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By Mark Anthony, Ph.D., Technical Editor | 06/30/2008
Simple packaging conveys Snacktrition’s simple message of health … along with a complex process that bakes in additional fiber and calcium, which “nurtures digestive and bone health.”
Consumers eventually learned that not all granolas were healthful. Bear Naked snacks kept health in focus, and endeared itself to athletes.
FutureCeuticals combines ancient grains amaranth, barley, buckwheat, durum, millet, chia, quinoa and spelt in a formulation-friendly powdered blend called AncienTrim, which can be used in bar formulations.
Many snacks are salty. Wild Flavors’ SaltTrim can reduce up to half the salt in a snack without affecting the taste.
Note to packaging
Snack food manufacturers are some of the most innovative packagers. All food processors can learn from their eye-grabbing graphics, convenient on-the-go structures, some of which are resealable, and smaller packages, many of which are sized to 100 calorie packs. If you missed our June packaging story Lessons from the snack packers
In 1971, Sally De Vore and Thelma White took readers on a trip through the dietary cultures of nine civilizations noted for their health. In a refreshing book titled Appetites of Man, the authors showed how a balanced diet of nutrient-rich foods played a significant role in the health and success of each civilization. And they did so without the usual dietary evangelism and extremism that characterizes today’s popular diet books.
De Vore and White compared the diets, both meals and snacks, of various civilizations with the “typical American” meals and snacks of the time. Though this was just prior to the fast food explosion, the American diet was viewed as rich in calories and low in nutrients, just the opposite of the healthy cultures featured in this fascinating out-of-print book.
In the healthy civilizations, snacks were an extension of a healthy diet. Nutrition wasn’t sacrificed simply because a snack was quickly prepared or easily transported. In the modern world, snacks all too often undermine a healthy diet and contribute to the growing epidemic of obesity. Taste and convenience so overwhelm nutrition that the real value of snacks is all but lost.
Only recently has the practice of eating healthy food several times per day to maintain energy and blood sugar been recognized as a legitimate dietary strategy, especially for athletes. But of course this is old news to healthy civilizations where snacking fills both a hunger and an energy gap.
The modern approach to snacking is changing, however, as progressive companies make an effort to lift snacking to its original status.
Redeeming the potato chip
While some of our snacks stem from ethnic traditions, others are relatively modern in origin. Potato chips were popularized when an exasperated chef, Charles Crumb of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., tired of fielding complaints of thick soggy fried potatoes from the same customer. Crumb sliced the potatoes too thin to be eaten with a fork and stir-fried them. “Saratoga Chips” were a surprise hit, and the popularity of potato chips would grow.
From a nutrition perspective, the low point of potato chips came when they were deep-fried in partially hydrogenated oil. Today, manufacturers have replaced the trans fat-rich hydrogenated oils with healthier selections. But the most innovative twists on potato chips are methods of preparation and formulation.
Popchips Inc. was formed in 2007 to bring to market a natural line of popped chips with half the fat of fried chips. “Thanks to the magic of popping, Popchips offers a snack so tasty and crispy that you won’t even notice it’s healthier,” says Keith Belling, cofounder of Popchips, San Francisco. “Popchips chips aren’t fried or baked. We take the finest all-natural ingredients, like potatoes, apply heat and pressure [no oil, mind you], and pop! It’s a chip. All that’s added is a flavorful blend of natural seasonings.” The popping process also is used to create popped corn and rice chips.
How about potato chips to lower cholesterol? Los Angeles-based Corazonas Foods Inc. adds CardioAid plant sterols from Archer Daniels Midland Co. Packages carry the FDA-certified health claim: “Foods containing at least 0.4g per serving of plant sterols, eaten twice a day … may reduce the risk of heart disease.”
Genisoy, Tulsa, Okla., uses soy crisps to pump up the protein of a traditionally low-protein snack. The taste is light and fluffy, much like puffed grains, but with the added protein power of soybeans.
