The trendy spud?
For decades, the most popular American vegetable has been the potato, and its most popular application has been the french fry. Although association with fast food has damaged its image as a healthy carbohydrate, the misunderstood spud also found itself involved in a much more important trend.
Ever heard of the Baby Dutch Yellow? How about the Ruby Gold? Those varieties of potatoes are among the trends to watch in the coming year, according to Robert Schueller, director of public relations at Melissa’s/World Variety Produce Inc. (www.melissas.com), Los Angeles. It turns out colorful specialty potatoes are rich in anthocyanins, the potent polyphenols that first drew attention to red wine and then to colorful berries as protective foods for cardiovascular health.
If you can identify their variety, even the simple spud can become trendy.
The May 2007 issue of Carcinogenesis carries the article “Anthocyanin fraction from potato extracts is cytotoxic to prostate cancer cells through activation of caspase-dependent and caspase-independent pathways.” It says extracts from specialty potatoes killed specific cancer cells in vitro by a previously undescribed mechanism. While there is little reason to believe this article noticeably altered potato consumption, it is a further demonstration of one of the most persistent trends in fruit or vegetable consumption: Rich, bright color is hot.
Of all the mixed messages one may glean from the nutrition headlines, this colorful and highly palatable one seems to have resonated, converting both common and obscure foods along with their applications into “trendy” items.
Consider the composition of AnthoComplete, a new anthocyanin-rich nutritional blend ingredient created by FutureCeuticals Inc., (www.futureceuticals.com), Momence, Ill., a division of Van Drunen Farms. AnthoComplete is a proprietary blend that includes anthocyanins from wild bilberry, blueberry, acai, blackcurrant, sweet cherry, raspberry, elderberry, blackberry, black soybean hull and blue corn. Though seasonally popular, none of these foods was trendy until the antioxidant wave hit the shores.
Blueberries’ high score on the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) scale boosted their popularity.
“Blueberries aren’t new, but the technology behind developing a proprietary blueberry extract and measuring its biological impact on conditions such as inflammation and elevated cholesterol has helped to drive its popularity,” says Colleen Zammer, sales director for FutureCeuticals. Anthocyanins have turned many humble fruits into “superfruits.”
Rise of the superfruits
“Superfruits have seen strong popularity growth recently due to their high antioxidant levels and, for some, their exotic nature,” Zammer continues. A few of the more exotic superfruits include acai, camu camu, whole coffee fruit and goji berry. “Now, blends of superfruits are seeing growth as companies look for ways to differentiate their finished products.”
And just as healthy foods vary in nutrient levels, they also have different antioxidant profiles, each providing a set of unique anthocyanins. A broad range of anthocyanins would normally be obtained from a healthy diet. “Combining traditional berries with more exotic superfruits allows a manufacturer to optimize health benefits while maintaining a proprietary edge that is less easily copied,” adds Zammer.
While their health message isn’t widely known, tart cherries have the most anthocyanins 1 and 2, and are finding their way into more applications.
Research conducted at Michigan State University found tart cherries, the ones we stuff into cherry pies, contain the highest concentrations of anthocyanins 1 and 2. These unique anthocyanins act like popular pain medication, hindering the ability of the Cox I and II enzymes to convert arachidonic acid to inflammatory prostaglandins, which may explain why some people find tart cherries ease the pain of arthritis and gout.
In addition, tart cherries are among nature’s richest sources of natural melatonin, a chemical produced also in the pineal gland of vertebrate animals.
Melatonin acts both as a protective antioxidant and a sleep aid, helping to regulate circadian rhythms.
Tart cherries are now making regular appearances in juices, jams, and raw food bars.
For example, a popular flavor in the Lara Bars lineup (by Denver-based Humm Foods Inc., www.larabar.com), a raw food combination of dates, nuts, and tart cherries, is appropriately named cherry pie. The Cherry Marketing Institute (www.choosecherries.com), Lansing, Mich., is promoting tart cherries as a “superfruit” with vast potential outside of the pie.
Anthocyanins and related phytochemicals have sent many foods through an image transformation. Decas Cranberry Products (www.decascranberry.com), Carver, Mass., has been supplying cranberries for decades, back when we only thought of them around Thanksgiving. Their image began to change when some doctors started recommending cranberry juice for urinary tract infections.