By Lori Dahm and Elizabeth Fuhrman
Probiotics, prebiotics and whey are making dairy-based drinks leaders in healthy formulations
Many innovative new dairy-based drinks introduced this year were possible because of the latest ingredient technologies — for example, the big news in drinkable yogurts was the addition of probiotic and prebiotic cultures in nutritional beverages. The drive toward healthier beverages and foods has led to the advance of whey protein in beverages, and the use of new ingredients in dairy applications continues to revolutionize beverages.
The inclusion of probiotic cultures in dairy drinks finally is hitting its stride, after five to 10 years of experts positing that consumers were ready to embrace the probiotic concept. As defined by the World Health Organization, probiotics are live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit.
“The most essential traits of probiotics are their ability to resist stomach acid, bile salts and digestive enzymes; their ability to adhere to intestinal mucosa and cohabit with indigenous intestinal microflora, or to produce substances that suppress the growth of undesirable bacteria without damaging the endogenous intestinal flora,” says Mirjana Curic-Bawden, senior scientist at Chr. Hansen, Milwaukee.
Probiotic cultures have been a part of dairy products in other countries for decades. Kefirs and fermented dairy beverages on the market in Europe and Asia have traditionally included live and active cultures, and consumers there are familiar with the health benefits that probiotic cultures confer, such as gut health, immunity and other attributes.
“We are observing trends in products in the United States that are just the tip of the iceberg of the popularity that similar products have received in Europe and Asia for the past two decades,” Curic-Bawden says.
New products are appearing in the global market, and signs indicate that these products soon will make an appearance in the United States. “A range of new dairy-based products was recently launched in Europe and Asia, fermented whey or fermented skim milks blended with orange juice or fruit cocktails,” Curic-Bawden says. “These types of products are very innovative; they are usually formulated to deliver combined health benefits of whey proteins, probiotics, vitamins and very often prebiotic fibers or phytonutrients and antioxidants.”
For the present status of probiotics on this continent, use of live and active cultures is appearing primarily in yogurt-type products, which are particularly suitable for probiotics because of the other cultures within the yogurt formulation.
“One reason that yogurt and fermented milk products are almost always considered traditional carriers of probiotics is because some probiotic strains (most of them belonging to lactic acid bacteria) can grow to a certain extent during the incubation of milk,” Curic-Bawden says. “... In any case, it is of utmost importance that the probiotic strains survive during the shelf life, but do not have a negative effect on the taste of the final product.”
It is this survival through the shelf life of a product that is particularly important in the field of probiotic-laden products. To deliver a beneficial effect, probiotics must be ingested in adequate amounts, which generally are considered a minimum of 100 million live and active probiotic cells per serving, although the trend is now moving toward an even higher count.
“Achieving a high count in a freshly fermented product is almost always a matter of inoculation rate and growth (incubation) conditions,” Curic-Bawden says. “Keeping the high cell count for 50 to 60 days, which is now tending to be a standard shelf life of fermented milk in the United States, depends on numerous factors such as the pH of the product, the presence of dissolved oxygen, the addition of various preservatives and storage temperature.”
While probiotic products are receiving a lot of the attention lately, developers are seeking more ways to differentiate their products, and prebiotic cultures could be the next level of gut-health products.
Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that pass through the stomach to help stimulate the activity of bacteria in the colon. Prebiotics also have been shown to increase calcium absorption when incorporated as ingredients in certain dairy products. Prebiotics are naturally present in low concentrations in foods such as garlic, onion, artichoke and chicory root, and more concentrated industrial ingredients typically are produced through hot-water extraction from the chicory root.
Stimulating the growth and activity of beneficial intestinal flora appears to be what will attract beverage-makers. Profile GOS from Kerry Dairy Ingredients, based in Ireland, acts as a prebiotic soluble fiber, and reaches the colon fully intact where it is then fermented by colonic micro flora. GOS is a galacto-oligosaccharide enriched whey powder derived from bovine milk lactose. The lactose is enzymatically broken down into galactose and glucose and subsequently polymerised into galacto-oligosaccharides.
“The primary benefits associated with the growth of beneficial bacteria and reduction of pathogens is the decrease in the incidence of diarrhea as well as increased mineral absorption,” says Margaret Greaney, marketing services manager for Kerry Ingredients. “Further studies also propose its beneficial role in reducing cholesterol levels and prevention of colon cancer.”
Galacto-oligosaccharides in GOS are heat and acid stable, with little, if any, losses during pasteurization, making the cultures suitable for many beverages. Galacto-oligosaccharides also occur naturally in human breast milk, hence prebiotics can be applied to infant and medical nutrition products as well as fermented dairy and nutritional beverage applications.
Trends such as rising obesity levels, an aging population, specific dietary requirements, and a general trend toward healthy lifestyles are pushing the popularity of prebiotics.
“These trends are significant and have been driving the development of more varied, tasty, functional, convenient and nutritious food and beverage products,” Greaney says. “It is important to note that this is not just within specialist nutrition markets but right across the food and beverage spectrum. Prebiotics meet a number of these demands and are as applicable in specialist nutrition sectors as mass market produce.”
Whey as an ingredient is making a showing in many new nutritional beverages, such as isotonics, energy drinks, enhanced waters and juices, as a protein source. Whey is expected to expand into ready-to-drink teas and carbonated soft drinks too.
