Adding fruit to baked goods, in particular sweet treats, provides permission to indulge. The healthful aura of fruit transfers to the finished product, giving it an edge in a very competitive category.

“We are all about great flavor, so we do a lot of mixing and matching of fruit forms to achieve that perfect taste,” said Sarah Forrer, co-owner, Main Street Cupcakes, Hudson, OH.

This three-unit bakery offers more than 350 flavors, with fruit prominently featured in most. The cupcake entrepreneur ships its collections nationwide via an online store. It participates with the Home Shopping Network and also sells through a leading national home specialty store. It was a 2013 finalist in the Northeast Ohio division of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award program that honors fast-growing businesses.

Fitting new formats

Fruit flavors, toppings and fillings satisfy current consumer wants and desires quite nicely. “Health-and-wellness has been the biggest megatrend in the baked goods industry in recent years,” said Korhan Beba, ­director of marketing, Taura Natural Ingredients North America, Winchester, VA. “Fruit ingredients provide a colorful, tasty and attractive way to tap into this trend and create a ‘health halo’ around products.”

Cupcakes are just one of the many bakery categories that benefit from fruit additions. They show up in a wide range of applications. “There is a great deal of opportunity for bakers to incorporate and market fruit ingredients in baked goods,” said Jeannie Swedberg, director of business development, Tree Top, Inc., Selah, WA. “On-the-go formats are particularly well poised to offer consumers more convenient options to get their daily fruit intake.”

Recent years have seen a number of new product styles enter the marketplace, keeping consumers curious and giving them more choices. New formats blur the boundaries with other food segments. For example, is a fruit-filled, yogurt-coated bar a confection or a bakery product? Alternative formats present more distribution and merchandising options, which helps grow sales.

“Miniature and bite-sized formats are increasingly popular because such smaller portions make it possible to have a delicious treat and not feel guilty,” Ms. Swedberg said. “And when fruit is part of the treat, consumers feel even better about their choice. 

“Many bakers are starting heath initiatives designed to encourage consumers to eat more fruits and vegetables by clearly marketing their inclusion, even detailing serving amounts,” she added. “There is a great deal of opportunity for more growth in this area.”

Before a baker starts adding fruit ingredients to a recipe, there are a number of questions that should be answered. Most notably, what fruit flavors should characterize the baked item being formulated?

What’s your pick?

Perennial fruit favorites in the baking category include apple, banana, blueberry, cherry, cranberry, key lime, lemon, raspberry and strawberry. But that’s changing, according to Denise Radke, marketing manager, QualiTech, Inc., Chaska, MN. “We are getting more requests for exotic fruits, such acai, guava, mango, passion fruit and pomegranate,” she said. “Bakers are even exploring fruits such as jackfruit and guanabana in efforts to appeal to consumers seeking variety and new culinary experiences.” This behavior is particularly true for millennials, self-proclaimed foodies and loyal cooking show viewers.

Given today’s high interest in health-and-wellness foods, it’s not surprising that many of those exotic fruits fit the definition of “superfoods.” Taking their benefits to broader shopper categories can involve combining the familiar with the exotic, explained Tom Payne, industry consultant for the US Highbush Blueberry Council, San Mateo, CA.

“We are seeing blueberries being combined with ­exotic fruits such as acai, camu-camu, dragon berries, guava, pomegranate and others, obviously contending for the killer antioxidant award,” he said. “Consumers equate blueberries with antioxidant power and readily accept them as an ingredient in almost any product. In a sense, their inclusion validates a product that contains exotic ingredients, making it less scary. Because blueberries are homey and familiar, they help make these unfamiliar ingredients less intimidating.”

Then there’s the note of difference that certain fruits bring to bakery applications. “We’ve learned that some citrus notes add a refreshing flavor punch to everything, especially when paired with creamy dairy flavors,” Ms. Radke observed. “Adding clementine orange, for example, to cake crumb or frosting can elevate the ordinary to the exceptional.”