Other innovations in chips include the use of different vegetables. For example, Terra Chips from Hain Celestial Group, Boulder, Colo., are made with such diverse vegetables as taro, parsnips, sweet potato, and yucca, and include a variety of vegetable powders.
And it’s not just small companies. Frito-Lay launched a whole new brand, Flat Earth, that uses not only numerous vegetables (rice flour, pumpkin, tomato, potato flakes) but also fruit (dried apples, peaches, mangoes, blueberries, strawberries, cranberries) to make chip-like crisps. Each flavor has a half serving of fruit or vegetables in each ounce.
Granolas are of relatively recent origin, partly inspired by nutritionists cajoling Americans to increase their intake of whole grains. But the use of whole grains does not guarantee a healthy product. Many granola-like preparations fail the ultimate test of healthy snacks: nutrient-dense ingredients simply prepared.
“We believe food should be minimally processed and made with all-natural ingredients you can actually pronounce. That's why we use real whole grains, generous portions of hearty nuts and tasty fruits sweetened with honey and other natural ingredients,” says Ryan Therriault, senior manager-brand marketing and innovation for Bear Naked Granola, Norwalk, Conn. The company was founded on the idea of granola for active lifestyles, and has especially endeared itself to athletes.
Instead of athletes, “What kind of nutrients are moms looking for today?” asks Mike Mellace, president/CEO of Snacktrition, Carlsbad, Calif. “We held a focus group to answer just that. We looked into research done by the USDA, and what we found was the lack of fiber and calcium in the American diet. This was the basis for all of our product development, from the proprietary roasting process that adds fiber and calcium to the snacks to the packaging for convenient snacking.”
“We didn’t want to develop a ‘supplement’ for a meal, but what we did make was a healthy, convenient way to add calcium or fiber to your diet throughout your day and between sensible meals.”
Healthy civilizations around the world make use of a variety of grains, not only the ones with which we are familiar. FutureCeuticals Inc., Momence, Ill., recently introduced AncienTrim, a product that delivers ancient grain nutrition (amaranth, barley, buckwheat, durum, millet, chia, quinoa and spelt) in a formulation-friendly powdered blend.
People throughout the world have been eating these grains for thousands of years. However, these grains have had limited applications in anything but cereals and baked goods due to texture and dispersibility concerns.
“AncienTrim overcomes the formulation challenges of traditional grains due to a patented production process developed by the USDA in cooperation with FutureCeuticals,” says Kay Kapteyn, product manager. The AncienTrim process creates a dispersible, hydrophilic powder rich in ancient grain amino acids and heart-healthy fiber that incorporates easily into smoothies, soups, pasta, beverages, bars and baked goods.
The need for innovation
One characteristic of the modern diet is innovation. As true to the original a snack product may be, there is always a market for unique items. There is perhaps no better demonstration of this principle than the growth of prebiotic and probiotic foods.
“The gastrointestinal tract is a neglected part of our body. Everything that we eat passes through this ‘tube,’ which is home to millions of bacteria, both good and bad,” says Ram Chaudhari, executive vice president and chief scientific officer for Fortitech Inc., Schenectady, N.Y.
“The interaction of ‘good bacteria’ with our immune system aids us in resisting infection and disease, but the environment in which they live needs to nurture their existence.
Probiotics are an excellent addition to the gut environment. But because they create formulation and stability challenges, there are many other nutrients that contribute to good gut health that are more easily adaptable to a variety of product applications with limited formulation and stability issues.”
As a result, Fortitech is focusing much research into prebiotics such as inulin, fructo-oligosaccharides and lactulose, as well as soluble and insoluble fibers, enzymes antioxidants and minerals – all of which can work their way into healthier snacks.
Another currently hot technological topic is the replacement of salt and sodium in snacks. One year ago, Cargill Inc., Wayzata, Minn., introduced the SaltWise family of sodium reduction systems. They allow food manufacturers to reduce sodium levels by 25 to 50 percent in their product formulations while delivering the punch of salt.
Applications, including prepared foods, frozen meals, meat and poultry, soups, sauces and dressings and salted snacks.
