Iron deficiency anemia (IDA) remains one of the most common micronutrient deficiency disorders in the world. Strategies to address IDA include supplementation, dietary modification, biofortification of staple foods, and food fortification. Fortification of staple foods and widely consumed condiments are the most sustainable and affordable strategies to improve iron status and make a significant contribution in meeting daily iron requirements. However, the challenges in fortification include finding a suitable iron compound with high bioavailability and with minimal impact on food palatability. For example, iron compounds that are well absorbed can alter the color and flavor of certain foods, whereas others may not alter the properties of the food but are also not readily absorbed.

A study recently published in The Journal of Nutrition investigated the utility of bouillon cubes for iron fortification. These condiments are typically fortified with ferric pyrophosphate which has been shown to be poorly absorbed, and ferrous sulfate which exhibits better absorption but negatively impacts food palatability. Previous work conducted by the authors showed that Aspergillus oryzae, a filamentous fungus that is used to make fermented soy and rice products, can accumulate high amounts of minerals, including iron. The authors hypothesized that iron-enriched A. oryzae (grown in ferric pyrophosphate) would improve iron absorption relative to added ferric pyrophosphate in a salt form. The objective of this study, conducted by Dr. Manju Reddy (Iowa State University) and colleagues, was to investigate the iron absorption from chicken bouillon fortified with iron-enriched A. oryzae. The hypothesis was tested by giving young women a rice-vegetable meal that had been fortified with either iron-enriched A. oryzae, ferric pyrophosphate, or ferrous sulfate.

Study results suggest that iron-enriched A. oryzae provided greater amounts of absorbable iron than ferric pyrophosphate alone while avoiding the palatability issues associated with ferrous sulfate. The authors concluded that bouillon fortified with iron-enriched A. oryzae may contribute sufficient bioavailable iron to meet the daily iron requirements of young women only if consumed with other iron-fortified staple foods. Because of the relatively low consumption of bouillon cubes, they alone cannot provide all the iron needed for a fortification program. Nonetheless, iron-fortified bouillon cubes could make a useful contribution to a fortification program along with other fortified staple foods such as wheat, maize, or rice.

Reference Bries AE, Hurrell RF, Reddy M. Iron Absorption from Bouillon Fortified with Iron-Enriched Aspergillus oryzae Is Higher Than That Fortified with Ferric Pyrophosphate in Young Women. The Journal of Nutrition, DOI:

Images credit: