Ingredients to the rescue

by Ryan Atkinson
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Sometimes bigger is better. Less isn’t always more. Too much of a good thing can, in fact, be a good thing. At least those are some of the thoughts when it comes to formulating with so-called superfruits and supernuts.

Fruits and nuts have long-played a large role in baking. Their tastes, textures and, more recently, nutrition profiles make them popular choices as inclusions in breads, bars, rolls and much more. And with the use of a fruit or nut that is classified or marketed as “super,” the benefits can grow.

“It’s such an attractive thing to be able to say that you’re a superfruit or superfood,” said Kate Leahy, spokesperson for Sunsweet Ingredients, Yuba City, CA. “Typically that means the product is not only flavorful but also carries with it a lot of healthful benefits. It gives you more than just great flavor or texture. It also offers you healthy benefits.”

Here’s to health

This point is probably the most obvious when it comes to the superfoods discussion: Their biggest draw is their health benefits. While there is no legal or medical definition for superfoods, ask around, and more than likely, the answer will include more than a passing nod to health.

“The term definitely describes a food that provides more health and nutritional benefits than normal,” said Clark Driftmier, executive vice-president, sales and marketing, Mercer Foods, Modesto, CA.

A very small sampling of fruits and nuts in that category would include: blueberries, blackberries, acai berries, plums, almonds, walnuts and many more. And some ingredients fall into the category just as much for of their reputation or consumer opinion than their nutritional numbers.

“A superfruit can be two things,” said Brien Quirk, director of R&D, Draco Natural Products, San Jose, CA. “It can be all fruits, including ordinary ones and exotic, that have very beneficial health effects, or it can be fruits that are exotic and unusual to most people and also have some type of nutritional or health benefits.”

For example, fruits such as goji, acai, mangosteen and yumberry have been used in dietary supplements and functional beverage categories that use the term superfruits. More common fruits like pomegranate and blueberries have earned the label because then have potent, research-backed anti-aging, cognitive and cardiovascular effects.

According to US Highbush Blue-berry Council, Folsom, CA, researchers at Florida State University conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 40 postmenopausal women aged 45 to 60 with high blood pressure. A study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that the women who ate 22 g freeze-dried blueberry powder — the equivalent of a cup of blueberries — daily for eight weeks saw an average 5.1% decrease in systolic blood pressure and a 6.3% decrease in diastolic pressure.

Superfoods in color

Obviously, all those health benefits play a large part in the demand for superfoods. Consumers are following the advice of “eating the rainbow,” which is a simple way to remember to include fruits and vegetables in their diet, particularly those dark in color.

“It’s a big, major trend,” Mr. Driftmier said, referring to the rise in superfood popularity. “Nutritionists have known about it for decades. Enlightened consumers have noticed it for a while. Now the awareness is really broad. I see it across the board in industrial applications. There is a really big increase in that area.”

The use of certain fruits and nuts in the nutraceutical market over the past several years has led to the incorporation of them in foods.

“On the baking side, a lot of ­interest has been driven by bars, whether that’s gluten-free bars or energy bars,”

Mr. Leahy explained. “That seems to be where the interest really lies in ­ingredients with healthful benefits.”

Also pushing the desire for these superfoods is a widespread change in snacking habits. “The 2013 North America Snacking Consumer Quan-titative Study” by the Sterling-Rice Group found that consumers snack an average of 2.3 times per day, up from 1.8 times per day in 2008. Nearly a quarter of consumers said they replace at least one meal a day with a snack and are most likely to snack at night.

“The market for nut inclusions has changed over the past few years, particularly with the frequency of how many times a day consumers are snacking,” said Molly Spence, regional director, North America, for the Almond Board of California, Modesto, CA. “As consumers are snacking more, they are looking for options that will satisfy their needs for healthful ingredients like almonds that can help them feel fuller, longer.”

Playing new parts

While the ever-loved health benefits of these fruits and nuts can’t be overlooked, it’s also true that their worth goes only as far as their ability to be used by formulators and bakers.

One popular way to slide these ingredients into a formulation is through powders, purees and concentrates. This allows the baker to squeeze in all of the nutrition and taste profiles by employing them as just a small portion of the total formulation.

