However, one processor we talked to voiced concerns over the use of high-fructose corn syrup as the "sugar" medium in infused fruit. This also could create problems for organic certification. Many drum-dried fruits also require a carrier, which can raise concerns for label-conscious consumers, adds Dorn.
Almost every variety of dried fruit from cranberries to raisins is high in fiber. Depending on the fruit's color and chemical makeup, each type of dried fruit has something unique to offer nutritionally. Vitamins A and C are abundant in many dried fruits, but more than fiber or vitamins, it's the antioxidants and phytochemicals found in dried fruits that are making them praiseworthy additions to products.
Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) is a method of measuring antioxidant capacities of different foods. It was developed at the National Institute on Aging. Fruits, especially berries, score high on the chart, with prunes at the very top with a score of 5,770, raisins next at 2,830 and blueberries and blackberries in third and fourth places, both scoring above 2,000 (for a complete ORAC chart, see www.FoodProcessing.com and type "ORAC" into the search bar).
Dried tart cherries, which proponents claim to be one of the new "superfruits," pack a large dose of antioxidants called anthocyanins, which possess antiaging, anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties. They are present in large quantities even after the fruit is dried, negating the argument these compounds are lost after processing.
Cranberries, well known for their role in preventing urinary tract infections, contain proanthocyanins, compounds that exhibit anti-adhesion properties preventing bacteria from adhering to the cell walls of the urinary tract.
Blueberries also boast a stellar nutrition and antioxidant profile with beneficial effects on eyesight, memory and other aspects of aging, according to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.
Raisins were the first dried fruit ingredients to be added to cereals. Today, granolas and bran flakes with raisins still line the shelves left and right. "Raisins and prunes are the leaders in the overall dried fruit industry in terms of growth," says Robert Schueller, spokesperson for Melissa's/World Variety Produce (www.melissas.com), Los Angeles. "The processors we sell to are most interested in our dried cranberries and blueberries."
Air-dried cranberries, cherries and apricots do well in granolas and trail mixes. Freeze-dried strawberries, blueberries and bananas are good choices in flaked cereal. Dried blueberries are best suited for thick, heavy batters where fresh or frozen berries may be ruptured.
At Kashi Co., now a part of Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co., new Mountain Medley Granola offers sun-dried cranberries and raisins with a pinch of coconut. Two cold cereals stand out in terms of freeze-dried fruit ingredients. Heart to Heart Oat Flakes and Wild Blueberry Clusters were created as a result of consumer attitude surveys. Kashi formulators found Heart to Heart consumers like to top their cereals with fresh blueberries. Meanwhile, organic freeze-dried strawberries are the feature in Kashi's Organic Promise Strawberry Fields cereal.
Dried fruit boasts fiber, vitamins and antioxidants and are part of a healthy diet. Eating dried fruit can be a healthy substitute for sweet desserts or unhealthy snack food products. As an ingredient or stand-alone product, dried fruit can provide nutrition, flavor and satisfaction.
Dried cranberries and blueberries are choice ingredients of VitaTops VitaMuffins from Vitalicious Inc. (www.vitalicious.com), New York. "In developing our first product, we incurred problems using frozen cranberries. We experienced too much water, the muffins were mushy, so we switched to dried," says Aryeh Hecht, president and founder. "You have to take the moisture of the fruit, whether it's fresh, frozen or dried, into consideration when adding fruit to the product."
Minneapolis-based General Mills (www.generalmills.com) is promoting its new dried fruit snack as an easy way to get kids to eat fruit. Fruit Ripples snacks are made from dried apples and contain the nutritional equivalent of one serving of fruit. "We've heard from both parents and kids they really enjoy the fun, ripple shape and crunch of Fruit Ripples snacks," says Sonal Gerten, Fruit Ripples marketing.
Another option in the snack category is Crispy Fruit from Crispy Green, premium freeze-dried fruit packs with 40 or less calories per serving. They come in four varieties: apple, apricot, peach and pineapple. Portability and long shelf-life are two key selling points of Crispy Green snacks.
Cranberries are the star of the show in Ocean Spray's Craisins trail mix. They offer two varieties, one with mixed fruit and nuts and another with chocolate.
Pure Bar (www.thepurebar.com), Holland, Mich., makes raw fruit and nut bars using dried tart cherries, blueberries, raisins, apples and cranberries. "We use minimal processing -- as soon as we can get dried fruit into the bar to maintain the nutrient content, the better," says Veronica Bosgraaf, president and founder. "We don't subject our bars to heat, they are cold-pressed."
Pure Bar also doesn't use fruits that are dried with added sugars. It's more expensive to source dried fruit with no sugars, but according to Bosgraaf the results are worth it.
Vitalicious also uses all-natural, juice-infused, dried fruits in its products. "We try to work with as natural of a product as possible, even though all-natural dried fruit with no added sugar is three to six times more expensive than frozen fruit," says Hecht.
Two makers of bagged salad have gone gourmet with dried fruit additions. Cincinnati-based Fresh Express offers Complete Salad Kits in several varieties, including an Asian style boasting dried cranberries. ReadyPac, Irwindale, Calif., offers a Parisian Complete Salad kit with dried cranberries and a New Asian Complete Salad Kit with dried sweet pineapple.
Dried fruit has held its place as a value-added ingredient for many years, especially in cereal products. A recent surge of healthy dried fruit snacks is evidence processors and marketers know consumers are looking for convenient ways of getting more servings of fruit in their diets. As long as consumers aren't meeting national guidelines for fruit and vegetable consumption and as drying technology evolves, the sky's the limit in terms of opportunities for new dried fruit formulations.