Unexpected sources of antioxidants

by Donna Berry
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The polyphenol resveratrol was the primary antioxidant ingredient used in the manufacture of Winetime bars by ResVez Inc., Rancho Santa Fe, CA. Discovered more than 50 years ago, resveratrol is produced naturally as a defense mechanism against environmental stress by more than 70 species of plants. The popularity of resveratrol stems from its abundance in grapes (Vitis vinifera) used to make red wine.

Scientific data suggest that resveratrol, in combination with flavonoids and other polyphenols found in grapes and produced during the fermentation that turns grape juice to red wine, is the basis of what has become known as the French Paradox. This concept claims to explain why the French can eat a diet relatively high in saturated fats yet enjoy a relatively low incidence of cardiovascular disease compared with Americans. France drinks five more wine per capita than the US.

Although the resveratrol and other polyphenols in red wine are enthusiastically promoted for heart health, for the most part, one cannot get enough via moderate consumption to reap any health benefits. This led to the development of resveratrol ingredients, which can be added to baked goods and other foods and beverages.

There are many similar plants extracts available to formulators. For example, grapeseed extract is a concentrated source of proanthocyanidins (a class of polyphenols). Studies have shown grapeseed extract to be as much as 50 times greater at scavenging free radicals than vitamins C and E.

Coffee fruit is another. Also known as coffee berry, this is the fruit surrounding the coffee bean. Previously discarded as a byproduct of coffee production, coffee fruit has been scientifically recognized as an antioxidant powerhouse with robust wellness qualities, including healthy energy, immune support, weight management, joint support and cognitive function.

Similar to a vitamin, coenzyme Q10 functions as an antioxidant. It is used by cells to produce the energy that the body needs for cell growth and maintenance and helps sustain heart health and blood pressure. 

Another concentrated polyphenol ingredient is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg), which is structurally categorized as a catechin. Mostly associated with green tea, catechins can be found in an array of plants from barley to peaches and even cocoa.

Green tea, identified by its vibrant green color and grassy flavor, can be used as an ingredient in baked goods, most notably biscuits and cookies. While green tea has superfood status, matcha green tea takes it a step further thanks to the extra dose of antioxidants generated by its distinctive growing method. The ingredient retains these powerhouse compounds because the tea leaves are pulverized and used in powder format.

“Matcha green tea is a Japanese green tea traditionally used in Japanese tea ceremonies,” said James Oliveira, sales representative, Aiya America. “When used in baked goods, not only does it contribute antioxidants, it also adds an exotic element due to its color and taste. Bakers often like the fact that it creates natural green color without the need for artificial coloring. Matcha can be easily incorporated into baked goods, and since it is a powdered tea, it can be treated like any other dry ingredient.”

Rona Tison, senior vice-president, corporate relations, Ito En (North America) Inc., said, “The fresh balance of sweetness and herbaceous grassiness is a taste profile and sensation like no other. Innovative matcha applications include cheesecake and chocolate chip cookies. The powdered ingredient also readily blends into coatings, frostings and icings, adding both color and flavor.”

Taiyo International Inc. supplies premium organic matcha green powder and markets a line of green tea extracts that range in strength of green tea taste, color and EGCg content. “They are available with or without caffeine,” said Bill Driessen, director. “Our extraction technology allows us to offer a highly purified white powder ingredient with a minimum 94% EGCg content. When used in formulations, it is possible to make an EGCg content claim on packages. Such an extract can be used in combination with green tea or matcha, or alone, to boost the catechin content of baked goods.”

 Among the fruits, blueberries may be recognized as the original superfruit, with cranberries not far behind, but there are many more that have achieved like status.

“Montmorency tart cherries contain anthocyanins, antioxidants that contribute to their ruby-red color and distinguishing taste,” said Jeff Manning, chief marketing officer, Cherry Marketing Institute. “Researchers credit these same compounds for tart cherries’ potential for reducing inflammation at levels comparable to some well-known pain medications as well as playing a role in decreased inflammation, oxidative stress and muscle damage associated with exercise.

“For fruits and vegetables, a dark, vibrant color is often a cue for more powerful compounds inside,” Mr. Manning continued, “which offers a great excuse to break up the beige color inherent to so many baked goods with a pop of color and nutrition.”

Seeds are also great add-ins to baked goods. The two most notable concentrated sources of antioxidants are chia and flax. Both also provide protein and omega-3 fatty acids, two nutrients consumers seek out as part of their health and wellness regimen. 

And there’s chocolate, a favorite ingredient in baked goods. Cocoa is a concentrated source of flavanols, with dark chocolate made from specially processed cocoa packing the greatest punch.

“Total flavanol content of commercially available cocoa and chocolate products can be influenced by a variety of biological and processing circumstances,” Mr. Heemskerk said. “To date, cocoa bean genetics, cocoa bean handling and processing, as well as manufacturing processes, are all believed to influence the resulting total flavanol content of on-shelf, finished cocoa and chocolate products.”

As with other antioxidants, FDA limits claims that can be made with cocoa and chocolate. To best communicate, marketers will often describe a product as dark chocolate and quantify its cocoa content.

The good news is that today’s consumer is label-savvy. A baker may not be able to openly claim the addition of antioxidants, but the consumer has learned to read between the lines. Think blueberry muffin, green tea cookies and dark chocolate-coated chia cranberry bars.
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