria species: lactobacilli, bifidobacterium, bacillus and saccharomyces. Lumina excluded these four from their research to focus on the growth of the non-classic probiotic strains. These include: streptococcus thermophilus, kombucha culture, lactococcus lactis, bifida ferment lysate, enterococcus faecium, streptococcus salivarius, clostridium butyricum and streptococcus faecalis. 

Though probiotics are often used in supplements, more fermented food and beverage manufacturers are using probiotic strains in their products, especially in the growing alternative protein market.

Synbiotics are also becoming more widely used; the study found synbiotics were the most prevalent formulate in probiotics. Synbiotics are a combination of both prebiotics and postbiotics. A synbiotic ensures that probiotics will have a food source in the gut.

(Probiotics are live microorganisms, friendly bacteria that provide health benefits. Probiotics can be found in fermented food and taken as supplements. Prebiotics are dietary fibers that feed the probiotics. Postbiotics are an emerging concept in the “biotics” space — postbiotics are the waste byproduct of probiotics.)

“With probiotics, we are really only starting to scratch the surface with the development of synbiotics,” says Jens Walter, PhD, professor of ecology, food and the microbiome at APC Microbiome Ireland. 

The new generation of probiotics will depend on strains that are “efficacious in the gut,” Walter noted.

“If you look into the probiotic market, most of the lactobacillus species — and also species like bifidobacterium lactis — are not inherent organisms of the human gut. We’re using a lot of organisms that I would argue have an ecological disadvantage in the gut,” Walter says. “If you’re talking about next generation probiotics, I think what will become is we are looking for the key players in the gut, specifically key players that are underrepresented or linked to certain benefits, and then we are trying to put them back in the ecosystem.”

It’s challenging to find a prebiotic or postbiotic that is precise, he continues.

“Every human has a distinct microbiome. So it’s likely a synbiotic designed for one human may not be as functional in another human,” Walter says. “The opportunities here are tremendous.”

Daniel Ramon Vidal, vice president of research and development and health and wellness at the American food processing company Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM), also spoke. He noted that the human body is made up of trillions of microbial cells, but we know little about these microbial worlds.

“There is an enormous amount of possibilities to isolate new strains that are living in our body,” Daniels says. “We need as much science as possible, that’s my message”

The panel agreed that postbiotics has become one of the next great concepts that scientists, manufacturers and gastroenterologists have latched onto. But consumers are not as familiar with postbiotics as they are with probiotics and prebiotics , notes Justin Green, PhD, director of scientific affairs for EpiCor, a postbiotic ingredient produced by Cargill. 

“This causes more confusion, so I think that’s going to be another interesting aspect of postbiotics — both the identity of what postbiotics are and how it confers its benefits and (how that will be) communicated to the consumer,” Green says.

A major scientific announcement was made this week, creating a global definition for fermented foods. A team of 13 interdisciplinary scientists (including TFA Advisory Board members Maria Marco and Ben Wolfe) spent over a year discussing the issue in order to reach a consensus. An official definition has long been debated, especially in recent years as fermentation has experienced a renaissance in the modern diet. This definition, the first of its kind, hopes to provide  clarity to scientists, producers and consumers. 

Below is a press release from the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) on the definition. The full research paper was published in Nature.  Marco also wrote a blog on the ISAPP website, further detailing the work that led to the definition. 

Humans have consumed different types of fermented foods — from kimchi to yogurt — for thousands of years. Yet only recently, with the availability of new scientific techniques for analyzing their nutritional properties and microbiological composition, have scientists begun to understand exactly how the unique flavors and textures are created and how these foods benefit human health.

Now, 13 interdisciplinary scientists from the fields of microbiology, food science and technology, family medicine, ecology, immunology, and microbial genetics have come together to create the first international consensus definition of fermented foods. Their paper, published in Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology, defines fermented foods as: “foods made through desired microbial growth and enzymatic conversions of food components”.

The authors take care to note the difference between probiotics and the live microbes associated with fermented foods. The word ‘probiotic’, they say, only applies in special cases where the fermented food retains live microorganisms at the time of consumption, and only when the microorganisms are defined and shown to provide a health benefit, as demonstrated in a scientific study.