Exotic and citrus fruits are both growing trends in baked goods, according to Leigh Milander, vice-­president of marketing, Gray & Co., Portland, OR, the world’s largest maraschino cherry manufacturer. “Another trend is combining fruits with nuts and seeds, with almonds, chia, flax and pistachios as some of the more common partners,” she added.

Seasonality provides another formulating cue, according to Ms. Forrer. “We often work with what’s in season because the flavors really pack a better punch. But we don’t shy away from anything. If a customer requests a combination, we try to design around their requests.

“That’s where flavors such as Pineapple Upside Down Cupcake and Kiwi Berry came from,” Ms. Forrer noted. “Pineapple is so delicious in cake and adds a wonderful sweet punch. It’s easy to fold into cake batter, and it bakes up perfectly. We matched the pineapple with a cherry buttercream frosting.”

Kiwi Berry, however, was something a little harder to pull off, according to Ms. Forrer. This example proves the need to consider the available forms of the fruit and whether piece identity is important. The most common forms are dried, fresh, frozen, juice, paste and puree, as well as fruits already in a filling, jam-like format. Questions to answer are if the fruit ingredient should resemble the whole fruit, such as a whole ­blueberry, or is a powder or puree acceptable? Can the fruit be enhanced with colors, flavors or even preservatives?

“We wanted to use kiwi because it’s a favorite fruit for us in its fresh form, but it’s truly much too delicate to work with when fresh,” Ms. Forrer observed. “It also loses flavor when you bake with it, and if you use it as a garnish, it is not very shelf stable. We found that pureeing it is not an option either because of all the seeds. Luckily, we identified a source of an outstanding kiwi filling that we simply add after baking. We hollow out the center of a cupcake and fill it.” The cupcake remains open-face style and is garnished with a wreath of strawberry buttercream frosting.

The grain-fruit connection

Consumers are increasingly intrigued by baked foods containing ancient grains. “This is a case of what’s old is new again, especially since these grains fit right into our current quest for healthful, wholesome ingredients,” Mr. Payne said. “In addition to their high nutritional quotient, these grains have intriguing backgrounds and histories.” They are also very fruit-friendly because many ancient grains provide robust flavor and texture. Fruit can help mellow and round out these attributes.

“Blueberries, for example, are synergistic with oats, amaranth, buckwheat, chia, millet, quinoa, sorghum, teff, Kamut, farro, spelt and more,” Mr. Payne said. “They are also very compatible with nuts and seeds.”

Shelf life considerations

Industrial bakery operations have many more ­ingredient-selection considerations than the fresh bakery where product turnover is usually a few days. “It is very important to determine the target moisture and texture of the baked good,” Ms. Swedberg said. You also need to determine how long that target moisture and texture must last. What is the desired shelf life and at what temperature?

“Significant technical obstacles have previously limited the use of fruit-based ingredients in many products with a long ambient shelf life, with applications such as biscuits, cookies, cereals and snacks being especially problematic,” Mr. Beba said. This is because introducing any additional moisture poses a threat to the texture and shelf life of the finished product.

Taura offers specialty fruit inclusions for products with an ambient shelf life of at least 12 months. The inclusions are made by a unique process that concentrates fruit purees and blends to less than 10% moisture in less than 60 seconds.

“However, it is not the absolute moisture content that decides whether ingredients can be used successfully in tricky applications,” Mr. Beba explained. “The crucial parameter is water activity, which is a measure of the ability of water to migrate from a given ingredient into the surrounding food matrix.

“Our technology allows us to tailor the water activity of fruit ingredients to match each application’s requirements,” he said. “The fruit ingredients maintain the taste, texture and natural goodness of fruit, but now they come in the form of pieces, flakes and pastes.”

Ensuring quality requires managing water activity of the ingredients used in long shelf life ambient baked goods. For example, in baked fruit-filled bars, cakes or cookies, the fruit paste must have the same water activity as the surrounding product to prevent moisture and color from leaching from the fruit to the crumb of the baked good.

Bakers should also consider the options of frozen or refrigerated distribution for their products. Frozen and chilled baked goods often benefit from a better-quality image compared with shelf-stable items, especially if the shelf-stable product has a long code date, as consumers start to wonder about chemical preservatives.

