Trendy Fruits, Nuts, And Vegetables

From heirloom potatoes and tomatoes to near-superfruits cranberries and blueberries, consumers are nuts about nature’s health benefits.

By Mark Anthony, Ph.D., Technical Editor

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When anthocyanins made antioxidant news, the cranberry image changed forever. Decas now supplies 40-50 million lbs. of cranberries and cranberry products to consumers, retailers, food processors and other customers each year.

A similar transformation occurred with pomegranates when the word of its role in preventing plaque formation in cardiac vessels hit the airways. Pomegranates went from an exotic Middle Eastern fruit to a trendy juice. An early advocate, Pom Wonderful LLC (www.pomwonderful.com), Los Angeles, is now the largest grower of pomegranates in the U.S.

Research presented at the 37th annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in November of 2007 suggests the addition of both walnuts and blueberries to the diet might reduce the loss of cognitive brain function that occurs with disease and aging. The study on blueberries, conducted by researchers at the University of South Florida and the UDSA Human Nutrition Lab at Tufts University in Boston, found supplementing the diet of aged rats with 2 percent blueberry extract for eight weeks resulted in maintenance of neuronal connections that are associated with younger brain circuitry. Two percent blueberry extract is the equivalent of adding about a half-cup of blueberries to a person’s daily diet.

U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (www.blueberry.org), Folsom, Calif., maintains an extensive list of foodservice recipes and industrial applications for blueberries, from smoothies to sausages, and wines to teas. The Oregon Raspberry and Blackberry Commission (www.oregon-berries.com), Corvallis, Ore. supplies detailed guides on the selection and use of not only raspberries and blackberries, but also of marionberries, boysenberries, and loganberries, all with similar properties to blueberries.

Americans aren’t rushing in hordes to the produce isle just yet. Healthy trends in the use of fruits and vegetables, super or not, are inseparable from the application. “Consumers are increasingly demanding healthy beverages in convenient, easy-to-use formats,” says Zammer. In response, FutureCeuticals and other ingredient manufacturers now find it necessary to develop high-tech nutraceutical beverage formulations.

“Consumers [want to] derive the benefits from fruits, vegetables and grains in handy snacks that don’t require refrigeration or clean up,” she says. As a result, applications also are being developed in breakfast cereals, bars, confection-type products and snacks (including recently introduced fruit- and vegetable-fortified chips).

'You coulda had a vegetable’

The dark fruit and berry craze is invading some unexpected places. The attraction to V-8 juices always has been that nine out of 10 Americans don’t meet the recommended daily intake for vegetables and fruit. “I coulda had a V-8,” reminded consumers there was an easy, convenient, and painless way to get healthy vegetables into the diet.

Campbell Soup Co.’s new V8 V-Fusion line (www.v8juice.com) Camden, N.J., is aimed at consumers who don’t need to know they are drinking vegetables, but who do want to take advantage of the health benefits of superfuits. Pomegranate Blueberry flavor recently was joined by Acai Mixed Berry. Most consumers don’t notice they are also drinking sweet potatoes and purple carrots in their blast of berry.

Just as the trends have followed function in fruits, the same is true of vegetables. “Vegetables that can be shown to activate Phase II Enzymes are gaining in popularity in nutraceutical research and in the marketplace,” says Zammer. Phase II Enzyme-inducing vegetables, which have potential to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, include the well-known cruciferous family: broccoli, cabbages and cauliflower.

In addition to colorful potatoes, Schueller sees trendy gourmet vegetable items like mini sweet peppers, purple baby artichokes and mixed baby heirloom tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes are a throwback to the era when farmers markets carried dozens of varieties of tomatoes. They were juicy, rich in real tomato flavor and nutritionally superior to many modern varieties.

Lycopene, the natural carotinoid antioxidant associated with prostate health, is found primarily in tomatoes and tomato products. In fact, a derivative of one of the heirloom tomatoes called the tangerine tomato is the richest source of the cis isomer of lycopene, which tends to increase lycopene concentration in blood.

V8’s Vegetable Juice and new High Fiber version contains about four times the amount of lycopene found in a medium-sized red tomato. As yet there is no tangerine tomato sauce.

Nuts about antioxidants

Research presented at the Society for Neuroscience in November of 2007 indicated the protective effect of walnuts on aging rat brains was partly due to the alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) content, the shorter chain omega-3 fatty acids characteristic of plants. Often overlooked is that walnuts are also a rich source of omega-6, the first described family of essential fatty acid. And while there is no short supply of omega-6 in the modern diet, many of the richest sources are also loaded with trans fatty acids.
“The good fat in walnuts [omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids] causes them to oxidize more quickly than other types of tree nuts so, you often will not see walnuts in items that require a shelf life longer than 12 months,” says Michelle McNeil, marketing director of the California Walnut Board & Commission (www.walnuts.org), Folsom, Calif.

Walnuts contain a variety of other compounds that may contribute to their overall antioxidant activity, including melatonin, ellagic acid, gamma-tocopherol, carotenoids, and polyphenolic compounds.

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