If you’ve read the papers recently you’ll have seen lots of stories stating that many of us do not have enough Vitamin D. Prior to the 1800s, people spent their lives largely in agricultural communities, working or playing outdoors, with the main source of Vitamin D being the sun. The ultra violet rays in sunlight naturally convert cholesterol in the skin to Vitamin D. This is the most important source of Vitamin D for people.
The only significant dietary sources of Vitamin D are oily fish and fortified products such as margarine and breakfast cereals. For people living in countries far north of the equator, such as Iceland, who get less sun, dietary sources of Vitamin D such as oily fish are important for health and wellbeing.
But times have changed. Now we are often in bakeries, offices or cars. Many of our foods are fortified, because processing takes out natural goodness. Breakfast cereals are commonly fortified with iron, niacin and Vitamin D, among others. And here’s the rub: flour is fortified, too, but bakers never shout about it on the pack. It was a point made forcibly by Scott Clarke, bakery director of Tesco, at this year’s Federation of Bakers conference. Breakfast cereals compete with bread, he said, but Kellogg’s and others make their cereals sound healthier. Bakers, he pointed out, are missing a vital sales trick.
But with Vitamin D now in the spotlight, Lallemand, which owns Britain’s biggest yeast-making plant based at Felixstowe, formerly GB Ingredients, has pioneered a way to give yeast itself natural Vitamin D by treating it with ultra-violet light. The yeast will be available in normal block, cream and instant dried formats.
But why is Vitamin D so vital? It’s because deficiencies are said to contribute to osteoporosis, some cancers, especially breast, colon and prostate and a weaker immune system. The amount inherent in all Lallemand’s yeast is at least 30 IU (international units) per 100g serving of bread, which is enough to ensure a necessary level but nowhere near enough to exceed the safe upper limit of 2,000 IU recommended by the EU scientific experts even if you do spend a lot of time outdoors, eat oily fish or take a multivitamin supplement.
So who is Lallemand and why have they pioneered the new yeast? Lallemand UK MD Dr Mike Chell explains that the company is a major worldwide yeast supplier, which invests many millions in plants and research. "After the EU Commission took a keen interest in all yeast acquisitions across Europe, Lesaffre GB Ingredients’ then owner agreed to sell the company.
"Lallemand was waiting in the wings to buy GB," he adds. "Our Felixstowe plant is one of only two yeast plants in the UK and is the biggest. We supply both the UK and Ireland. The company is set to benefit enormously from all Lallemand’s international R&D and expertise."
Being a leader
Meanwhile, Jean Chagnon, worldwide president and CEO of the company, reveals his passion for innovation, yeast and good bread. He tells British Baker: "The definition of a leader is to do things that others follow. We believe in ’pioneering’. We produce and sell yeast and bacteria. Applied microbiology is our core technology and over 50% of our customers are bakers.
"We started to export yeast in 1972 and are now based across five global divisions. We take natural wild yeasts no GMOs and were the first to automate computer-controlled plants and then first to launch cream yeast initially in the North American markets. GB Ingredients has always been a good supplier and now, with Dr Chell’s expertise as part of our company, we can share ideas, passion for our work and investment."
Lallemand also makes starter cultures for sourdoughs, but the pioneering of Vitamin D as an inherent property of its yeast has gained worldwide acclaim. Says Chagnon: "We have invested in UV equipment, so UV light is applied during the process. Vitamin D is produced by ultra-violet light acting on sterols naturally occurring in all yeast. By exposing the yeast cells to UV light in a similar way as we expose our skin to the UV light of the sun, Vitamin D is naturally produced in the yeast. Vitamin D, which is fat-soluble is stored in the cells in our bodies."
But what about regulatory approval? "In the USA, the Food & Drug Administration has given approval and Dr Chell has gained a positive opinion from the UK’s Food Standards Agency that this yeast is a natural source of Vitamin D," says Chagnon. "The bread on-pack wording, must be accurate. It is ’Vitamin D Yeast’. It is not correct or necessary to say ’enriched’ or ’added’ as it is part of a natural process. So the baker can say his bread is ’a natural source of vitamin D’."
EU regulations state that for bread to be a source of Vitamin D, 15% of the RDA (Recommended Daily Amount) of Vitamin D should be in 100g the equivalent of two to three slices. He adds: "Research shows the major criteria for buying bread are, in order: taste, price, natural ingredients and fibre. For the first time, a baker, plant or craft, using Lallemand yeast can take advantage of the fact their bread is now ’a natural source of Vitamin D’ and really shout about it!"
And that could be music to your customers’ ears whether a supermarket or a consumer. After all, why should breakfast cereals have it all their own way?