Berries On Their Way to Becoming Top Healthful Ingredient

Berries have bounced their way into cereals, energy bars and beverages. Check out how far they've come when it comes to being a favorite healthful ingredient.

By David Feder, R.D., Editor

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In North America, blueberries in beverages are suddenly such a popular notion that a number of new products boast the little blue wonders. For example, Izze Beverage Co. (www.izze.com), Boulder, Colo., extended its product line of pure fruit juice sodas with blueberry last year. At the same time, Leading Brands (www.lbix.com), Vancouver, B.C., released TrueBlue blueberry juice cocktail.

TrueBlue was such a success the company followed immediately with combinations such as blueberry-cranberry, blueberry-green tea and blueberry-pomegranate. Other juice companies, large and small, are going for the berry blends, too.

Island Juice Company (www.islandjuice.com), Medford, Ore., produces a line of berry blend juice beverages and berry juice behemoth Ocean Spray recently introduced its newest juice cocktail, Organic Cranberry-Blueberry, for a double-shot of health. Cranberries, associated with decreased incidence, duration and severity of urinary tract infections, are also among berries with high concentrations of antioxidants and other phytochemicals.

Even hot beverages are taking the blueberry option. Inko's Blueberry White Tea, by Inko's LLC, Englewood, N.J., and Cincinnati-based Arizona Beverage Co.'s Blueberry Green Tea are two examples.

Making Berries Work

Although the beneficial effects of berries can be impacted by some processing techniques — for example, heat — frozen and fresh berries are fairly equal in nutritive value. Some processing methods, however, can preserve and even concentrate nutritional compounds.

"Freeze-dried strawberries —used in the popular recent berry cereals such as Kellogg Co. Special K Red Berries cereal — preserves many more of the phytochemicals," notes Chris Christian, director of nutrition and category development for the Strawberry Commission. "Berries add a lot of color and a nice nutritional punch. Also, berries are complementary allowing you to blend them and come up with good strong flavor combinations."

Also, a number of ingredient companies seeking nonsynthetic options for colors and flavors are turning to berry concentrates and extracts. The health benefit is a welcome value-added aspect to using natural berry components in formulations.

Funky popcorn aside, we can expect to have an ever-broadening number of options for versatile, naturally low-sugar berry as more and more food manufacturers take advantage of these colorful little nuggets of nutrition.

Keeping Currant with Berries

A new berry in the U.S. market could bring a boost to our berry-healthy diets. The black currant (at right), illegal to grow here until only recently, is a virtually unknown fruit in America (although extremely popular in Europe). Greg Quinn, president of the Currant Co. (www.currantc.com), Staatsburg, N.Y., overturned the century-old ban on the commercial cultivation of currants in 2003 after disproving the 1911 science claiming that a microbe natural to currants would decimate white pine trees. According to Quinn, the tiny, dark-purple berry is loaded with healthful antioxidants — more concentrated than the blueberry — and has three times the vitamin C found in oranges.

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