“Many people think fermented foods are good for health — and that may be true, but the scientific studies required to prove it are limited and have mainly focused on certain fermented food types,” says first author Maria Marco, Professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis.

Co-author Bob Hutkins, Professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at University of Nebraska, Lincoln — who has authored a well-known academic textbook on fermented foods — says, “We created this definition to cover the thousands of different types of fermented foods from all over the world, as a starting point for further investigations into how these foods and their associated microbes affect human health.”

The consensus panel discussion was organized in 2019 by the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP), a non-profit organization responsible for the published scientific consensus definitions of both probiotics (in 2014) and prebiotics (in 2017).

Mary Ellen Sanders, Executive Science Officer of ISAPP, says, “To date, different people have had different ideas of what constitutes a fermented food. The new definition provides a clear concept that can be understood by the general public, industry members and regulators.”

Currently, evidence for the positive health effects of fermented foods has relied more on epidemiological and population-based studies and less on randomized controlled trials. The authors expect that, in the years ahead, scientists will undertake more hypothesis-driven research on how different fermented foods from around the globe — derived from dairy products, fruit, vegetables, grains, and even meats — affect human physiology and enhance human health.

The Science Behind Stinky Cheese

There’s a scientific reason behind the distinctly funky smells from cheese — it’s how microbes feed and communicate with each other. “What they’re saying has a lot to do with the delicious variety of flavors that cheese has to offer,” reads a statement from Tufts University, where the research was conducted. “The research team found that common bacteria essential to ripening cheese can sense and respond to compounds produced by fungi in the rind and released into the air, enhancing the growth of some species of bacteria over others. The composition of bacteria, yeast and fungi that make up the cheese microbiome is critical to flavor and quality of the cheese, so figuring out how that can be controlled or modified adds science to the art of cheese making.”

One of the authors of the study, Benjamin Wolfe, professor of biology at Tufts and TFA board member, said the research is noteworthy because “how these aromas impact the biology of the cheese microbiome had not been studied.” The findings will impact other fields, too.

Results were published in the journal Environmental Microbiology. The research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Read more (Tufts University)

Does chocolate have a place in a healthy diet or is it a guilty pleasure? A new study found chocolate is good for the heart in moderate amounts. The study, printed in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, found eating chocolate more than once a week is associated with an 8% decrease in risk of coronary artery disease compared to those who eat chocolate less. Researchers note there are limitations — like the study didn’t account for type of chocolate or portion size. High-quality, low-sugar, dark chocolate, which is made with fermented cacao beans, has shown health benefits in other research.

Many major chocolate companies are trying to tout chocolate as a health food. Last year, chocolate producer Barry Callebaut petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to qualify the health claim that chocolate has heart benefits. The regulatory agency is still reviewing the request. This is the second time the Swiss company has petitioned the FDS to consider chocolate as a health food, but they were denied their first request in 2013.

Read more (Food Dive)

Former Noma chef David Zilber is partnering with Chr. Hansen, a global supplier of bioscience ingredients. Denmark-based Chr. Hansen has 40,000 microbial strains used as natural ingredient solutions for food, nutrition, pharmaceutical and agricultural products. Zilber said: “Fermentation is undergoing a democratization, and that’s something we both want to help accelerate.”

Zilber adds: “At Noma, I felt like I had accomplished everything I had set out to and more. Also, the pandemic really made me think about the shape of the world from a new perspective. I wanted to take the values and tenets that I believe in to the next level and scale them up to affect real change in the food system. And Chr. Hansen is already such a powerhouse within that world. A powerhouse in the realm of good microbes, a realm where I can put my skills to use, helping to create delicious and healthy solutions. I want to apply some of the ideas I have in mind to problems on a massive scale and try to do as much good as possible in the process. There’s a common mission we’re both striving to accomplish. And because of that, this really feels like a perfect match.”

Adds Laurent Hubert, vice president in FC&E, Head of Food & Beverages at Chr. Hansen: “David is someone who can address a wide and diverse audience in a very thoughtful way, sharing his innovative insights on fermentation. Teaming that kind of personality up with a company who has been in the fermentation business for almost 150 years hopefully delivers a fruitful mix of drive, scientific knowledge and purpose. It is a partnership born out of passion for fermentation. Coming from arguably one of the world’s best restaurants to join one of the world’s most sustainable companies, David can contribute together with us to a resilient and tasteful food system. This will be a major asset to develop our two lighthouses: This will be a major asset to develop our two lighthouses: Bioprotection (food cultures against food waste) and Fermented Plant Bases, which has just been introduced as a lighthouse. We are looking forward to a constructive collaboration.”

