No question but consumers want more nutritional bang for their buck from foods than ever before. Fortification offers that punch, but most of the time, it means adding supplemental vitamins and minerals and putting a lot of “chemical sounding” words into the ingredient statement on the package.

What if there was a natural way to do fortification?

There is, and it employs ingredients derived from fruits and vegetables. Although they have long been used to add visual interest and flavor appeal, fruits and vegetables now come in forms that enable supplemental use. Sometimes their effects are invisible to the consumer, but they can always give health-and-wellness appeal to finished products.

Consider the problem of gluten-free foods. Leading nutritionists criticize their relatively low nutrient content and high calorie count. The problem is such foods can’t use enriched flour because wheat contains gluten. While adding enrichment separately could help, fruit and vegetable ingredients fit better with the sensibilities of chemophobic consumers.

“Although nothing replicates eating whole fruits and vegetables,” said Alison Raban, food technologist, BI Nutraceuticals, Long Beach, CA, “incorporating more fruit and vegetable ingredients into other foods exposes consumers to a wider variety of nutrients and expands their experiences.”

That extra natural value

It helps that consumers love the taste of fruits, said Kristen Girard, principal food scientist, Ocean Spray Ingredient Technology Group, Lakeville-Middleboro, MA. She explained how fruits bring both flavor and a healthy image to baked foods. “As consumers become more health-conscious, their expectations are increasing, and manufacturers need to expand their portfolio of products to meet demand,” she said.

Growing recognition of fruit’s phytonutrient components swells that healthy natural aura. Proponents tout the native stores of these healthful compounds in fruits. For example, J.M. Degen, principal, J.M. Degen & Co., Phoenix, AZ, who represents the California Dried Plum Board and Sunsweet Growers, identified bone health benefits for dried plums. “Of course, the other message is digestive health,” he said, “and dried plums have long been known for that.”

Fruits and vegetables contain many active compounds, collectively termed phytonutrients and often positioned as nutraceuticals. Science continues to identify more and more of these as significant to human health and well-being.

For example, cranberries are rich in polyphenols, which may confer anti-inflammatory properties, and their proanthocyanidins (PACs) are thought to provide anti-adhesion benefits. “A substantial bank of scientific research shows that cranberries can have a positive effect on whole-body health including urinary tract and cardiovascular health,” Ms. Girard said.

But antioxidant content contributes most strongly the image of fruit ingredients. “Antioxidants are still a big deal to consumers,” Mr. Degen claimed. “It’s what brings fruits to the party.”

After flavor and color, fiber is the component that usually prompts nutrient use of ingredients derived from vegetables. Beans, for example, contain both soluble and insoluble fiber plus resistant starch. These compounds slow digestion and prolong energy while providing a feeling of fullness or satiety, said Cheryl Borders, technical service, edible beans, ADM Research, Decatur, IL. “The complex carbohydrates in the beans also contribute to a low glycemic index, which results in a slower release of glucose following a meal and a more stable insulin response,” she added.

Vegetables are also typically low in calories, sodium and saturated fat and free of gluten — all important characteristics for products positioned for the health-and-wellness market.

“In bakery applications, we still have more work to do to see how beneficial attributes perform during processing,” said Don Giampetro, vice-president, innovation, ITI Tropicals, Inc., Lawrenceville, NJ. For example, coconut cream, which is high in medium-chain fatty acids, could be used as a non-animal fat source in baked foods and fillings. “We have even considered coconut flour in gluten-free applications, but again, this is in the very initial stages,” he noted.

Making claims for these ingredients can be “a touchy subject,” according to Mr. Giampetro. As an ingredient supplier, ITI Tropicals names the ingredients and their components, allowing the food manufacturer to decide how to market the finished product.

The only health claims permitted under Food and Drug Administration regulations cover fruits and vegetables in general, not their specific components; however, the food marketer can name the ingredients in content claims. Still, a claim that describes the level of antioxidant nutrients in a food can only be made for nutrients that have an established Reference Daily Intake value.

Breaking new ground

“More could be done in everyday foods,” said Gina Valentino, principal, HP Ingredients, Bradenton, FL. “The food industry should try harder to incorporate more nutraceutical ingredients in the food supply to help stem the obesity epidemic, high cholesterol, high blood glucose, inflammation and so forth.”

And more is actually being done. For example, Snikiddy, Inc., Boulder, CO, formulated its Eat Your Vegetables line of snacks with cooked ground navy beans. The snacks, made with ADM VegeFull navy beans, provide a full serving of vegetables in every ounce of product.

Mediterranean Snacks, Boonton, NJ, puts garbanzo beans into its new HummuZ crispz snack chips, described as lighter than a cracker but sturdier than a chip. They join the company’s other vegetable-based snacks, including Baked Lentil Chips and Veggie Medley Straws.

Sunsweet Plum Amazin bread can now be found on store shelves at Costco in California and the Pacific Northwest. Made under a license from Sunsweet Growers, Walnut Creek, CA, the bread contains diced dried plums and plum juice concentrate. “The bread is purple in color and really ‘pops’ on the store shelf,” Mr. Degen observed.

Use of dehydrated fruits and vegetables took off in the past 20 years, according to Carl De Vries, sales representative, Van Drunen Farms, Momence, IL. “It’s become a trend of its own as food companies want to increase the levels of fruits and vegetables in their products,” he said. Van Drunen Farms partners with customers on such applications and publishes a formulation guide that tells how much to add to achieve “one serving” equivalencies.

Quite a few baked foods and snacks take advantage of fruit and vegetable ingredients. Ms. Raban reported customers making crackers with vegetable powders (carrot, beet, spinach and kelp) and nutritional bars with fruit powders (acerola, cranberry, baobab and pomegranate).

