This service, said Leatherhead, will allow for a comparative ranking against the most established prebiotic ingredients, inulin, as well as deepening the understanding of the mechanisms through which a range of ingredients influence the growth of friendly bacteria and production of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs).
Prebiotic ingredients, or those that boost the growth of beneficial probiotic bacteria in the gut, are being increasingly added to foods as the insoluble fibres are stable in a wider variety of applications than the better known probiotic bacteria.
According to Frost & Sullivan, prebiotic ingredients are currently worth €87m (£59m) in the European marketplace and are set to reach €180m (£121m) by 2010.
Three forces are driving the new service, said Dr. Pretima Titoria, section manager for ingredients and product innovation at LFI: the increased interest, recognition and acceptance of the ingredients, the need to establish prebiotic activity, and to reflect the impending EU regulations on health claims.
Dr. Titoria told NutraIngredients.com: "The need for establishment of prebiotic activity of currently available and new/novel ingredients will allow suppliers and manufacturers to exploit their ingredients in terms of product applications."
Leatherhead, in collaboration with prebiotics expert Professor Glenn Gibson, from The University of Reading, has set up a comprehensive package for in vitro analysis of ingredients for prebiotic properties that can be regarded as a preliminary and decisive start to establishing whether ingredients do or do not have prebiotic properties.
"Whilst clinical studies are a must, this in vitro service can be regarded as a first step to establishing any indication of prebiotic activity, before moving to costly clinical studies," said Dr. Titoria.
Tests include growth of predominant microflora components, including bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, using Fluorescence in situ Hybridisation (FISH); gas formation; production of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), including acetic, propionic and butyric, using Gas-Liquid Chromatography (GLC); and stability in gastric juice and against small gut enzymes, using High Performance Size Exclusion Chromatography (HPSEC).
"Such an approach will allow ingredient suppliers and food/drink manufacturers an opportunity to develop their positions within the functional foods sector," said Leatherhead.