Superfruits and polyphenols

by Donna Berry
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Identifying and quantifying antioxidants would assist consumers with making better-for-you food choices. Consumers have been drawn to the many fruits — and foods made with these fruits — recognized as superfruits because of their antioxidant content. In fact, the term “superfruit” came around in 2004 when author Steven Pratt highlighted the antioxidant levels and anti-aging properties of blueberries in his bestseller, Superfruits Rx. Blueberries are likely the best-known superfruit, yet the list of superfruits is constantly growing and ranges from the obvious (apple) and the increasingly more familiar (acaí and pomegranate) to the exotic (maqui berry).

What these superfruits all have in common is that they are concentrated sources of polyphenols, a class of compounds with a structure that allows them to function as free radical scavengers. For example, ellagic acid is the predominant phenolic compound found in pomegranates, while resveratrol is the polyphenol found in the skin of red grapes.

“Polyphenols are a group of chemical substances found in plants characterized by the presence of more than one phenol unit,” said Rinus Heemskerk, global head of product development and innovation, Olam Cocoa. “Polyphenols are the most abundant antioxidants in our diets, with flavonoids the most abundant type of polyphenol.”

These compounds qualify certain plants and components of plants, for example, fruits, nuts, seeds and so forth, as sources of antioxidants. Polyphenol compounds can be isolated from plants or reproduced chemically and used directly in food formulations to deliver a highly concentrated source of antioxidants.

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