More conventional are the dried figs used in fig bar cookies, drop cookies, granola bars, energy bars, sandwich breads, breakfast pastries and muffins cited by Jennifer Niadna, ingredient sales and marketing services manager, Valley Fig Growers, Fresno, CA.

Using your bean

Looking for a non-traditional way to add vegetables to foods? Consider the benefits of the bean — the cooked, dried, ground bean. While tortilla chips made with bean powders have been around a while, more foods are opening their formulations to these high-powered ingredients. Beans have advantages of being both non-allergenic and non-GMO. They also provide good sources of protein and fiber and are more nutrient-dense than typical grains and flours.

Applications for bean-based ingredients extend to extruded and sheeted snacks, dips and crackers, according to Ms. Borders. Usage rates for ADM VegeFull bean powders can be as much as 100% in extruded snacks and 50% in sheeted products. “Depending upon the formulation and application, it can be possible to provide a half to a full serving of vegetables,” she said.

In baked foods, such powdered bean ingredients can potentially substitute 1:1 for flour, but Ms. Borders recommended starting with 10 to 30% replacement rates. Water may be needed to adjust for the higher protein and fiber of the beans. “One approach may be to add the bean powder later in the process or creaming the bean powder with the fat component to coat the particles and slow water absorption,” she advised. “The bean grits have a larger particle size and hydrate slower than the powders.”

Lupins, also members of the legume family, are getting new attention thanks to development of sweet white lupin. Aram Karapetian, director of sales, Woodland Foods, Waukegan, IL, reported that Brian Larson, PhD, University of California-Davis presented lupin’s nutritional properties at this spring’s IFT Wellness Conference. “It’s an ingredient that’s already popular in Germany and is ready to use, right out of the field, without any processing other than milling,” he said.

White lupin boasts 10 g protein and 7 g fiber per 30-g serving, and it carries high levels of arginine, an amino acid linked to vascular health, brain function and blood flow. “Its unique nutritional story is very appealing to R&D at the larger food companies,” Mr. Karapetian observed.

Like beans, lupin is gluten-free with a light, pleasant flavor, having no “beany” notes. Available in dry ground form, it replaces flour at a rate of 22 to 33%, depending on the application. “Waffles fall in the higher range, bread in the lower and cookies about in the middle,” Mr. Karapetian said.

Sometimes, it’s just a matter of being able to write “contains vegetables” on the product label. For these needs, Wild Flavors developed the Vegeceuticals line of heat-stable flavor extracts, suitable for muffins, cookies and similar baked foods. “The focus for this line is specific ingredients, so we are careful about claims,” explained Jessica Jones-Dille, senior manager, industry trends, Wild Flavors, Erlanger, KY. “Overall, a ‘better for you’ product can be developed, but making specific claims is a gray area.”

Fruitful work

Fruits top the menu of natural fortifiers. Jeff Greaves, general manager, Food Ingredient Solutions, Teterboro, NJ, explained that fruit extracts help by cutting the amount of water that raw fruits would normally contribute — a concern when making low-moisture items such as cookies. Fruit extracts also allow formulators to “use lower levels of particular functional components such as anthocyanins, a natural antioxidant found in raspberries, elderberries, grapes, purple sweet potatoes, red cabbage, black carrots, etc.,” he said.

Dried fruits are another way around the water content problem posed when fresh fruits are used for their nutritional benefits. “Dried plums are high in potassium, as high as bananas, and high in fiber,” Mr. Degen said. “And although high in carbohydrates, they are low in simple sugars.”

Figs, too, are a great source of natural fiber as well as calcium and potassium, according to Ms. Niadna. “Dried fruits are an excellent way to add sweetness without adding sugar,” she added. “They work in both sweet and savory product applications.”

All dried fruits — the most popular being apricots, figs, plums and raisins — play well in bakery applications because they are easy to handle and use, and they come in a variety of moisture levels and sizes. “Dried fruits are good at delivering benefits that include flavor compatibility and moisture binding,” Mr. Degen said.

“Dried plum puree and powder are effective fat replacers, which bakers have known for years,” he said. “And because dried plums have a non-characterizing flavor, they extend other flavors. You can replace raspberry content with up to 20% dried plums and still not taste the plums.”

An added benefit is that dried plums allow the formulator to reduce sugar, fat, high-fructose corn syrup and flavor enhancers. “This simplifies the label and shortens the ingredient list,” Mr. Degen observed.

Many new fruits have joined the roster of formulating choices. Maqui berry, a small, purple-black South American fruit, is one of them. “Maqui possesses high levels of polyphenols and is highest in anthocyanins, especially delphinidin,” Ms. Valentino explained. These antioxidants are associated with healthy immune systems and cardiovascular health, and maqui is a natural COX-2 inhibitor, she noted. “It supports healthy blood sugar levels and offers possible thermogenic weight loss benefits.”

Quite a few tropical and exotic fruits carry such benefits as well. “Bananas are a good source of potassium,” Mr. Giampetro said. “Acerola has very high levels of vitamin C and, when incorporated into fruit fillings, would provide this important antioxidant plus good tart flavor and an orange-red color.” Guava brings pink color as well as vitamin C to cakes and tortillas, while mangosteen provides high levels of xanthones, another antioxidant.

The list extends even further to cover baobab from Africa, and green tea and ginseng from Asia, Ms. Raban noted.

Adding fruits and vegetables to baked foods and snacks for their health-and-wellness benefits is a new approach to formulating fortified products. It’s a method that capitalizes on the flavor and taste appeal already provided by such ingredients but also takes advantage of new findings about their phytonutrients.