Because lower temperatures assist with maintaining product quality, chilled distribution channels present bakers with an opportunity to become more creative in their use of fruit varieties and forms. “To better compete with bakery products made in stores, frozen products should place greater emphasis on quality and gourmet,” Ms. Swedberg said. “Recent frozen innovations include specialty breads, including flatbreads, the use of ancient grains and the melding of sweet and savory ingredients.”

A good example is Minneapolis-based Target Corp.’s Archer Farms Chocolate & Strawberry Dessert Flatbread. This frozen product is a wood-fired baked flatbread topped with a sweet ricotta sauce, strawberry pieces, chocolate pieces and amaretto-flavored cookie crumbles.

Innovative uses of fruit

A number of fruit varieties now find new bakery a­pplications. For example, dried plums, the prune of yesteryear, have long been used in European-style pastries such as Danish and rugelach, as well as hearty whole grain breads. “Dried plums are quickly becoming the inspiration for countless new and interesting culinary applications in some of the world’s top bakeries,” explained Tom Leahy, spokesperson for Sunsweet Ingredients, Yuba City, CA.

“The ingredient is not only a cost-effective solution to add taste and texture to baked goods, but dried plums also reduce sugar, fat content and calories while adding fiber, making them ideal for healthier baking,” he said. “They also provide moisture retention that works wonders on hearty grains and gluten-free applications.”

In some applications, dried plums are used as a characterizing ingredient, while in others, use is more functional. For example, in fruity bread or scones, diced dried plums provide flavor, much like other dried fruits. “However, when used in something like a trail mix cookie, the diced dried plums enhance the flavors of chocolate and spice while giving the cookie a sweet, chewy texture,” Mr. Leahy said.

“The R&D team has had success with soaking diced dried plums in flavorful liquids, allowing the fruit to be the delivery vehicle for those flavors,” he observed. “For example, dried plums soaked in brewed tea provide an additional flavor dimension to classic Irish soda bread. Here, the tannins in the tea draw out the sweet molasses flavor in the prunes, creating a signature flavor.”

Maraschino cherries are also now being marketed as a creative way to add excitement to bakery items. “Maraschino cherries have always been popular in baked goods because of their unique color and flavor contributions,” Ms. Milander said. Recently, the company introduced a natural option. These new cherries are packed in vegetable juice, which naturally preserves their flavor and enhances their jewel-tone color.

“We encourage bakers to think beyond the traditional fruit garnish and to experiment with more creative applications,” Ms. Milander said. “For instance, try adding crushed maraschino cherries into a cream cheese frosting for a dramatic swirl of color and flavor.”

Improvement on the originals

Specialty fruit ingredients are often the most economical choice when factoring in the finished product’s shelf life and distribution path, especially when dealing with many exotic fruits that tend to be expensive and fragile. “Restructured fruit-based particulates allow consistent fruit color and flavor to be delivered in all components of baked goods, from the crumb and crust of breads and muffins, to the fillings and crusts of pies, or the crumb and frostings of cupcakes,” Ms. Radke said. “This contrasts with individually quick-frozen or unprocessed fruit pieces that can discolor when baked.”

QualiTech produces several forms of fruit particulates that incorporate fruit content or simply add fruit flavor to sensitive baked goods. “These bits can be formulated to be organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, kosher or halal,” Ms. Radke said. “They can even be designed to deliver specific degrees of melt so they mimic the texture and appearance of the whole fruit ingredient. Color bleed can be customized, too.”

Offered such a wide array of fruit types, styles and forms, bakers can pick and choose the ones that suit their applications best. In turn, these ingredients give character to an ever-growing assortment of baked foods, entering new categories such as bars and breads as well as enlivening traditional uses in sweets and pastries.

Fruits appeal to consumers on many levels. As Main Street Cupcakes’ Ms. Forrer pointed out, the inclusion of fruit in baked goods makes a quality-of-life treat feel a little more wholesome.