Are Live Cultures The Same As Probiotics?

Live cultures and Probiotics: what’s the difference?

Aren’t live cultures and probiotics the same thing?! Well, not really!

Here’s the lowdown: all probiotics are live cultures, but not all live cultures are probiotics. A little tricky, we know, but here’s how it works.

Live cultures and probiotics are both live microorganisms, but not all microorganisms have proven health benefits. Ah ha! Some live cultures could just be harmless bacteria (often used as food fermentation agents) that enhance the taste and texture of your food, for instance. But probiotics [1] are live microorganisms that actually benefit your health when consumed in adequate amounts [2].

Live Cultures in our foods

Fermentation with microorganisms is more common than you may imagine, and has been an age-old process dating back more than 7000 years! In food production, some microorganisms can assist in the fermentation process. Historically, we’ve used certain bacteria (and sometimes yeast) to make cheese, breads, beers and yogurts! And actually, even chocolate is a fermented food. Not only do these microorganisms transform the initial substrate into these delicious foods, but they also help ensure that these can be preserved for a long time.

Many foods also owe their specific taste to these live cultures. For instance, the “tang” of sourdough bread comes from the action of the Lactobacilli cultures. Different cheeses also get their special aroma, texture and taste from live cultures. Even your dinner-time glass of red wine is a concoction of grapes meeting together in happy fermented harmony.

Probiotics are specific live cultures with health benefits

Yogurts are produced with the live cultures Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. As these beneficial microbes go about their job of breaking down sugar and starch in milk, they release enzymes that support lactose digestion. Yogurts are a great option for people who struggle with lactose digestion thanks to live cultures – also known as yogurt ferments – called Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus. They may have complicated names but they perform a super helpful task of naturally breaking down part of the lactose in the milk and helping you better digest the remaining lactose in the product. This can be pretty handy, given that for some people production of enzymes that break down lactose can decrease with age.

But that’s not all, these live cultures also affect the taste and texture of food. Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus ferment lactose (milk sugar) to create lactic acid. The increase in lactic acid allows milk to clot and form that particular yogurt texture that we so love!

It’s also worth noting that while all yogurts contain the two yogurt ferments, not all contain the adequate quantity. When it’s more than 108 CFU/gram, that’s when the health benefit of improved lactose digestion begins to kick in. In other words, that’s when we refer to these yogurt ferments as probiotics!

[1] The FAO/WHO definition of a probiotic: “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”.

[2] Live cultures in yogurt improve lactose digestion of the product in individuals who have difficulty digesting lactose.

  • Url copied to clipboarb

2021 Danone Ltd. All Rights Reserved. *Activia contains calcium which contributes to the normal function of digestive enzymes. Enjoy as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.

†Contains naturally occurring sugars.