Read more (Chr. Hansen)

Australian wine scientists have published results of their research into the traditional practices Australian Aboriginal people used to make fermented beverages. Published in Scientific Reports, scientists from the University of Adelaide and the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) “have discovered the complex microbial communities associated with the natural fermentation of sap from the iconic Tasmanian cider gum, Eucalyptus gunni.” The sweet sap from the trees produce a mildly alcoholic beverage when given time to spontaneously ferment.

Research leader Professor Vladimir Jiranek, Professor of Oenology with the University’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, says: “The wider community is not typically aware of these historic traditions. This work shines a light on these practices and the cultural significance of these unique fermentations. It also allows us to identify new strains, or species, of yeast and bacteria from the fermentations that are unique to Australia. Further work will characterize single microorganisms that have been isolated and grown from the cider gum. We are particularly interested in their fermentative abilities, their potential flavor impacts, how they’ve adapted to the cider gum environment and the possible symbiotic relationship they have with the trees. We look forward to continuing our work with relevant Aboriginal communities in order to understand these and other processes, and help revive lost practices or perhaps develop new ones from these.” (Phys.org) https://bit.ly/35eDgnr 

Microbial fermentation is emerging as the “third pillar in the alternative protein industry,” alongside cell-culture and plant-based, according to the Good Food Institute. In 2020, protein alternatives made using microbial fermentation have attracted $435 million in investment capital. The institute released a 72-page report on fermentation in the alt protein industry and noted that its “potential is still largely untapped.” Nature Fynd CEO Thomas Jonas points out it takes years to grow animals, and months or years to grow plants, but microbes can double their biomass in a few hours. Are these novel fermentation techniques to produce animal-free meat and dairy improving our food system or too big of a departure from traditional fermentation?

Read more (Food Navigator)

Over several decades, the genus Lactobacillus became unmanageable, encompassing 262 species. Rudimentary research tools lumped any newly-discovered bacteria  into the genus, making the taxonomy “very screwed up.” 

“The lactobacillus taxonomy became a stack of dirty dishes — everyone knew somebody should do it, anyone could have done it, but nobody did it,” says Michael Gänzle, PhD, professor and Canada Research Chair in Food Microbiology and Probiotics at the University of Alberta. He spoke at a TFA webinar The New Taxonomy of Lactobacillus. “It has become very obvious that the genus is too diverse to group all or the organisms into a single genus. …We need taxonomy to actually describe which group of organisms they mean because if you say lactobacillus in the old sense, we mean a group of organisms that is so diverse that using the same genus name doesn’t make too much sense.”

The lactobacillus genus is large, regulated in many countries and economically important. Gänzle is one of 15 scientists involved  in a year-long project using sophisticated DNA tools to analyze the new taxonomy. Findings’ published in the April issue of the Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, spread the species over 26 genera, including 23 new (novel) ones. 

“The new taxonomy of lactobacilli means taxonomists have to navigate 23 new names, but maybe I can convince you that renaming the taxonomy is also the best thing since the invention of sliced bread because it does facilitate the communication on all things which relate to lactobacilli,” Gänzle says. He referred to the completed taxonomy as the “lactobacillus monster” because it covers 77 pages. 

Despite its heft, he’s proud of the completed project, which  reclassifies the genus into relevant groups. “It makes it easier to identify cultures of food applications,” Gänzle says. The group of authors also developed an online tool that makes it easy to look up old names and new names, and provides reference to (genome) sequence data at lactobacillus.ualberta.ca or lactobacillus.uantwerpen.be

Ben Wolfe, PhD, Associate Professor at Tufts University, moderated the webinar. Wolfe studies the ecology and evolution of microbiomes in his lab (and is a TFA Advisory Board member).“It’s really great to see this community coming around this very important problem,” Wolfe says. “This really helps clarify a lot of things for us. 

