Getting your daily recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables seems easy, yet as most nutrition experts will admit, few Americans are doing it. In spite of efforts by such dedicated groups as the Produce For Better Health Foundation (www.5aday.org) and the American Dietetic Assn. (www.eatright.org), the average American is only eating about half this recommended minimum.
That’s where the recent generation of innovative ingredient manufacturers and food and beverage processors comes in. Through more sophisticated methods of processing and concentrating, fruits and vegetables are becoming powders, extracts and super-concentrates.
Processors in turn are creating products that add the nutritional value and flavor of produce to a greater variety of products — including ones normally not associated with produce. Consumers are finding vegetables in beverages, fruits in savory products and vegetables in sweet cereals. Some manufacturers also are pushing the nutrient-density envelope, cramming a day’s worth of fruits and veggies into a single meal — or even single item.
“It’s gratifying that over the past 10 years, food scientists, nutritionists and dietitians have become more aware of the positive health benefits associated with the active components of fruit, vegetable and other plant-based concentrates,” says Winston Boyd, vice-president and chief chemist at Lawrence Foods (www.lawrencefoods.com), Elk Grove Village, Ill. “When you express and minimally process whole fruits and vegetables, you concentrate a good deal of the goodness in the form of vitamins, phytochemicals and other micronutrients.”
There is more demand for a broader range of plant-derived ingredients than ever before, he and others say.
While traditional fruits like orange, apple and strawberry and traditional vegetables like tomato and carrot are still popular, there has been a significant shift toward the exotic and adventurous world of “superfruits and super vegetables.” Pomegranate, goji, açai, mangosteen are some of the most popular fruits used in new beverage launches and there is growing awareness of the beneficial power of vegetables like that of cabbage and broccoli.
An indication of the strength and direction of the trend is that processors are seeking high-quality fruit, vegetable and other botanical ingredients “from geographically diverse areas, including Asia, South America, North Africa and elsewhere,” says Antoine Dauby, group marketing manager for Naturex Inc. (www.naturex.com), a South Hackensack, N.J., supplier of plant extracts.
Dauby anticipates increased demand for South African and Amazonian products, as both areas are extraordinarily rich in medicinal and aromatic plant products.
One of the main drivers of the resurgent use of concentrated fruits has been the interest in exotic superfruits coming out of the Amazon regions, especially Brazil. Sambazon Inc. (www.sambazon.com), San Clemente, Calif., broke open the floodgates on exotic fruit concentrates by putting açai on the map.
Sambazon instantly became the lead provider of powder and concentrated fruit pulp for this trailblazing superfruit. There’s a reason fruits such as açai, acerola and other foreign exotics usually arrive here in processed forms: Rules of importation of fresh produce are highly restrictive. Some countries, such as Brazil, do not allow whole fruit or fruit seeds out of the country. Some fruits from Asia are not allowed into the U.S.
Claiming to be “the most powerful antioxidant beverage on the planet,” Purple7 contains, as the name implies, seven purple or dark red fruits full of antioxidants.
Taking a page from PomWonderful, with its successful promotion of pomegranate juice, Sambazon started out with a popular line of açai beverages for retail. Today, beverage companies from the now-mainstream Vitaminwater (owned by Coca Cola Co.) to boutique companies such as Purple Beverage Co. (www.drinkpurple.com), Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., makers of “the most powerful antioxidant beverage on the planet,” rely on concentrated fruit ingredients such as extracts, pulps and powders as key aspects of their trendsetting arsenal.
In addition to beverages, bars are a popular medium for fruit and vegetable concentrates. Perhaps the epitome is the Think5 nutrition bar, which contains five cups of fruits and vegetables in a single bar.
“The American population is starving themselves of fruits and vegetables,” declares Yianna Xenakis, director of sales and marketing for Thinkproducts (www.thinkproducts.com), Ventura, Calif.
Each Think5 nutrition bar contains, in powdered concentrate form, three cups of vegetables (including spinach, watercress, broccoli, spirulina and chlorella) plus two cups of fruits (including cranberries and apples). The phytonutrients are retained, predominantly as flavanoids and other antioxidants.
