Botanicals Increasingly Interesting to Food Industry

Botanicals -- nutraceutical ingredients from herbs, seeds, and fruits -- are increasingly interesting to the food industry serving health-conscious consumers demanding “nutritive-value added” food items.

By Mark Anthony, Ph.D.

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Mangosteen, a tropical evergreen native to Southeast Asia where its fruit is used to treat skin infections, wounds, and gastrointestinal problems, has a thick, anthocyanin-rich purple-brown hull covering its tangerine-sized fruit.

"The mangosteen, the 'Queen of Fruits,' revered for centuries for its nutritional attributes, is nature's most concentrated source of xanthones," says Aaron Garrity, president of Xango LLC, Lehi, Utah. Research suggests xanthones may act as antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agents. "The global sales surge of mangosteen products has sparked a rush as many companies race to manufacture and distribute products designed to capitalize on the category's popularity," continues Garrity.

Açai's sudden explosion on the superfruit scene has been well reported here. The Brazilian berry is a potent package of anthocyanins, omega fatty acids and other helpful compounds -- some still being identified. Researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany found the antioxidant capacities of purple açai to be an excellent defense against three different types of dangerous oxygen radicals when compared to other common European fruit and vegetable juices.

Anthocyanins provide antioxidant power to a variety of natural foods with a red hue, for example red cabbage, berries, plums, and apples. But anthocyanins are more than just natural antioxidants. They are also powerful anti-inflammatory agents that act like the drug ibuprofen, but without side effects. Açai is one of the richest natural sources of these dual-protection compounds.

Goji and Beyond

The Chinese wolfberry, known by its more popular and mysterious-sounding name, Tibetan goji berry, is the fruit of a species of boxthorns, related to the nightshade family of plants that include potato, tomato, eggplant and chili peppers. The multi-seeded berries, like most richly colored berries, are both nutritious and protective foods. A staple item in traditional Chinese medicine, they are said to enhance the immune system, protect the liver, improve circulation and aid vision among other effects.

The vision thing is more than folklore. Goji is one of the richest natural sources of zeaxanthin, a carotenoid in the family of beta-carotene. Carotenoids are pigments that act as antioxidants, protecting against cancer and other diseases. But zeaxanthin, unlike other carotenoids, is concentrates in the macula of the eye, where it helps to protect the aging eye against macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness.

These are but a few of the beneficial "back yard" botanicals growing in popularity of late. There are many herbs, berries, fruits and roots with their own unique properties looming on the healthy ingredient horizon. Best of all, with the current harvest of exotic fruits and berries having "broken the ice," processors will find eager acceptance for the next crop of new and healthy nutraceuticals to enter the limelight.

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