“There is a tremendous flexibility in applications,” Mr. Driftmier said. “If you’re using fruit in baked goods, you can get a whole strawberry or slices, or chunks of any size all the way down to a powder. It can be made into almost infinite sizes, and the nutritional quality does not change one bit.”

Mr. Driftmier pointed out 10 oz of a fruit such as strawberries or blueberries can be freeze-dried and converted into 1 oz of ingredient. Those powders can then work their magic on the formula in a number of ways, ranging from taste to pliability, and they can be used in a wide range of products.

“Our completely water-soluble and dispersible powdered concentrates easily mix into flour or confection ingredients at various usage levels to provide color, tartness, moisture-­retaining soluble fibers and subtle flavors,” Mr. Quirk said. “They are also an excellent choice for other snacks such as natural confections including gummi bears, hard candies, fruit wraps (leathers) and fruit-filled baked desserts.”

Nuts offer just as much versatility, from more conventional inclusions like chopped walnuts or pecans to newer trends like almond and peanut flour.

“In addition to almonds’ health benefits, they are also incredibly versatile,” Ms. Spence said. “There are 15 almond forms to choose from, including chopped, almond milk and almond flour. For baked products specifically, pre-roasting the almonds will lock in the texture and amplify the nutty flavor so it continues to stand out in the final product.”

Americans are catching on to the natural pairing of hazelnuts and chocolate in popular European bread spreads, and hazelnuts have been shown to contain antioxidants and high proanthocyanidin content. “Many people really don’t know what hazelnuts are,” said Polly Owen, director, Hazelnut Marketing Board, Aurora, OR. “But they do know about Nutella spread. If a formulator can follow that inspiration, there’s a good possibility of success.

“The big thing has always been the flavor,” she continued. “Hazelnut is unique. It is not bland, yet when used with other flavors, it doesn’t overpower them, but neither does it get lost.”

The way nuts function within baked foods brings out interesting applications, too. For example, peanut flour can be helpful in fillings, coatings and icings. “Peanut flour is good at binding fat and helps prevent fat migration from icings into layer cakes,” explained Adi McDaniel, sales and marketing manager, Golden Peanut and Tree Nuts Co., Alpharetta, GA, a subsidiary of ADM. “In coatings, peanut flour works better than peanut butter. The butter’s oil can seep out, but the flour binds the fat to prevent that.”

Tim Devey, corporate marketing director, Honeyville Grain, Rancho Cucamonga, CA, reported steady growth for the company’s peanut flour, especially in private label and co-packing. “Many companies, large and small, are looking to combine the rich, creamy flavor of peanuts in their dry mixes,” he said. Peanut flour helps increase the protein and fiber of mixes. Flours can be optimized for fat content and flavor while still delivering peak nutritional value.

When working with nut flours in new applications, it’s best to first research specific formulations that already use such materials, Mr. Devey advised. There’s much to be learned. “The measurements of liquid and oil will differ greatly,” he said. “Because nut flours are higher in oil content, recipes using nut flours call for less oil and liquid than recipes using traditional flour.”

Untapped uses

As bakers and snack manufacturers continue seeking out nutrition powerhouses to include in their products, new uses will make themselves known. Some already see potential for the ingredients in areas that have yet to be fully explored.

One such area is sports nutrition foods, where the ability of superfruit extracts to improve energy, mood and feelings of well-being could be a big draw.

“Studies also show athletic endurance and improved recovery effects with these superfoods,” Mr. Quirk said. “Just like with beet-based beverages having taken off as an endurance drink for the serious athletic-minded person, more health snack foods need to be developed with superfruits for the sports-minded market who are willing to pay more for the benefits. Another huge area is the diabetic foods snack market since many superfruits extracts show blood sugar stabilizing effects.”

Ms. Leahy suggested that while bakers have begun to use certain fruits to make their products more appealing to those with certain nutritional needs, the possibilities are far greater.

“With the scrutiny that the baking industry is under, there’s a lot of potential for some really exciting things, whether it’s in lower-sodium baking or gluten-free baking or whole-grain baking,” she said. “Plums and other fruits really fit in well with those flavor profiles and the functional attributes.”

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