The fruit that binds
Dried plums, raisins and even coconut water concentrate may add functional benefits to applications.

KANSAS CITY — Fruit ingredients may add a health halo to a food or beverage, but do not forget their functional attributes. Moisture-binding properties are an example.

Known as a coconut water supplier, iTi Tropicals, Lawrenceville, N.J., is promoting the functional benefits of coconut water concentrate, too. The properties of coconut water concentrate, including viscosity, brix and the ability to bind, are similar to binders currently used in granola bars, according to the company. Coconut water concentrate, when used as a binder, has been shown to reduce the amount of added sugars in nutrition bars, and it works well in combination with other binders like tapioca, honey and agave.

Coconut water concentrate also adds functional and nutritional benefits because it includes electrolytes, potassium, magnesium, sodium and phosphorus.

“The key to moving forward into savory flavors is finding a way to meld flavors together with something sweet,” iTi Tropicals said. “Coconut water concentrate provides the perfect balance of the two.”

For health and labeling benefits, dried plums have been shown to help in reducing added sugar, said John Weaver, manager of sales for Sunsweet Ingredients, Walnut Creek, Calif.

“There’s a ton of interest in reducing sugars in bar applications, where date paste and rice syrups are often used, and with dried plum products, you get the added advantage of the moisture-binding and flavor enhancement properties,” he said.

The new Nutrition Facts Panel approved in May by the Food and Drug Administration requires the declaration of a gram amount of “added sugars” in a serving of a product, establishes a Daily Reference Value and requires a per cent daily value declaration for added sugars. Food and beverage manufacturers with sales greater than $10 million will be required to be in compliance by July 26, 2018. Companies with sales below $10 million will have until July 26, 2019, to comply with the new rules.

Derived from prune plums and containing sorbitol, fiber and antioxidants, Sunsweet ingredients have been shown to lower overall sugar levels of bars and also enhance flavors of spices and chocolate, aid in moisture retention, and promote caramelization, according to Sunsweet Ingredients.

In chewy granola bars, using plum juice concentrate in place of brown rice syrup has been shown to lower total sugar. In bakery bars, using dried plum powder in place of flaxseed meal has been shown to help with binding and offer notes of caramel and toffee.

Mr. Weaver added prunes have been shown to increase moisture retention in meat products by 10% to 14% by adding 0.5% prunes as a ratio of prunes to meat block.

“Our main focus at the moment is raising awareness of the functional benefits of dried plum products,” he said. “Since they do so many different things in so many different applications, it’s sometimes hard to focus on what our main strength is in this regard. This is particularly true when you consider that most people use fruits or nuts as simple inclusions, and in a sense are therefore one dimensional in the way they contribute to overall value addition. Dried plums, on the other hand, improve the taste, texture, nutritional values and shelf life in ways that are not so obvious but really multidimensional.”

California raisins provide flavor, texture and color to a variety of products, according to the California Raisin Marketing Board, Fresno, Calif. The high water-binding capacity helps to retain moisture in baked foods.

Water activity, not water content, controls microbial growth because microorganisms such as yeast, mold and bacteria only use the available water in a food system, according to Tree Top, Inc., Selah, Wash. Total moisture is either in a free or bound form, with the free water considered available.

Tree Top offers air-dried and drum-dried fruit powders that contain fiber and exhibit hydroscopic properties to help control water activity in addition to assisting with pH regulation.

The company said that in energy bars, fruit has been shown to contribute such functional properties as controlling water activity, stability, water-binding, aiding humectancy, attaining a target pH level, adding fruit servings or soluble and insoluble fiber, and extending shelf life.

Fruit ingredients also may help food companies tap into the clean label trend. Milne, Prosser, Wash., offers not-from-concentrate juices and purees. The ingredients are pasteurized with no artificial flavors, preservatives or colors. Varieties include blackberry, Concord grape, cranberry, peach, raspberry, strawberry and watermelon.