The new claim could also prove influential on a forthcoming law that will contain a list of claims permitted throughout the European Union.
Scientific evidence for the claim that 'native inulin from chicory is prebiotic at the daily dose of 5g' was submitted by Belgian firm Cosucra, one of three main producers of inulin.
The firm conducted a placebo-controlled, randomised, double-blind study on 39 healthy adults in France last year. Results, submitted for publication, demonstrate the significant effect of a twice daily dose of 2.5g of Cosucra's Fibruline Instant inulin on the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
AFSSA will also permit two other claims that stop just short of citing the prebiotic, or healthy effect of this bacteria growth on the host. These are a claim for the bifidogenic effect of a daily 5g dose of inulin and another claiming that it stimulates the growth of intestinal bifidobacteria.
The new study backs up findings reported by inulin competitor Sensus last year, which claimed to be the first inulin producer to prove the prebiotic effects of native inulin at a dose of 5 grams per day. This dose is easily consumed on a daily basis, for example through three slices of bread or two glasses of milk.
While manufacturers around the world are already making claims for the prebiotic effects of inulin-containing products, there are relatively few products on the French market promoting prebiotic effects.
"I think quite a few companies are waiting for an official AFSSA opinion before making claims," Kristof Werbrouck, marketing manager at Cosucra, told NutraIngredients.com.
Known as one of the strictest regulators in Europe, AFSSA's opinion will also be taken seriously by neighbouring countries.
But perhaps more significantly, the new claim is likely to be included in France's proposed 'general health claims' that will be assessed by European food authorities along with those submitted by other member states in order to compile a list of generally accepted claims for the region under a forthcoming European regulation.
This proposed law is currently under discussion in parliament and could be passed by the end of the year.
In the meantime, the newly approved claim will give French manufacturers more choice.
AFSSA previously approved a claim for the bifidogenic effect of 5g oligofructose daily in 2000 but new claims on inulin give manufacturers a choice of using either oligofructose or inulin in their products.
While both have the same prebiotic effects, they have slightly different functional characteristics and one may be preferred over the other depending on a firm's technical requirements.
The new claims can of course be used on foods containing inulin from other suppliers like Sensus or the market leader Orafti.
However Werbrouck explained: "We are trying to prove the benefits of basic inulin products not speciality ones. We're saying to manufacturers that it is not necessary to use a speciality product to make a claim."
This in turn will help guarantee the survival of the claim under new European laws that call for health claims to be based on generally accepted scientific data.
"If there is evidence of another health benefit but it is not a generally recognied scientific opinion we don't promote it. This is the only way to be taken seriously in the long-term," added Werbrouck.