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By Mark Anthony, Ph.D., Technical Editor | 10/08/2008
Healthy indulgence shouldn’t be an oxymoron. In fact, indulgence has always been a healthy part of a balanced approach to eating, as demonstrated in the traditions of healthy civilizations.
However, one could argue that our obsession with guilt-promoting popular diets has been at least partly responsible for the fact that today the mere mention of the word “healthy” can trigger a knee-jerk association with “flavorless,” “unappetizing” and “boring.”
Consumers may demand healthier foods, and at the same time fund the flavor-only offerings. The smart strategy for processors intent on tapping the healthy indulgence market is to focus on the ingredients consumers equate with indulgence yet deliver healthy profiles to the foods and beverages they enhance.
“Achieving healthy indulgence is a challenge to both the food scientist and to the marketing manager,” says John Tucker, who has both titles – “director of marketing & technology” – at Turtle Mountain (www.turtlemountain.com), Eugene, Ore.
Every Turtle Mountain product seeks to bridge the healthy and indulgent gap by combining soy bases with decadent ingredients.
Turtle Mountain also has that split personality, specializing in soy-based ice cream and refrigerated yogurts. The appropriately titled Purely Decadent and So Delicious brands are certified vegan, Kosher and in most instances organic, depending on the product line.
“Creating healthy food products that are as indulgent as their not-so-healthy counterpart represents a daunting technical challenge,” Tucker continues. “It often requires the food scientist to think outside the box and to approach the problem in an unconventional fashion.”
Equally challenging is communicating that a food product is both healthy indulgent. “Healthy indulgence can be a double-edged sword. If you place too much emphasis on health, consumers are suspicious as to how it will taste. If you focus too much on indulgence, consumers fail to see the health benefits. As an example, we learned that exclusive use of the word ‘healthy’ could lead to reduced taste expectations,” says Tucker.
“Our experience at Turtle Mountain has been that applying standard ingredients and standard processes generally fails to achieve the breakthroughs required to create healthy products with exceptional taste,” he continues. “We often look to other product categories for solutions both from an ingredient perspective and processing perspective. It is amazing what you can discover.”
“Today, more than ever, it makes sense for manufacturers to optimize their overall protein strategy,” says Nick Weber, public relations manager for Solae (www.solae.com), St. Louis. “With animal protein costs rising and stability of supply affecting food companies, soy protein capitalizes on consumer health and wellness trends. As a plant-based, high-quality protein, soy protein is a great fit for products that are positioned as natural and good for the environment.”
Soy protein also can be included in products that address heart health, satiety/weight management, lean muscle mass development and sustained energy. Soy protein is comparable to meat, milk and eggs on a protein level. Solae soy protein can help processors provide healthy products to a consumer base that wants to indulge from time to time.
Icons of indulgence
Over the years, nothing has screamed, “indulgence” louder than chocolate. But when researchers began to uncover the value of phytochemicals, many of which were antioxidants like the flavanols found in chocolate, especially dark chocolate, the image of chocolate began to change. Maybe there was some reason behind our mad obsession with this indulgence. Maybe chocolate was innocent, even protective!
Starting with a healthy image, Larabar moved into indulgent chocolate territory with its Jocalat line.
As it became clear that antioxidants were key factors in a healthy diet, Mars North America (www.mars.com), Mount Olive, N.J., expanded chocolate’s reach as a health-oriented extravagance with its CocoaVia Original Chocolate line. CocoaVia products are processed to contain 100mg of flavanols and 1.1g of natural plant extracts in both dark and milk chocolate forms. The chocolate bars are marketed as “an excellent source of calcium and a good source of folic acid, vitamins B6, B12 and antioxidant vitamins C and E.” Serving size, too, is focused toward the health benchmark snack size of 100 calories per serving.
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