News | June 12, 2000

From IFT: Research Supports Honey's Potential as a Sweetener for Functional Foods

From IFT: Research Supports Honey's Potential as a Sweetener for Functional Foods

Results of a study being presented at the 2000 Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting indicate that honey can enhance the growth, activity and viability of commercial strains of bifidobacteria typically used to manufacture fermented dairy products. Although the effect was strain-specific, the results indicate that honey may offer functional effects when used as a sweetener in probiotic foods. Researchers at Michigan State University conducted the study, the results of which are to be given in the poster presentation, In Vitro Comparison of Prebiotic Activity of Honey to that of Commercial Oligosaccharides.

Bifidobacteria are part of a group of microorganisms considered to be important to gastrointestinal health. Studies have shown, for example, benefits such as enhanced immune response and cancer preventative benefits when bifidobacteria are present in the GI tract. One way to ensure the presence of this helpful microorganism is to include it in probiotic foods. Another approach to increasing the presence of the organism in the GI tract is to incorporate prebiotics—an ingredient that encourages the growth of a beneficial organism—into a food.

Honey contains a number of fermentable carbohydrates including a variety of oliogosaccharides. This unique composition suggests that honey could enhance the growth, activity and viability of bifidobacteria in milk and, consequently, fermented dairy products. Dairy products have been the preferred medium to reintroduce viable populations of lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria into the GI tracts of both children and adults since many already contain live, active cultures.

Bifidobacteria must remain viable in large numbers in the carrier food to provide any significant benefit as a dietary adjunct. Maintaining the viability of the organism during processing and refrigerated storage, however, has presented a challenge for product developers.

Results of the in vitro comparison showed that the effect of honey on the growth and activity of Bifidobacterium ssp was similar to that of commercial oligosaccharides. Both were strain-specific. In the case of American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) Cultures, honey enhanced the growth of B. longum, B. breve and B. infantis better than inulin or fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), but not as well as galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS). In the case of B. bifidum, honey was not as effective as inulin, but was more effective than FOS or GOS. The effect of honey on B. adolescentis appeared to be similar to that of inulin.

This research, funded by the National Honey board, indicates the growth-promoting and prebiotic activity of honey on bifidobacteria may make it an attractive sweetener choice for product developers formulating functional foods.

By Scott Hegenbart