In baking, as in boxing, sometimes the little guys pack the biggest wallop. This is certainly true for pre-formed particulates that are formulated to emulate fruits and nuts but provide enhanced flavor, color, texture, nutritional and functional properties that the real thing simply cannot. Whether they improve on berries, mask flavors of omega-3s or impart a protein- and fiber-filled crunch, inclusions can raise the eye, flavor and health appeal of a plethora of baked foods and snacks.

“New trends in bakery are things like low calorie and fat, all-natural ingredients, exotic flavors, and versatility,” said Mike Clever, CEO, in2food, Inc., Duluth, GA. The company recently added Fruit Puree Nibs to its product offerings in flavors including raspberry, lemon, blueberry, strawberry, orange, apple, apricot, mint, ginger and coconut. “They are an all-natural option for adding fruit flavoring to bakery items without adding a bunch of sugar or calories but give a big fruit impact.”

SensoryEffects Flavor Systems, Defiance, OH, goes a step further with mango, honey and chipotle options. “We also offer an easy and convenient way to incorporate flavor combinations such as chocolate with bacon or blackberry with mango,” said Becky Pogoreski, the company’s product development manager for inclusions.

Keeping up appearances

Color and flavor deliver a one-two punch in many inclusions. Along with Flav-R-Bites and Flav-R-Bursts co-extruded bits in a variety of flavors, Cereal Ingredients, Inc., Leavenworth, KS, provides its customers an entry into the swirl breads market. Flav-R-Swirl mixes are available in cinnamon, blueberry, strawberry, almond, maple, peanut, cranberry and even cheese varieties. “That’s where our company really took a foothold in this business and grew because we got into the bread industry,” said Jim Thomasson, executive vice-president, sales and marketing.

Flav-R-Swirl blends come in powdered form, and the company’s patented SwirlMaker is a crucial part of the automated process for swirl breads. Fitted between a facility’s existing sheeter and panner, the SwirlMaker unit applies the swirl mix uniformly and enables fast changeover for different breads and flavors.

But the options don’t end with sweet goods. Cereal Ingredients developed bacon-flavored inclusions for pet food applications, as well. Given human consumers’ bacon fascination, however, it’s easy to predict use of such flavors in baked foods and snacks in the near future.

In addition to its sweet Flavor-ette inclusions for breads, muffins, cakes, bagels, breadings, biscuits, waffles, donuts and cereals, QualiTech Co., Chaska, MN, created savory varieties for use in fried foods such as tortilla chips. “An example is a cheddar cheese bit that contains real cheddar cheese and won’t melt in the fryer,” said Rudy Roesken, general manager and corporate vice-president, food division. The company’s particulates deliver flavors such as smoky, sweet butter, citrus herb and jalapeño.

in2food also supplies savory-flavored inclusions, which are bake-stable, freeze-stable and shelf-stable and maintain their shape and flavor profile no matter the application, according to Mr. Clever. “These inclusions have a big flavor impact without adding a bunch of calories,” he said. “Also, since they include a minimum of 60% real fruit purée, they offer the nutritional value of the actual fruit — vitamins, fiber, etc.”

On the wellness wagon

Particulates can also serve as effective vehicles for macronutrients and micronutrients in many baked foods and snacks. Clasen Quality Coatings, Madison, WI, customizes coatings and bits at various protein, fiber and sugar levels and to deliver other nutritional enhancements of interest to today’s consumers. “Often bakers can add only so much fiber and protein to their base product and still get the desired attributes of taste, texture and shelf life,” said Russell Tietz, Clasen’s R&D manager. “Using confectionery coatings as a vector to add additional nutritional enhancements can help them better position their products as better-for-you snacks.”

Although Cereal Ingredients specializes in co-extruded particulates, its latest development focuses on a different technology. The company’s Nutri-Bites Whole Grain Balls add flavor, texture and nutrition to cereals, granola bars and specialty crackers. Containing 25 to 80% protein, the Nutri-Bites line can also carry up to 40% fiber upon request.

