How to Build a Healthier Dessert

With fat, sugar and calories on the outs, wise manufacturers are building healthy indulgences through clever application of current ingredient and technology trends.

By David Feder, RD, Technical Editor

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Even for Olympian deities, it wasn’t easy to create such uniquely flavored ice creams. “One of the problems is when you combine honey with milk products, it tends to break down,” says Tselios. “We used different techniques in mixing to solve those problems. The product melts a little faster because of the honey, but our solution was to tell consumers to eat it more quickly — that not only keeps it natural but acts as a reassurance these are wholesome, natural ingredients.”

Sambazon, part ingredient supplier and part food and beverage processor, made açai a household word, proving it’s possible to pull the trifecta of healthful, indulgent and trendy by relying on fruit. “I believe products will continue to evolve that have more healthy components like antioxidants, healthy omega oils and vitamins,” says Jeremy Black, vice president of the San Clemente, Calif., Sambazon ( “Our organic açai sorbet has become one of the best selling sorbets in natural foods stores nationwide because people love eating something that looks, feels and tastes like ice cream but is good for you.”

The focus on fresh fruit is likely to only grow as a trend. “We see antioxidant fruit ingredients such as açai, cranberry, pomegranate and blueberry being used more and more in desserts and sweet beverages,” seconds Emilio Gutierrez, vice president of technical services for BI Nutraceuticals (, Long Beach, Calif. “They help the product promote a healthy image and they also provide a great point of differentiation.”

As with ice cream and other frozen desserts, that other American classic, fruit-flavored gelatin, is experiencing a renaissance. As a long-recognized comfort sweet without guilt, even this naturally healthy dessert category need a little help when keeping up with trends. 

ICL Performance
Gelatins traditionally have been healthful, but acidulant adipic acid can bring out fruit flavors to make the dessert more exciting.

“For many consumers, gelatin desserts deliver a great-tasting and low-fat treat,” says Barbara Heidolph, the technical service principal for food phosphates at ICL Performance Products LP (, St. Louis. “For formulators, the question is how to introduce new and exciting flavors.”

Fruit being the typical flavor for this category, Heidolph describes adipic acid as the “perfect acidulant alternative because it allows for a clean flavor palate so every flavor — from tropicals to conventional grape — can have a true, natural taste.”

Bake it to make it

Some of the key considerations for baked products are proof times, volume (i.e., bulk density), bake time, final color, texture and flavor, according to Sarah Staley, vice president of business development for Chicago-based Friesland Foods Domo USA Inc. ( “The big challenge for desserts is delivering on the expectation of a good-tasting, indulgent product while combating the formulation issues from the reduction or replacement of certain components, specifically fat and sugar,” she explains.

Christine Law, product developer at San Francisco-based FullBloom Baking Co., laments the loss of shelf stability when fat and sugar are removed. “We make all natural and organic desserts, with ingredient labels consumers can actually read and understand, so our choices are limited when it comes to preserving our healthful items for extended shelf life requirements.”

“Another growing market in which customers need help is the gluten-free bakery market,” adds Gum Technology’s Brooks. For gluten-free baked products, the company developed its Coyote Brand ST-101 stabilizer to replace the elasticity and mouthfeel, which would have been provided by gluten in such products as muffins and cakes. It also improves crumb structure and, as an all-natural hydrocolloid system, its use is suited for products being marketed as such.

Aida Prenzno, laboratory director for Gum Technology, points to a similar demand for replacers for the emulsion stabilizer propylene glycol alginate. The company created its pectin- and cellulose gum-based PGA replacements specifically for use as stabilizers in applications such as whipped toppings, cakes and glazes.

Can-do Candy

Of course, often a sweet treat can be as basic as a piece of chocolate. And chocolate certainly has diversified since the simple milk chocolate bar of the past. Chocolate has created a lot of news in the past year or so.

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