Think5 manages to cram five servings of fruits and vegetables into a single, albeit dense, bar thanks to vegetable powders.
“With today's consumer trying to eat healthier but not having the time to eat three solid meals, including the recommended daily allowance of fruits and vegetables, we see a growing trend towards the use of natural fruit and vegetable powders in convenient on-the-go formats,” Xenakis adds.
A convenience of powdered produce is easy formulation. In some cases, a blend of powders can go into a retail product with little change. For example, Navitas Naturals (www.navitasnaturals.com), Novato, Calif., sells its Twister Power blends to processors in bulk (they’re also available to consumers in pouches as an add-in for smoothies and other beverages or a stir-in for cereals or yogurt). The company currently provides four blends of tropical fruits and vegetables, focusing on the trendy exotics such as goji, açai, pomegranate, maca, mangosteen, chia and flax.
Decas Botanical Synergies (www.decasbotanical.com), Carver, Mass., offers the Nutricran family of what it terms “fruitaceutical” powders, such as Nutricran 90 and Pacran, what Decas claims is the first clinically supported, proanthocyanidin-certified cranberry powder. Decas also expanded its line into organic whole berry powders with BerryOrganic.
Kerry Ingredients and Flavors (www.kerryamericas.com), Beloit, Wis., supplies a range of fruit and vegetable powders, extracts and flavors. Its Crystals line of fruit and vegetable juice powders use a novel freeze-drying technology to deliver a natural powder with instant solubility, high flavor and color, high juice solids content and retention of the natural vitamin, mineral and color content of the original ingredient.
Kerry also supplies a complete range of spray-dried fruit and vegetable powders including apple, banana, citrus, beet, passion fruit, carrot, guava, hibiscus and more. All are derived from pure fruit or vegetable juice concentrates and extracts, and give genuine taste and color of the juice from which they were extracted. They have a low activity of water, are stable to oxidation and Kosher certified with a shelf-life of 12-24 months.
Also is growing in leaps and bounds is the use of vegetable-derived flavors and colorants for savory products such as crackers, chips, tortillas and similar products.
What makes it a men’s tortilla? The lycopene for prostate health, via Lycored’s tomato extract.
“Dehydrated onion, garlic, capsicum and vegetable products add color and flavor in applications where added moisture is undesirable, such as sauces or soups,” says Rob Rye, director of category leadership for Gilroy Foods & Flavors (www.gilroyfoodsandflavors.com), a division of Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra.
Dehydrated vegetables such as parsley or red pepper can also add vibrant color in chips and crackers.”
He notes dried forms are versatile because they can be added directly to wet or dry applications. The wide range of particle sizes helps play a role in the visual cue the consumer sees and tastes in a soup, dressing or sauce.
Vegetables are no longer limited to savory applications. In addition to its Lycomato powder and paste products, Lycored Inc. (www.lycored.com), Orange, N.J., recently began offering innovative “tomato raisins,” supersweet dried cherry tomatoes extremely high in lycopene. Each Lycomato tomato raisin contains 1mg or more of lycopene and other phytonutrients.
The tomato raisins also are a "clean label" fortification ingredient. They are naturally bred to self-dehydrate, can be provided diced or whole to processors ready for formulation in the same way as dried fruit products, such as raisins, cranberries and tart cherries. So much so that one major food manufacturer currently is investigating incorporating the tomato raisins into one of its hot cereal products.
Lycored was established out of the original development of naturally derived lycopene from tomatoes. The company also offers betacarotene and lutein. All three are strong antioxidants that assist the body’s defense against oxidation damage caused by excess free radicals, the byproducts of normal cell metabolism.
Lycored’s Lycomato brand of lycopene has been incorporated into a wide variety of products -- even Kashi Heart to Heart cereal from Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co.
The health factor
There are a number of advantages to using fruit and vegetable ingredients. “Products using these ingredients provide an attractive combination of health benefits and exotic tastes,” says Naturex’s Dauby.