“Companies are more committed to health than ever before, and there is a lot of focus on adding nutrition without compromising on taste,” Mr. Thomasson said. The bite-sized crisps serve both purposes.

At the Institute of Food Technologists’ Food Expo 2011, QualiTech launched an ingredient that combines nutritional and taste appeal. The company teamed up with OmegaPure, Houston, TX, to incorporate omega-3 from fish oil into its bits, which it served at the show incorporated into blueberry muffins — with a positive response, according to Mr. Roesken.

“Krill fish oil is recognized as the most significant by far in terms of delivery of omega-3 to humans,” he said. “Inherently, though, it’s from a fish, so it’s somewhat of a challenge to handle.” The obvious problem is that of the fishy odor and taste that are difficult to mask, though many have tried.

“Through our formulation processes, we’re able to minimize — almost totally eliminate — the omega-3 aftertaste and smell in the raw products,” Mr. Roesken explained. “When it’s cooked in a muffin, for example, you don’t notice it at all. Through that, we’re able to deliver an adult’s daily omega-3 requirements through one muffin.”

Natural, only better

All that enhanced nutrition in baked goods is moot if a muffin can’t remain viable long enough to reach consumers’ hands. Inclusions can be a way to limit water activity yet deliver flavor and nutrition. Real blueberries, for example, are high in water and will decrease the shelf life of a product. “The benefit for an extruded product that has controlled water activity is you need no refrigeration,” Mr. Thomasson said. “The addition of fruit solids into our blueberry bits gives them the same qualities of blueberries. Bakers can label their products as ‘made with real blueberries.’ ”

Natural cinnamon, too, poses problems in leavened products: It inhibits yeast, leaving bakers with more of a flatbread when they were going for a loaf. Mr. Roesken described how QualiTech uses a layering process to deliver cinnamon in a particulate or inclusion format. “Not only does the customer get the cinnamon flavor burst, they also get the texture and the visual appeal,” he said.

Because many particulates on the market today are low in water activity, they support long shelf life without requiring the baker to add artificial preservatives. “Our customers are very clear that clean label is becoming a very big issue, and they’re looking for something that has at least a year’s shelf life,” Mr. Roesken said. “That poses its own set of considerations. We make sure that our products have very low water activity and that they have a shelf life of about a year.”

Shelf life is just one consideration of coaching the best performance out of these particulates. “Our functional inclusions are designed with a specific melt point and release mechanism for the flavors, colors and aromatics to be delivered to the food system,” SensoryEffects’ Ms. Pogoreski said. “Our inclusions can add a crunchy texture or a gooey mouthfeel after baking. We are also improving piece integrity to leave less of a void after baking.”

Particulates tend to be easier to work with than the natural products they mimic. When one of QualiTech’s customers wanted to offer a raspberry cheesecake cookie, it found that when cooked, the fruit turned gray or black — not the most appealing visual for a consumer. QualiTech developed an inclusion based on natural raspberry powder that was consistent in color, look, feel and aroma before and after baking.

In most cases, bakers and snack producers need not make formulation changes to add inclusions. “We advise starting at 10% inclusion weight to the weight of the dough, then adjusting from there to desired flavor intensity and appearance,” Ms. Pogoreski said. The size and shape of the inclusion can also affect its appearance and flavor impact in the finished product. “We also advise the inclusions be added at the end of the mixing process,” she recommended.

Clasen recently launched a fat-based confectionery filling that is lower in saturated fat than a traditional confectionery coating and is soft at room temperature for easier handling. “It’s great for co-extruding in a bakery or snack food application,” Mr. Tietz said. “A key benefit with using confectionery coatings is that formulation is very versatile and can be modified to meet specific product needs. Confectionery coatings do not require the tempering and cooling parameters of chocolate.”

Whatever the application, it’s clear inclusion suppliers will continue to come up with new ways for their customers to generate that new knockout idea. “Innovation is driving a lot of the large companies right now,” Mr. Thomasson said. “We love that because for every idea they have, we can usually entertain some type of combo to fulfill it.”