This is no small wonder, considering that the most recent studies reveal that whey protein has significant power and potential for its healthy attributes. Dairy Management Inc., Rosemont, Ill., hosted a Whey Symposium at this year’s IFT Annual Meeting — titled “Whey Protein: Physiological Effects and Emerging Health Benefits” — that presented several new studies conducted with whey with regard to muscle synthesis, weight management and satiety, and even some preliminary anti-carcinogen studies.
“Research reported by Stuart Phillips at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, showed that milk protein administered after exercise revealed that the combination of whey protein with casein has a positive synergistic effect on muscle protein synthesis and retention. The amino acids from whey and from casein both are responsible for milk protein being more effective in muscle recovery than other proteins,” says Pete Huth, director of regulatory and research transfer at DMI. “Whey protein is a fast absorbing protein so its amino acids are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and reach the muscle tissue quickly to stimulate protein synthesis, whereas casein is a slower absorbing protein that has been shown to suppress the normal process of muscle protein breakdown.”
Phillips’s research shows that these two dairy proteins have a complementary effect of promoting muscle protein development leading to building body muscle.
Whey was once the ugly stepchild of cheese, a byproduct that was a concern to manufacturers only because of the need for its disposal. Whey protein is one of the highest-grade proteins available in the food industry. The amino acid profile of whey is almost identical to that of skeletal muscle, and whey protein supplements generally provide a higher dose of the essential amino acids than other protein sources.
Whey protein isolate is an excellent quality protein, scoring high marks in all measures of protein quality, says Kelly Czerwonka, marketing manager at Glanbia, Monroe, Wis. “Whey protein also has the highest level of branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine) for muscle development and maintenance,” she explains. This makes it particularly popular among body builders.
Although whey ingredients have been documented to have substantial health benefits in the realm of weight management, lean muscle mass maintenance, anti-hypertension and even some positive blood lipid effects, whey’s presence within actual retail products has not reached anywhere near its full potential.
“Whey protein is an ideal ingredient for use in many drinks that could boast health benefits, because whey protein is easy to use, can be used in clear drinks at low pH, and is relatively free of taste,” says K.J. Burrington, dairy ingredients applications program director at the University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, Madison. “Right now the mainstream market products that include whey are primarily the yogurt drinks or the smoothie drinks that include whey protein for its enhanced protein boost. There are a number of drinks designed for body builders and weight lifters with up to 40 grams of whey protein per serving, but these are generally sold in health stores.”
Beverages are considered a ripe opportunity for using whey protein ingredients to create products that offer health benefits.
“Beverages are definitely a key delivery system for whey protein. Whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate are used in a range of beverages, including dry blended — primarily sports and weight-loss drinks — and ready-to-drink smoothies, milk-based beverages, clear sports beverages, juice-based drinks, clinical nutrition drinks and more,” Czerwonka says. “Driving whey protein’s use in beverages is the growth of the functional beverages category, which continues to grow as people become increasingly health conscious.”
Whey proteins are ideal for their nutritional punch in sports beverages because whey ingredients can be used in clear beverages with a pH from 3 to 4.5, offering high solubility. “Where the functionality and performance of whey proteins really stand out in the beverage arena is in drinks with a lower pH range, because the whey proteins are exceptionally clear so many beverage applications could include them,” Burrington says. “The only consideration for using whey in these applications would be if the product is to be heat treated, and ensuring that the whey ingredient is pre-hydrated sufficiently.”
Pre-hydration is important so the protein can stabilize in water and thereby be protected if the product is then heat-processed.
And there are applications in which whey proteins need stabilizer systems in order to remain in solution. For example, if the pH of the beverage environment is higher than 4.5, than the isoelectric point of the whey changes and stabilizers such as pectin are often needed to keep the whey proteins from aggregating.
Whey protein has been avoided in ready-to-drink beverages up to now due to the binding characteristics produced when heat was applied for retort of UHT processing, says Laura Majors, marketing services manager for Leprino Foods in Denver. “New innovations in the processing of whey protein have made it possible to customize the protein for a wide range of functional characteristics, including liquid applications such as UHT and retort ready-to-drink beverages,” Major says.
Whey is only at the beginning of its use in beverages, she emphasizes. “The consumer market is demanding new convenience products, and want the flavor and texture while they receive nutrition. The market wants to believe they are breaking nutritional rules with flavor while they are actually delivering the best nutrition to their body.”
Lori Dahm is technical editor for Dairy Field. Portions of the article were excerpted from Dairy Field’s State of the Industry report. For more information on dairy ingredients and the full report, visit dairyfield.com.
Better, longer flavor for dairy
Wild Flavors, Erlanger, Ky., developed a LightShield Technology based on a blend of ingredients that minimize light-activated reactions — reducing the development of light-activated flavors (LAF) — in dairy-based items. LAFs occur due to exposure to ultraviolet and fluorescent lights found in grocery display cases. LightShield Technology allows processors to extend flavor shelf life in milk-based and dairy-based products, while providing the customer more variety in packaging options. LightShield's powder is water-soluble, heat-stable, and effective in both high- and low-acid products. The system does not contribute flavor or alter end-product attributes such as texture.
The LightShield Technology entails a blend of components for specific dairy products including smoothies, fluid milk, flavored milk, and milk and juice beverages. In a study involving a dairy and juice drink, unacceptable notes were detected after about one week in the control, while the sample made with LightShield Technology was still satisfactory at 60 days, the company says.