Similarly, Wild Flavors Inc., Erlanger, Ky., offers SaltTrim, which also can reduce up to half the salt in a snack without affecting the taste. SaltTrim blocks the negative tastes of potassium chloride while keeping the true taste and mouthfeel of salt. When combined with potassium chloride (as part of the replacement formulation), SaltTrim contributes dual health benefits to snacks by reducing the amount of salt intake as well as providing potassium supplementation. It is temperature-stable, kosherable, and available in “natural” and “natural & artificial” versions.
The movement to make snacks healthier includes an increase in valued nutritional ingredients such as vitamins and soy. Unfortunately, the addition of these ingredients can cause off-notes. Wild’s Resolver Technology works through specially designed natural flavors that block the taste receptors’ ability to taste bitterness and astringency.
Resolver ingredients can be paired with carefully chosen flavor components to solve any specific flavor problems, leading to fewer off-taste issues associated with functional ingredients.
Through a new, patented approach, Land O’Lakes Ingredient Solutions, Saint Paul, Minn., has introduced calcium-fortified cheese powders, enabling food developers to add cheese flavor and significant levels of calcium to wet and dry ingredient systems without the chalky mouthfeel often associated with calcium fortification. Depending on the application and the level of added calcium, these calcium-fortified cheese powders may make it possible for food manufacturers to make label claims such as “a good source of calcium.”
Snacks represent one of the greatest challenges in the modern diet, both to consumers and manufactures. We don’t expend the energy of our ancestors, so our natural tendency to fill a hunger and energy gap must be carefully chosen. Health conscious consumers are now hunting down flavorful and nutrient dense snacks, unwilling to sacrifice either trait. It will take innovation and experimentation to keep up this growing trend.
One of the diets explored in the book Appetites of Man was the traditional cuisine of Mexico, which is rich in fiber, complex carbohydrates and phytochemicals. A simple diet of corn, beans, rice, peppers, tomatoes, squash and other vegetables, along with varied and natural sources of protein, is also the base diet of the Turahumara Indians of the Yucatan Peninsula, premier ultra marathon runners.
3 Hot Tamales, Apison, Tenn., artfully captures these traditions in snacks that feel like mini meals. Tamales are prepared by steaming beans, vegetables and various sources of protein in a wrap of cornmeal covered by corn husks. “Tamales are a great healthy snack because they are a combination of carbs and protein, so they are filling and nutritional,” says Merrilee Jacobs, owner and founder of 3 Hot Tamales.
“My kids eat them all the time as a snack before little league games or when we are planning on a later dinner. Since they are microwaveable, it makes a quick solution for anytime one is in a hurry. At the office, school, on the go, you can eat them right out of the husk.” The 3 Hot Tamales versions happen to be vegan, organic and available in the frozen food sections of many stores, including Whole Foods.
Keeping with the theme of snacks as extensions of nutritious meals, Pacific Natural Foods, Tualatin, Ore., offers a new line of natural soups with a pull-tab ring. “The one-of-a-kind soups are made with the finest, ‘artisan-inspired’ organic ingredients such as chicken andouille sausage, champignon mushrooms, hardwood smoked bacon and herbs de province,” says Kevin Tisdale, director of marketing.
The new offerings include: Beef Steak & Fusilli Pasta, Spicy Black Bean with Chicken Sausage, Minestrone with Beef Steak, Chicken & Penne Pasta, Savory Chicken & Wild Rice, Spicy Chicken Fajita, Split Pea with Ham & Swiss Cheese and Savory White Bean with Smoked Bacon.
“The organic meats featured in the new soups are expected to be a strong appeal to consumers, particularly because USDA organic certification means the meats are free of antibiotics. According to the research, 65 percent of consumers want a guarantee that all meat products are free of added growth hormones and antibiotics and that animals are humanely raised,” says Tisdale.
The ingredients in the soups must pass Pacific Natural Foods’ extensive “Certified to the Source” inspection program, which assures all ingredients meet standards for safety, health and quality. “We grow many of the ingredients we use in our products on our own organic and sustainable farms,” Tisdale adds.
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