“Another factor is the education of the public. The flood of continuing good news about their health benefits, backed by sophisticated marketing campaigns and innovative packaging, have propelled these products into the consumer’s eyes.
“Globally, consumers are expecting more from food products than basic nutrition,” he continues. “Consumers are increasingly looking for products providing an additional health benefit, without having to compromise on taste and convenience.”
Many ingredient manufacturers supplying concentrated plant ingredients are putting all their eggs into the health basket. San Joaquin Valley Concentrates Inc. (www.sjvconc.com), Fresno, Calif., a provider of grape and grape seed extracts and powders, underwrites research into the efficacy of polyphenolic compounds found in grapes.
Blue California Ingredients (www.bluecal-ingredients.com), Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., which has an expansive line of naturally derived, bioactive fruit and vegetable ingredients, focuses on purity with its kosher and organic offerings. Israeli company Frutarom Inc. (www.frutarom.com) has become a global presence specializing in discovering new benefits of exotic plant-derived ingredients.
Some current trends in the beverage market are stick packs with real fruit and vegetable powders, smoothie mixes with multiple berry and fruit blends and vegetable and fruit mixes with protein, fiber, tea and other naturally healthy components. Where will these ingredients land in the future?
“The sky’s the limit with these ingredients,” declares Matt Phillips, president and COO of Cyvex Nutrition Inc. (www.cyvex.com), Irvine, Calif. The company provides a wide range of ultra-pure concentrated fruit, vegetable and botanical powders, extracts and nutraceutical ingredients. “We’ll see them in (more) children’s products to deliver servings of fruits and vegetables — in dairy products, ice cream, popsicles, etc.”
According to Phillips, many food and beverage companies now are looking at fruit and vegetable ingredients to deliver ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) values. “Powdered drink companies, sports nutrition companies and others all are working on ORAC products,” he says.
“We are starting to see more ‘condition-specific’ marketing, for example targeting a blueberry product toward supporting healthy vision or a healthy, sharp mind,” says Colleen Zammer, director of sales for Momence, Ill.-based FutureCeuticals Inc. (www.futureceuticals.com), a supplier of dried fruits and vegetables. “There certainly continues to be plenty of research in the works to better promote condition-specific claims, as the more general ‘good-for-you’ approach is getting weak.”
Consumer interest in certified organic ingredients and natural ingredients continues to grow and will impact the fruit and vegetable ingredient category as well.
Finally, the flavor quality of the raw fruit and vegetable products going into ingredient production should see advances through such efforts as metabolic engineering, post-harvest treatments, storage and distribution, plant breeding aspects and quality assessment. All that’s according to Grant Wyllie of ChromOil Consultants, Australia, in <I>Fruit And Vegetable Flavour: Recent Advances and Future Prospects</I> (Woodhead Publishing, 2008 – see http://www.woodheadpublishing.com/EN/book.aspx?bookID=1253).
Note to Plant Ops
Fruit and vegetable powders and extracts provide a stable form of the product until it is ready to be used in the process. Single-strength concentrations of fruit and vegetables require heat processing and careful storage before use. Powders do not require refrigeration and generally retain their color, flavor and nutritional profile over the shelf-life of the product.
“But many of the challenges applying to powder products also apply to fruit and vegetable powders and extracts,” reminds Andrew Lynch of Kerry Ingredients. “The type and composition of the starting material, concentration and dehydration process can influence nutritive quality, color, flavor, microbiological load and solubility/dispersability in a beverage.”
Antioxidants and other critical nutrients are sensitive to oxygen as well as heat and light. Processor should consider “pH, temperature, processes — for example hot-fill versus cold-fill — and packaging barrier properties as well as label opacity … so you are delivering whatever it is you may claim over the course of the shelf life of the product,” adds Colleen Zammer of FutureCeuticals.
And because of significant quality differences in apparently identical products, processors should consider third-party lab testing for the most frequently used ingredients in order to assure maximum potency, purity and authenticity.