Today’s health-conscious shoppers want to know more about the ingredients that they consume. Are they natural? Are they sustainable? What health benefits do they provide?

Food formulators ask a different set of questions: What’s the ingredient functionality and usage level? How much does it cost? What’s the regulatory status?

Prebiotic ingredients, including acacia gum and chicory root fiber, may satisfy both consumers and dairy formulators. 


The health benefits of prebiotics

In order to qualify as a prebiotic, an ingredient must resist absorption in the upper GI tract, be fermented by the intestinal microflora, and selectively stimulate the growth or activity of probiotic bacteria.

Prebiotics lag behind probiotics in awareness.  The 2016 IFIC Survey revealed that 33% of consumers were trying to consume more probiotics, while only 12% were trying to consume more prebiotics. Women are more likely to focus on both ingredients.

In a scientific review, Joanne Slavin outlines numerous studies exploring the mechanisms by which prebiotics influence weight management. Regular consumption of prebiotic fibers attenuates glucose absorption. It can also influence satiety and satiation.

Studies in lean and obese mice suggested that gut microbiota influence the efficiency of caloric harvest from the diet as well as energy storage and utilization. Consumption of prebiotics can also increase satietogenic and incretin gut peptide production, influencing appetite and glucose response after meals. 


The role of acacia gum

“Acacia gum is a natural prebiotic ingredient of 100% vegetable origin, produced without any chemical processing. It is a sustainable resource, and millions of African people live with secondary incomes provided by collection of this ingredient. Acacia gum powder has low viscosifying properties, and can be incorporated into a wide variety of dairy products with no real modification of texture,” said Isabelle Jaouen, the R&D director for Alland & Robert.

Regular consumption of foods with acacia gum has been shown to increase bifidobacteria in the colon. Because it is fermented more slowly than other soluble fibers, acacia gum has minimal adverse gastrointestinal effects.  Because addition of acacia gums allows for sugar reduction in a wide variety of dairy products, the ingredient can improve postprandial sugar metabolism.

Although the Food and Drug Admin-istration is still renewing approval of many fiber ingredients, acacia’s low viscosity would allow usage levels that might enable various fiber claims. The ingredient is naturally over 90% fiber.


Acacia gum in dairy foods

From a functional standpoint, acacia gum helps to immobilize free water in ice cream, thus imparting a smooth texture and mouthfeel and allowing for sugar reduction in the formula. Typical usage in ice cream is around 1%. In light or sugar-free yogurts, addition of 1% to 2% of acacia gum will improve mouthfeel. In fermented milk or drinking yogurt, acacia gum helps to stabilize insoluble matter and suspend particles without added viscosity.

“Acacia gum has great stability at low pH and high temperature during food processing and throughout the entire shelf life. Our R&D team has tested usage levels of 4.4% acacia gum in ice cream, 3.7% in fresh drinkable yogurt, and 2% in sterilized skim milk.  In clinical trials, our acacia gum has been shown to increase the intestinal population of Bifidobacteria and Bacteroidetes, known to be commensal healthy bacteria, and more specifically the anti-inflammatory bacterium, Faecalibacterium prausnitzii. Trials have revealed two combined actions of our acacia gum: inhibition of pro-inflammatory cytokines and stimulation of anti-inflammatory cytokines,” said Julie Imperato, Marketing Manager, Nexira.


Benefits of chicory root fiber

Europeans have been growing chicory in their vegetable gardens for generations.  Benefits include, but are not limited to, modifying texture, potentially lowering overall calorie count, increasing fiber, enhancing calcium absorption, supporting gut health, reducing fat, adding bulk and increasing sweetness.

“As the processors receive the chicory, they are looking at these natural variances in chain lengths. They blend the chicories throughout the process, depending on the characteristics to be obtained. It’s not just the quantity of inulin fiber, but also a balance of fiber. For some spoonable yogurts or frozen desserts you want fiber than can form gels to help with the mouthfeel and texture. For other uses such as dairy-based beverages, you want fiber that is more soluble,” said Taylor Halstead of Cargill.

Studies have shown prebiotic benefits from chicory root fiber consumption of at least 5 grams per day.

Both chicory root fiber and acacia gum are currently under review to determine if they will qualify under the new FDA definition of fiber. Product developers may know these ingredients by older, less consumer-friendly names. Labeling these ingredients as “chicory root fiber” rather than “inulin,” and “acacia gum” rather than “gum arabic,” will create more consumer appeal.