Botanicals — the fancy name for plant extracts — have long been used in topical skin and hair care products for their conditioning and rejuvenating properties. In recent years, with health- and wellness-seeking consumers turning to everyday foods and beverages for positive body enhancements, botanicals are making their way into some of the least suspecting applications, including baked grain-based products.

“Botanicals are the new wave in the healthy food and beverage movement,” said Joe Raimondo, president and principal, Artiste, Waldwick, NJ. “In addition to their ‘good for you’ appeal, using them in nontraditional ways adds an exciting freshness to the product.”

Flavor function

Although not legally defined, botanicals are considered by general consensus to be plant extracts with benefits, sometimes with aroma, flavor or color attributes. The term plant extracts suggests that the ingredient is a concentrate coming from within the plant, not a specific part the plant itself such as leaves or stems. The latter would be better characterized as an herb or spice, appearing as identifiable pieces of the plant and possessing intense flavor.

Many gray areas affect extracts that qualify as botanicals. For the most part, floral aromas are what consumers understand to be botanicals because they associate botanicals with the scent of a lotion, shampoo or even a candle. But, as mentioned, botanicals can be much more.

“Previously, marketing of botanicals as a primary flavor contributor was somewhat niche,” said Heather Biehl, manager, healthy ingredient technology solutions, Wild Flavors, Inc., Erlanger, KY. “Consumers want products that make them feel good while they maintain a healthier lifestyle. This is where botanical flavors can contribute excellent and unique taste benefits with a halo of healthy attributes.”

Botanicals, while both functional and flavorful, contribute to various health platforms, such as energy and eye health. “We offer the baked goods industry a number of botanical products, each with its own health benefit and unique flavor,” Ms. Biehl noted. “Further, depending upon the application, we have the capability to create flavors that mask the bitter notes that come from some botanicals, creating a product that is clean-tasting and beneficial.”

In general, botanicals can be added to fillings, icings or fondant, as well as directly to the dough
before baking, explained Marlene Smothers, associate director, sweet applications, Wild Flavors. “Where they are added depends on their stability and their use rate,” she said.

As food ingredients, botanicals can provide vim, vigor and vitality in the form of aroma, flavor, health promotion and extended product shelf life. In some instances, their addition is apparent to the consumer, as in the case of Lemon-Lavender Shortbread manufactured by McTavish Shortbread Inc., Portland, OR, where lavender is a characterizing flavor. In other instances, a flavorless ingredient adds behind-the-scenes functionality. Stacy’s Pita Chip Co., owned by Frito-Lay North America, Inc. and based in Randolph, MA, exemplifies this by using rosemary extract as an antioxidant in its baked pita chips.

These two applications show the benefits botanicals can bring to baked foods. With the cookie, the lavender not only contributes flavor, but its addition suggests that when consumed, the cookie may have a calming effect because lavender is associated with relaxation. Although the benefits of rosemary extract in the pita chips are invisible to the consumer, the manufacturer knows that it helps maintain chip quality through shelf life by reducing lipid oxidation.

Providing health benefits

Many botanicals have a health benefit associated with them; however, few marketers will actually make those claims. Fortunately, many consumers are knowledgeable about botanicals, and the use of the term in the product descriptor suggests a benefit.

Plant extracts derived from common fruits and vegetables are typically concentrated sources of beneficial components. For example, “When it comes to eye health, we offer a vegetable extract blend that is rich in beta-carotene and other beneficial ingredients,” Ms. Smothers said. “It works great in carrot cake and various muffins.”

P.L. Thomas, Morristown, NJ, extracted active components from saffron that induce a feeling of satiation, said Rodger Jonas, director, national sales, P.L. Thomas. “This product not only creates satiety but helps avoid snacking and compulsive eating behaviors” he explained.

Currently an extract from the prickly pear  (Opuntia ficus indica) is under review by FDA to be generally recognized as safe (GRAS). Prickly pear extract possesses a slightly sweet flavor and is recognized as an antioxidant and diuretic.

Looking behind the scenes

Not all botanicals deliver benefits solely through being eaten. Bakers have found a number of
antioxidant-rich botanicals can assist with maintaining product quality through shelf life.

“Baked grain-based products that contain even a small amount of fat are subject to oxidative processes that limit shelf life and negatively impact quality,” said Herb Weitmann, product manager, Frutarom USA,
North Bergen, NJ. “Saturated and trans fatty acids are much more stable against oxidation, but most bakers shy away from these fats because of their negative impact on health. As a result, many bakers today work with fats that are susceptible to oxidation and rely on antioxidants to prevent deterioration.”

Frutarom markets patented plant extracts derived from the edible herbs oregano (Origanum vulgare) and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). “These heat-stable GRAS ingredients are rich in plant phenolics and rosmarinic acid, active natural compounds that are powerful free-radical scavengers and have been shown to contain significant health benefits as anti-allergic and anti-microbial agents,” Mr. Weitmann said. The ingredient comes in water- and oil-soluble formats in regular and organic styles and has been shown to protect against oxidative rancidity and nutritional deterioration.

“Because of their neutral taste and low dosage, they can be used in delicate applications such as sweet or neutral bakery goods and snacks,” he added. “There’s a version that can be added directly to the dough prior to baking and another oil-dispersible version that provides extra protection in oil sprays to adhere
topical seasonings.”

Rosemary extract is an efficient antioxidant in bakery products, especially in combination with vitamin-based antioxidants such as mixed tocopherols, noted Brett Thompson, regional manager-protective anti­microbials and antioxidants, Danisco, New Century, KS.

Such ingredients should be dissolved in the fat blend after deodorization and before being made into shortening. “This ensures good distribution of the antioxidant and good fat protection,” Mr. Thompson said.

Suppliers offer rosemary extracts that release the flavor and aroma characteristics of the herb, which can have a positive impact on the finished product flavor, as in savory crackers. Some extracts are virtually flavorless.

“The new generation of rosemary extracts does not add any flavor unless it is a desired trait,” Mr. Jonas said. “The extract not only slows oxidation of added fats and oils, but it also helps prevent oily seeds such as flax from going rancid. Adding seeds to crackers and artisan breads is becoming more common and more challenging to product shelf life. Rosemary extract can really help out.”

Bakers cannot afford to ignore multifunctional ingredients like botanicals. They naturally add value that appeals to today’s discriminating consumer.