For the average artisanal fermented food producer, not much will change with the new taxonomy. Producers of traditionally fermented foods don’t put the organisms in their food or drink on their labels — it’s the companies selling starter cultures. 

“For someone who doesn’t buy and sell cultures, this doesn’t change,” Gänzle adds. “There will be a transition period until everyone is familiar with the names and putting them on the label. Most, if not all, can still be abbreviated with L.”

Introduction to HACCP

Creating a HACCP plan — a management system to control food preparation risk — can overwhelm food producers. But Charlie Kalish, food safety consultant and trainer, emphasizes HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) is  vital  to food safety.

“This is just as important as trying to understand, when I ferment things, why do I ferment? What are the things that get you excited about why you get the flavors that you get or the textures that you get (when you ferment)? The food safety thing, it’s really going to help you in the long run if you approach it with the same excitement because, if you don’t, it’s going to be a lot of work and it will drag you down,” Kalish says during the recent TFA webinar Introduction to HACCP. “I see a lot of people get bitter about (HACCP). ‘It’s such a drain on my resources and what I do!’ But it can help your product get better, it can help you get into new markets. And it is a different language, a different world. Even if you’re not going to get a PhD to understand the basic science underlying the mechanisms, having a strong control of HACCP, food safety, what the expectations are, it’s really going to help you.”

HACCP was originally created for the space program in the ‘60s. NASA needed a high level of assurance that food was going to be safe during missions in space, but traditional food models did not have enough preventive food safety controls. That plan was later adopted by the USDA and FDA to regulate food products. 

“HACCP shifted the focus away from recalling food and trying to do damage control with outbreaks to preventing those things from happening in the first place,” Kalish says. “HACCP, in summary, is a systematic approach where we consider all of our ingredients, we consider every process step from when we receive our raw materials or ingredients all the way to the shipping out of our final product, it considers all reasonable and foreseeable hazards.”

Kalish points out HACCP controls for things with a high probability of occuring, like an E. Coli outbreak in lightly fermented food. And a good  HACCP plan begins with a solid foundation, basic practices like regular hand washing, sanitizing surfaces and maintaining a comprehensive food safety employee training program.

“Common sense is an excellent guide to get you started for food safety, but I would further suggest to learn as much as you can: the science of the system you’re working with, the microbiology, pH, what it is, how you measure it,” says Fred Breidt, PhD, a microbiologist with the Agriculture Research Division of the USDA. Breidt joined Kalish during the webinar along with moderator Dave Ehreth, president of Sonoma Brinery; both are TFA advisory board members.

Luckily for fermenters, fermentation is a critical control point. In one study on kimchi by Breidt and his USDA colleagues, they found pH level is critical for food safety, a factor controlled by fermentation.

Though the internet can be a wonderful resource to find information on food safety, “you have to be judicious about your sources,” Breidt says. Kalish says to look for guidance from government  sources, scientific literature, process authorities, university extension specialists, industry groups and publications or consultants.

Food producers need to budget for HACCP in their financial plan, Kalish advises. Ehreth agrees, and encourages producers still unsure of the process to pay a professional for help “to understand what potential biological hazards could be in that jar of food.”

“The modern food manufacturer is not only a food manufacturer, he is a protector and is entering into a bond of trust with his customers. And that bond of trust says ‘If you buy what I make, you’re not going to die as a result,” Ehreth adds. Though he notes it sounds like extreme advice, it’s a necessity for food producers to keep that creed at the forefront of their production.

Coffee Conquers Colon Cancer?

A new study links drinking coffee to higher survival rates from colon cancer. Researchers found that in 1,171 patients treated for metastatic colorectal cancer, patients who drank two to three cups of coffee per day were likely to live longer. They also had a longer time before their disease worsened. Patients who drank four or more cups of coffee a day had an even greater benefit.

“It’s known that several compounds in coffee have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and other properties that may be active against cancer,” says Chen Yuan, study co-author and research fellow at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

The study results, published in the peer-review journal JAMA Oncology, said coffee benefits were both for caffeinated and decaffeinated varieties. “Study authors emphasize the report was only able to find an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship. Experts say the study doesn’t provide sufficient evidence to recommend drinking coffee on a daily basis for people who have cancer.”

Read more (USA Today)