Changes in the type and composition of particulates and inclusions inspire a new range of better-for-you snacks, according to Rudy Roesken, general manager and corporate vice-president, food division, QualiTech Co., Chaska, MN. In this exclusive Q&A, he also examines the benefits of inclusions made from superfruits like blueberries, mangos and guava. There’s also news about nutrition-packed nuts and even an allergen-free nut substitute that replaces peanuts.

Baking & Snack: What are the new product trends in the cracker category and what particulates are bakers adding to leverage these trends?

Rudy Roesken: One of the hot snacking trends for 2011 will be better-for-you snacks that are part cracker and part chip. Recently, companies have been redesigning and creating new products that reflect consumer demand for healthier, nutritious snacks. This reorientation has provided consumers with baked salty snacks, trans fat-free snacks, multigrain chips and fruit and vegetable crisps.

What are the latest inclusions for bakery and snack food applications your company has introduced?

Our customers are always hungry for more — more flavor, more color, and a more intense eating experience in a non-traditional format. We are constantly looking at new concepts and developments — not just in the snack food and bakery industry, but in the food business overall. Customers are more concerned about the quality of the foods they are eating and the ingredients that are included in them. Of course let’s not forget the pure and natural aspects of food ingredients and the emphasis and customization QualiTech provides to your product development capabilities.

QualiTech Food Ingredients offers standard or customized particulate inclusions to add flavor, function, texture, mouthfeel and visual appeal in everything from bakery to beverages. A major category they serve is providing a delivery system like super fruits including blueberries. These are popular inclusions that work well for muffins, bagels, waffles and many other baked goods. QualiTech is also serving the trend of working with more exotic fruits like tart cherry, lemongrass, hibiscus, açai, pomegranate, mango and guava.

We can start with real fruit powder, boost the nutrition, enhance the color and make it exactly what the client expects. Inclusions and particulates provide a cost effective way to get super fruits not grown in the US into products that US consumers want.

These types of products are being used in breads, muffins, cakes, bagels, tortilla              chips, breading, biscuits, waffles, donuts, and cereal. We continue to discover new and novel applications for our products.

In the nut industry, protein and fiber are key nutrients typically highlighted in marketing literature. By using our product inclusions, a food developer may decrease the total fat and increase dietary fiber in their formulations making for a healthy product.

QualiTech’s Flav-R-Grain PBE inclusion is helping value added products that use peanuts. It is all natural, allergen-free and cost-effective. The 100% natural stabilized corn germ adds a nutty, whole-grain flavor to products. This product contains natural dietary fiber and can emulate fried/toasted applications. It can be a great product to help mask flavors. The Flav-R-Grain PBE can be used for breads, cookies, bars, cereals, baked goods and more or it can be blended with peanut flour to extend usage and offer cost savings.

Nuts add flavor, texture, nutrition and important fatty acids to products. Some new flavors are smoky, sweet-butter, citrus herb, jalapeño, etc. Inclusions provide a great alternative for tree nuts that mimic a peanut, walnut, or pecan. They taste great, look great and are allergen-free. The add fiber and important fatty acids, while decreasing total fat. Inclusions can also be all-natural, while being more cost-effective.

What sets them apart from previous particulates? What problems do they solve for bakers and snack food manufacturers?

A major company was trying to use real cheese topically on a bagel. The problem with using real cheese topically is that it burns during the baking process. They asked us to create an inclusion containing real cheese that could be baked on top.

QualiTech created a cheddar cheese inclusion with real cheese powder that was consistent in taste, color, look, feel and aroma when baked or fried. They don’t melt; they provide better nutrition, less sodium and fat. Plus they deliver rich cheese flavor into systems where real dairy products won’t work, like pretzels or breading, where the abusive oven and fryer temperatures would degrade cheese powders.

A major retail chain wanted to offer a raspberry cheesecake cookie. The problem with using raspberries is that when cooked, the fruit turned gray or black which wasn’t visually appealing to the customer.

QualiTech created a raspberry inclusion with real raspberry fruit powder that was consistent in color, look, feel and aroma. When cooked, it looked like pieces of raspberries. Another part of the solution is that these cookies are baked on site at each store. The inclusions and resulting batter is robust enough to withstand inconsistencies in oven temperature and baking methods. They are more tolerant and, as a result, more reliable and consistent.

How do you advise bakers work with these ingredients in their formulations? What special considerations should they take into account?

Many times the process starts with someone in a marketing capacity wanting a product that can claim a certain percentage of fruit content or nutritional value. As long as we know what the parameters are and how it will ultimately be used — whether in a dough or topping or blended with something else. After we go over their specifications, we work on samples and help our customers to create their final products. These customized pieces are now more consistent and easier to introduce into a mass-quantity baking process. That alone offers more flexibility for the end use.

What functions can particulates serve for bakers and snack manufacturers beyond addition of flavors, colors and textures? How can inclusions help deliver nutrition?

One of our more exciting capabilities is to develop inclusions and particulates that serve as a delivery system that can transport visual and textural appeal including fruits, jams, berries, brown sugar, syrups, and icing for unique ingredients like omega-3s, fiber, fruit content, nutraceuticals and proteins.

Omega-3 from fish oil has been very well received recently, as well as green tea, resveratrol and exotic fruits. Health and wellness continues to be an area of great interest with customers. Consumers are more concerned about the quality of the foods they are eating and the ingredients that are included in them. Frequently, we are addressing these concerns by using natural colors and flavors.

What’s the next frontier in particulates? What challenges still remain to be solved?

We're seeing a significant push and demand for the non-GMO product lines. The natural push, that ship already left. Most of our products are natural to some degree. I believe the health and wellness area is probably going to be one of the key focuses for us into the future. That contains a pretty broad category. If you look at the whole-grain initiative that's going on with General Mills and Post and Kellogg, that's not going away. That one is pretty much established. Is the next one going to be high fiber and other applications? I don't know.

What I do know, though, is with blueberries and raspberries, as that market fluctuates with the agricultural conditions out there, the price and the raw material fluctuates significantly. We have found a way to take a significant amount of risk away from the customers by utilizing our particular products because we pretty much have a guaranteed supply. We use a lot of real fruit; we use a lot of natural ingredients. The blueberry manufacturers, for example, should never feel as though we're trying to take away some of their business because quite honestly, we use a ton of blueberry powder. If you really look at the value chain for the blueberry growers, they actually make more money off of the dehydrated blueberry powder than they do the actual raw blueberries.