Fermented dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir, have long been the go-to foods for digestive health because of the probiotics they contain. Probiotics are live microorganisms, most often lactic acid bacteria, which when consumed in adequate amounts, may provide a health benefit. They join the trillions of bacteria that inherently reside in the gastrointestinal system and can help create a better-balanced microflora. This in turn helps regulate an array of bodily functions, including digestion, and positively impacts overall health and well-being.
Probiotics are often taken to counteract the side effects of antibiotics, e.g., cramping, diarrhea, ulcers, etc., as antibiotics destroy both good and bad bacteria. Probiotics also play an integral role in immune function by preventing the attachment and activity of pathogenic bacteria in the gut. Thus, taking probiotics helps restore good bacteria and encourages their proliferation.
All probiotics are not created equal. While the simple term “probiotic” on a food is useful and accepted, as it is suggestive of being beneficial to health, when any specific claim is made, it is best to identify the strain and provide supportive research.
Many types of fermented foods are now being recognized for their general “probiotic effect.” This includes kombucha, sauerkraut and even refrigerated pickles. In the meat industry, there exists an opportunity to include probiotics in fermented sausages, according to researchers from the Food Technology Department at the State University of Campinas, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The use of probiotics seems most promising in raw fermented meat products like salami, as they are made with raw meat and consumed without prior heating, which kills unprotected probiotic bacteria. Fermented sausages already rely on starter cultures, which are a mixture of various microorganisms, each with a specific function. The lactic acid bacteria typically generate controlled and intense acidification to inhibit the development of undesirable microorganisms, namely pathogens, and thereby make the product safe and stable. Other microorganisms, including bacteria, yeast and mold, are necessary to develop desirable sensory characteristics.
Live probiotics may be part of the mixture. The researchers note, however, that incorporation of probiotic bacteria to these products also represents a technological challenge because of the known sensitivity of probiotics to curing salts, spices and other ingredients used in the formulation of the fermented sausages. Addition may require the use of microorganisms that are resistant to the fermentation process and that remain in a minimal viable number of cells to survive the stomach pH and exert beneficial effects in the intestines.
Such resistant bacteria are commercially available. They are described as being in a vegetative state, also known as being a spore. They have a thick protein coating enabling them to withstand high temperatures, low pH levels and high compression. Under favorable conditions, the spores will germinate and regain their active functions. Thus, they return to an active state in the human digestive tract, more specifically in the stomach, and there they can exert beneficial effects throughout the gastrointestinal system.
The researchers concluded that probiotic fermented meat products present an opportunity for the development of innovative meat products that offer health-and-wellness benefits. Human-based studies are needed to establish documented proofs of the beneficial effect of these products.