Researchers from the Institute of Technology of Agricultural Products at the Hellenic Agricultural Organization in Demeter, Athens, have developed a new method for producing feta cheese that has probiotic properties. The pilot-scale production trial resulted in a feta cheese that not only has probiotics but also retains a similar taste and texture of traditional feta. The probiotic feta cheese also reduces the likelihood of pathogen contamination.
The Greek scientists conducted their trial with a bacterial strain called Lactobacillus plantarum T571 as a co-starter culture for the production of their new probiotic feta cheese variety. To their surprise, the bacterial culture had a very small effect on the taste and texture of the cheese.
After the production process was complete, the researchers refrigerated the probiotic feta cheese in cold storage at 4⁰C for nine months in order to evaluate its resiliency. The researchers found that the probiotic feta cheese products had maintained their quality during their refrigeration time and the amount of L. plantarum present exceeded 6 log colony forming units/gram, which is the minimum number of bacteria colonies needed to classify a product as probiotic. In addition, feasible numbers of the bacteria were still present in the cheese for 6 months after it was refrigerated at an “abuse” temperature of 12⁰C, which cheese products usually experience during transportation, retail storage and household storage.
In addition, the researchers experimented with the resiliency of the cheese by exposing it, and a control feta cheese (with no probiotic bacteria), to three strains of Listeria monocytogenes, which is a common foodborne pathogen known to induce illness and, in some cases, be fatal. The results of this trial found the probiotic cheese samples to be better at reducing the pathogen contamination than the conventional feta cheese. According to the Greek scientists, the Listeria monocytogenes in the probiotic feta samples were below the detection limit of the enumeration method during storage.
The scientists used Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy, a method used to identify the chemical groups found within a structure and complement x-ray diffraction, to measure the microbiological counts and sensory status of the probiotic cheese. According to the scientists, this was the first time FTIR was used for the entire production process of this trial. This method was also used to determine the shelf life of the probiotic feta cheese samples.
According to Packaged Facts, probiotics have become one of the most in-demand trends in the food and beverage industry. However, the food industry has not yet been able to market probiotics beyond traditional formats such as yogurts and other fermented drinks. This means product innovations such as this new variety of probiotic feta cheese are likely to stand out in this segment.
However, in the US and Canada, feta cheese is usually added to other meals as an indulgent topping on salads or bruschetta bread. This might become an obstacle for companies looking to market this new probiotic cheese in North America where feta is not used as often as it is in Greece. Nonetheless, consumers are willing to try new things, especially if these new food items have added nutritional benefits. With the global market for probiotic products estimated to be worth $64.02 billion by 2022, this segment is proving to be worthy of investment by food companies.