The famous James Bond novel, "live and let live', if modified to "let us live and you live well"can very well apply to the probiotic microorganisms which are considered man's true friends. In the microbial world there are thousands of species of organisms known to man and while some are beneficial in one way or the other, many are pathogenic in nature causing a plethora of diseases and toxicity which can be even fatal at times. Of course a large number of them are benign with no known harm to mankind. It is the beneficial organisms man wants to exploit for a variety of purpose. Bacteria, fungi and yeast are sources from which more than 80% of the industrial enzymes are manufactured and these enzymes are the driving engine for to day's biotechnology dependent world. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) can be rightly hailed as man's best friend in protecting his health and their consumption in active form is a desired goal pursued by the food industry. L.acidophilus, L.rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium longum, B.bifidum. L.palatarium etc are some examples.
Probiotcs are living organisms which upon ingestion in certain numbers exert health benefits beyond inherent basic nutrition. They can produce metabolites that are essential to maintain intestinal health, reduce or eliminate ailments like colon irritation, constipation and diarrhea, inhibit pathogenic bacteria, synthesize B-complex vitamins, lower blood ammonia levels, reduce cholesterol inhibition and inhibit tumor formation. While a normally healthy person consuming foods rich in probiotic bacteria may not require supplementary foods rich in them or capsules containing stabilized organisms, modern day eating habits have practically eliminated dairy products rich in probiotics depriving the consumers of the benefits associated with them. World over there is a disturbing trend of younger generation consumers chucking the habit of milk consumption and probiotic organisms cannot flourish in a medium containing no lactose, an inherent component of milk. In India consumption of products like curd, butter milk, lassi, mistidohi, srikand etc containing active cells of probiotic organisms is still common though growing fast food culture is luring younger population away from these health-friendly dairy products.
Probiotic organisms are vulnerable to low pH conditions, pepsin enzyme, bile salts, pancreatic enzymes in the GI tract and significant reduction of viable cells can happen by the time they pass through the digestive system. Food products that can augment the population of probiotics in the intestine must contain a minimum of 1 million live cells per gm at the point of consumption and it should deliver at least 1 billion viable cells per serving. Even such products cannot guarantee full benefit because of possible destruction during passage through the stomach. Here comes the role of technology which can ensure safe passage for the probiotic cells through the hostile environment of the digestive system. Pharmaceutical industry employs encapsulation technique to seal freeze dried preparations inside capsules which ensures no contact with stomach contents but releases the contents after crossing the stomach by degradation of the capsule material. Smelly food materials like fish oil, garlic extract etc are also made odorless through encapsulation process.
Food industry has been depending on micro encapsulation technology (MET) for a number of years to deliver temperature sensitive flavors for incorporation into foods which can keep well for long periods. MET is a process in which tiny particles or droplets are surrounded by a coating to give small capsules with useful properties. A micro capsule is a small sphere( core, internal phase or fill) with a uniform wall (shell. coating or membrane) around it. MET can be based on Pan Coating, Air-suspension in water, centrifugal extrusion, vibration nozzle, spray drying, inter facial polymerization, in-situ polymerization, matrix polymerization etc. Probiotic cells grown under controlled conditions are harvested and incorporated as core in micro capsules. Membrane of micro capsule permits the entry of small molecules such as nutrients and electrolytes while allowing exit of toxic metabolites, hormones and other small bio active compounds. Antibodies and T-cells are excluded thus protecting the encapsulated cells. Chitosan, polyacrylates, alginates, poly amino acids, poly amides are some of the coating materials used in MET. Some of the products developed with probiotics, coated by MET, include yogurt coated raisins, nutrient bars, dietary supplements, infant formulas, yogurt products, soups and cereals. It is time food industry in India wakes up to the potential for exploiting this technology and develop indigenous processed foods with local flavor preferences for making them popular amongst younger generation consumers