‘Postbiotic’ is a term that has become popular in the marketing language of gut health ingredients. It has been applied to a wide range of ingredients, from whole, killed microbial cells down to isolated, purified metabolites such as butyrate and propionate.
In the opinion of some experts the term has been used loosely enough that it was in danger of losing any relevance. In response, the International Scientific Association for Prebiotics and Probiotics (ISAPP) stepped up last year to publish an official definition.
ISAPP’s specification, which was published in Nature Reviews, defines a postbiotic as ‘a preparation of inanimate microorganisms and/or their components that confers a health benefit on the host.’
ISAPP says it deliberately chose the word ‘inanimate’ because terms like ‘inert’ or ‘killed’ might imply such ingredients had no biological activity.
“We really believe EpiCor fits that definition,” Cargill marketing manager Cashtyn Lovan told NutraIngredients-USA at the recent Expo West trade show in Anaheim, CA.
EpiCor was first manufactured by Embria, a division of the Cedar Rapids, IA-based feed manufacturer Diamond V, which Cargill acquired in 2017.
EpiCor is a yeast fermentate that was originally developed as a feed additive. The ingredient and Embria as a division were born out of observations that the culture could have other uses following farmers' reports that their animals were not getting sick.
Human immune benefit identified
In 2004 insurance adjusters noticed the Diamond V employees working with the yeast fermentate had far lower sick rates than workers in other parts of the company. The company thought the culture could be boosting the immune systems of workers who handled it.
Despite being technically ‘grandfathered in’ as a dietary ingredient safe for use in supplements under the 1994 Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act, the company submitted EpiCor to the new dietary ingredient (NDI) process, and received the green light from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011. EpiCor received self-affirmed GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status in May 2006. The fermentate has since been studied both for immune health benefits as well as improving several measures of gut health.
Push to diversify
According to Reuters, around the time of the Diamond V acquisition Cargill, along with fellow grain trading giants Archer Daniells Midland Co., Bunge Ltd. and Louis Dreyfus Co., was moving aggressively to diversify from commodities markets that are deluged with supply and suffer with correspondingly low profits.
Diamond V was a private company so details of the deal were not disclosed, but according to Reuters, Cargill did say it was among the five largest in the company’s history. Others have included the $1.5 billion acquisition of Norwegian fish feed maker EWOS in 2015 and a $1.2 billion deal in 2008 for starch manufacturer Cerestar.
Widening the story
Lovan said that armed with the new postbiotics tie in Cargill is moving to position EpiCor as both an immune-health boosting and gut health bolstering ingredient.
“We are trying to be a leader in postbiotics,” Lovan said. “And we are investing in research to support that.”
Lovan said that Cargill’s market research show that consumers are starting to understand that postbiotics promote health, even if they might not be able to define what they are. To try to improve that understanding, the company has signed up celebrity dietitian Keri Gans to help get the word out about the benefits of fermented foods in general and EpiCor in particular.
“We are really trying to build the ‘fermentate’ category,” Lovan said. “While the focus is still going to be on immune health, we are looking at other benefits of postbiotics. We are doing a lot of metabolic research, for example,” she said.