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Enriching foods with probiotics, thanks to 25 years of leading-edge research

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Media Relations
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

The demand for functional foods that contain health-benefiting compounds such as Omega‑3s and probiotics continues to grow. Dr. Claude Champagne, a research scientist at the Saint-Hyacinthe Research and Development Centre (RDC), is a world leader in probiotics research. A number of his scientific advances have been transferred to Canadian food companies.

Since the 1990s, Dr. Champagne has been working to better understand the characteristics of various strains of probiotics and to uncover effective methods for incorporating them into foods while limiting impacts on the survival rate of these beneficial bacteria and on the flavour of enriched foods.

Which is the right probiotic?

There are dozens of probiotic strains, each with its own properties and weaknesses. Some strains can multiply during fermentation, a discovery made by Dr. Champagne and put to the test by the Canadian Space Agency. On the menu for astronauts: fermented probiotics in milk or soy beverage containing 10 billion bacteria per serving.

Other strains are better able to withstand storage, with some even able to tolerate up to 30 days in refrigerated storage conditions. This was a key technological advance for Lassonde Industries, a leading food products company, which was looking to enrich its fruit juices and maintain a minimum of 1 billion probiotic bacteria until the juices’ expiration date, in accordance with the regulations.

How can probiotics be protected?

The type of food has an impact on the survival of probiotics. Simulations of human digestion using the IViDiS, an artificial digestive system developed at the Saint-Hyacinthe RDC, demonstrated that milk proteins protect probiotics as they move through the acidic environment of the stomach and allow them to survive until they reach the intestine.

The timing of probiotic incorporation is another factor to consider. For cheddar cheese, it is best to add the probiotic strains to the milk before the cheddaring and salting process, but for ice cream, it is better to add them to the soft ice cream directly rather than to the mixture before freezing.

In yogurt, to avoid the negative interactions that can occur between lactic acid bacteria and probiotic bacteria, probiotics need to be matched with compatible starter cultures or used in an environment that is enriched to promote probiotic growth.

Probiotics can be better protected during manufacturing, freezing or storage by means of encapsulation or microencapsulation. When microencapsulated cultures are added to small bits of chocolate, the stability of the cultures in ice cream is 10 times greater.

Where does flavour fit in?

Probiotic-enriched products have to taste good in order for Canadian consumers to enjoy them and find them appealing. To prevent probiotics from changing the flavour of a food, each serving should generally contain no more than 10 billion probiotic bacteria.

A number of probiotic-enriched products are already available on grocery store shelves and are meeting consumer expectations in terms of managing digestive health, thanks in part to the science conducted by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Key Discoveries/Benefits

Photo gallery

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Hard at work for more than 25 years, Dr. Claude Champagne is a world leader in probiotics research. In 2012, he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
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Lactobacillus rhamnosus probiotics magnified 1000 times. Determining the viability of probiotics is very important for ensuring that they are effective. Special fluorescent dyes indicate the live bacteria, in green, and the dead bacteria, in red.

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