Stealth Health

by Laurie Gorton
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You’ve seen ads for foods boasting “a full serving of fruits and vegetables in every portion” — but how do you formulate for that? The answer: carefully. This stealth health concept, wildly successful for beverages and sauces, may not be as easily carried out in baked foods and snacks, but there’s potential. In fact, some products offering this benefit are already in retail and school food service markets.

For almost as long as there have been bakers, fruit and vegetables have lent their considerable appeal to baked foods as fillings, toppings and flavorings. But there’s new urgency today with the recommendation by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to “Eat more vegetables and fruits.” This advice applies especially to dark-green, red and orange vegetables; beans; and peas. The guidelines also recommended beans as a source of protein and singled out fruits and vegetables for their potassium, fiber, calcium and vitamin D content, naming all four nutrients as underconsumed in American diets.

Fruit inclusions offer a simple way to improve the healthy profile of baked products. “A viable alternative to sweet additions like chocolate chips, cranberries are seen as having a ‘healthy halo,’ which extends to the end product,” said Kristen Girard, principal food scientist, Ocean Spray ITG, Lakeview-Middleboro, MA.

Likewise, beans and legumes fit the natural angle sought by many food marketers, according to Gordon Gregory, vice-president and general manager, ADM Edible Bean Specialties, Decatur, IL. “And they lend a clean-label aspect to ingredient statements,” he added.

Fruits and vegetables provide functional appeal, too. “Their phytochemicals are the new impact factors because of their role in minimizing chronic and degenerative diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease,” said Nirmal Sinha, PhD, vice-president, R&D, Graceland Fruit, Inc., Frankfort, MI. “They also aid in brain and immune health.”

Comedian Will Rogers once said, “An onion can make people cry, but there has never been a vegetable invented to make them laugh.” Mr. Gregory countered, “Will Rogers never tried VegeFull. There is a good sustainability story here that goes full circle in agriculture with good crop rotation. We’ve made beans convenient for industrial applications, and many ideas are coming to fruition.” The company’s cooked bean ingredients are making inroads into formulating healthier foods. He noted that major food companies are working with new concepts using beans for their natural fiber, vitamin and mineral content.

PROVING THEIR WORTH.

Adding fruits and vegetables to foods allows manufacturers to “create a tasty treat with a healthy profile, targeting a growing base of consumers who want to make small changes to improve their diet,” Ms. Girard said. A growing number of products already on the market validate her observation. Examples include not only cereal bars, trail mixes and granola but also breads, bagels, cookies, crackers, brownies, muffins and snack cakes. Fruit-flavored pastries and pies continue to enjoy popularity, while bean-based snack chips now appear in markets throughout the US. And, of course, raisin bread remains a well-liked variety.

Substituting broccoli for carrots in traditional carrot cake inspired Lowry Martin, owner, CEO and president of Have Your Cake & Eat It Too, Upper Marlboro, MD, to experiment with vegetable inclusions. She formed her company in 1998 and today supplies Healthy Veggicakes muffins to leading food service and supermarket operators as well as school lunch services. The muffins feature 100% whole-wheat flour and all-natural ingredients, with nearly a full serving of cooked vegetables per portion.

“These muffins are unique and universal in their appeal,” Ms. Martin said on her company’s website, www.haveurcaketoo.com. She uses butternut squash, zucchini, bananas, spinach, yams, broccoli and more in formulations. “Essentially we can mix ’em any way you want ’em. We all need to eat healthy. We are what we eat; now let’s put some fun in it.”

School food service is also a key market for Ignacio Alverex of Lux Bakery, San Antonio, TX. Larry Blagg, senior vice-president of marketing, California Raisin Marketing Board, Fresno, CA, observed that Mr. Alverex incorporates one- quarter cup of California raisins and/or raisin paste into each of his Lux Chia oatmeal raisin bars.

Beanfields Snacks, Los Angeles, CA, created a healthier alternative to corn chips by combining beans and rice into light, crispy snack chips. “Snacks — no matter how healthy they are — have to taste great, so we made sure our bean chips were the most delicious of any on the market,” said Reed Glidden, Beanfields’ founder and president. The chips provide 4 g protein and 4 g fiber in every serving.

Recent introductions also include Beanitos chips from Bean Brand Foods, Austin, TX, made with black and pinto beans, plus flax. Each 1-oz serving of Beanitos provides 5 g fiber. Snyder’s-Lance, Inc., Charlotte, NC, launched two new all-natural sandwich crackers flavored with vegetables and herbs: Lance Cracker Creations in Garden Vegetable and Parmesan Herb.

FORMULATING WITH THEM.

Baked foods and snacks have relatively modest serving sizes, a drawback to being able to put in a full serving of fruits and vegetables. For example, the Recommended Amount Customarily Consumed (RACC), which defines serving size under Food and Drug Administration rules, for bread is 50 g. “Trying to incorporate a full serving of VegeFull bean powders would require the powders to be a significant portion of the formulation,” said Mark Floerke, bakery applications specialist, ADM, Decatur, IL. “A full serving might be more feasible in heavy, dense cakes or pies and turnovers, each with an RACC of 125 g.”

Instead, he suggested that hamburger buns made with one-quarter of a serving of beans would be more feasible. When paired with a meat patty extended with a half-serving of vegetables, plus a garnish of lettuce, tomatoes and onions, the whole sandwich could reach full-serving levels.

Also, the finished product may look different from the original baked food or snack. Fortifying a formula with vegetable powders, as Mr. Floerke noted, may force a change in the product, “meaning that the product design may take a different look or require other modifications such as topical additional, rather than inclusion inside the dough.” Matters of particle size (grits vs. nuggets vs. powders) may also change finished product characteristics.

It is somewhat simpler with fruit ingredients, but there are still considerations involving format and quantity.

A serving of fruit measures 40 g or, typically, one-third cup.

“Although it may not be possible to pack 40 g of dried fruits into a serving of baked products, putting fruits like blue­berries, cherries, cranberries and apples into baked foods will provide value from their health- promoting phytonutrients and natural antioxidants,” Dr. Sinha said.

Ocean Spray’s sweetened dried cranberries and BerryFusions Fruits are offered in several piece sizes and flavors: raspberry, orange, blueberry, strawberry and more. “They allow bakers to incorporate different flavors into baked products without some of the traditional processing challenges associated with soft fruits in bakery,” Ms. Girard said.

Graceland’s dried fruits produced with sugar and/or juice infusion technology exhibit soft, fruit-like color, flavor and mouthfeel but omit artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. Dried blueberries, cherries, cranberries and apples compose Graceland’s core line of fruits.

One-quarter cup of raisins — either natural or golden seedless — equals one fruit portion. “Raisin paste can be used in the same way and in the same quantity to achieve the same result of one fruit portion,” Mr. Blagg said. Also, the federal Standard of Identity for raisin bread (21 CFR 136.160) requires raisins be present in the formula at no less than 50 parts per 100 parts of flour.


Fruit and vegetable ingredients usually earn high recognition ratings among consumers, so their use in bakery and snack formulations may not exactly fit the definition of “stealth health.” Yet they can substantially improve the eye appeal and nutritional value of the finished products and the diets of those who buy and consume such foods. It’s a formulating approach well worth exploring.

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