Sunny Fruits Melt Winter Blues

Among the ingredient trends to watch in 2010 is a resurgence of citrus and a redder cranberry.

By David Feder and Dave Fusaro

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In keeping with the trend toward simple comfort flavors as harbingers of healthfulness is a revival in citrus flavors. Sunkist Growers Inc. (www.sunkist.com), Sherman Oaks, Calif., for more than 100 years has been extolling the virtues of the fruit. “Each year millions of crates of citrus spanning 12 different varieties are harvested in California and Arizona and then shipped throughout the United States and abroad,” the company proclaims.

On a web site shared with the Culinary Institute of America (www.ciaprochef.com/sunkist) the marketing co-operative celebrates a revival of interest in its fruits, sharing main-dish recipes that benefit from the zest of citrus. On one landing page is the interactive “citrus flavor wheel” of 17 varieties of citrus, from the most tart (Persian limes) to the sweetest (Valencia oranges),along the way explaining such varieties as pummelos (Chinese grapefruits) and oroblancos/melogolds.

Kimberly Carson, director of beverage solutions for Indianapolis-based Sensient Flavors LLC (www.sensient-tech.com), points to citrus flavor trends appearing even among the more exotic new flavors -- for example the pummelo, the Japanese citrus yuzu and highly popular Meyer lemon.

“Nature has the answers, especially in the world of citrus,” notes Jim Moore, global category manager for beverage ingredients at Frutarom USA Inc. (www.frutarom.com), North Bergen, N.J. “But how to understand the chemistry and how it is linked to sensory knowledge is more difficult to answer.

“The consumer perception of freshness in a Peruvian lime, for example, must stimulate the taste receptors in such a way that the association with the true fruit is instantaneous,” he continues. “To this end, raw material sourcing from the groves to point of consumption of finished beverage is critical and complex.”

Moore says if the true authenticity of a natural citrus flavor is to be achieved it is vital to delve into the “nuances and peculiarities” that make up the “true-to-fruit stable profile” today’s flavor-aware consumers demand. The re-employment of citrus flavors is so current Frutarom is creating an entire “Product Improvement Program” based on citrus in order to continually “re-evaluate and establish the most stable, authentic, natural and true-to-nature flavor experiences.”

Tropics and exotics still a draw
Certainly there is a movement back into the comforting realm of familiar flavors (see preceding article). But once our palates were educated to crave more sophisticated tastes, there was no going back.

So while the nostalgia flavors are going to see a resurgence, don’t count out the exotic flavors still riding the health boom. Especially as far as the health-targeting superfruits and tropicals go.

Pomegranate still is a desired ingredient. So much so that FONA International Inc. (www.fona.com), Geneva, Ill., in a report last November described a shift in consumer attitudes: Consumers now are purchasing pomegranate-flavored items as much for the taste as the health aspects. And according to research group Mintel (www.mintel.com), Chicago, the number of pomegranate-containing items introduced between 2007 and 2009 tripled.

Big, too, is mango. According to Megan McKenna, marketing manager for the National Mango Board (www.mango.org), Orlando, Fla., mango consumption has quadrupled since 1990 to more than 656 million pounds. Mango imports into the U.S. have grown by 6 million pounds since 2006. Mintel reports a growth of more than 37 percent in new products containing this tropical favorite in the past two years alone. In almost every country, the mango has surpassed the banana and apple as the top fruit.

Superfruits stay super
The inclusion of superfruits will remain a strong marketing point. Market researcher Business Insights places pomegranate (obviously still running its course) as a “top five emerging flavor” in categories as disparate as confectionary and dairy. A new superfruit on the scene worth watching is another Amazonian berry to rival the now-ubiquitous açai. Maqui berry, a deep purple berry from the Patagonia region of South America, is promoted for health effects ranging from increased stamina and strength to immune response.

“More recently, maqui has garnered interest for its potential in promoting a healthy body weight,” says Andrew Carter, director of marketing for NP Nutra Corp. (www.npnutra.com), Rancho Dominguez, Calif. “Not only that, maqui berries help support bone and joint health and aid the cardiovascular system by encouraging blood flow.”

According to Carter, maqui is a good source of vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and iron. “But the real standout is the astonishing amount of antioxidants contained in maqui berries, including anthocyanins, delphinidin, malvidin, petunidin, cumarins, triterpenes, flavonoids and cyanidin,” he adds.

Another example of the continued pull of exotics and tropicals is cupuaçu, according to Abelei’s Arb. The chocolate cousin sourced from the Amazon contains vitamins, essential fatty acids and amino acids and is known for its high levels of antioxidants.

But not all superfruits have to come from tropical rainforests. The humble cranberry seems to be on the upswing as well. The berry’s proanthocyanidins (PACs) can prevent the adhesion of certain bacteria, including E. coli, associated with urinary tract infections, to the urinary tract wall, according to the Cranberry Institute. Those anti-adhesion properties also may inhibit the bacteria associated with gum disease and stomach ulcers. The institute cites recent scientific research that shows cranberries and cranberry products contain significant amounts of antioxidants and other phytonutrients that may help protect against heart disease, cancer and other diseases.

Now dried cranberries don’t have to be as dark as they used to be. Graceland Fruit (www.gracelandfruit.com), Frankfort, Mich., with the help of farmers has begun producing a naturally redder cranberry.

“Consumers who have become accustomed to cranberries that have an appearance similar to a dark raisin can’t quite believe their eyes when they see this cranberry product that has a natural red color, the color a cranberry should be,” says Brent Bradley, Graceland’s vice president of marketing and sales. “Manufacturers appreciate the more natural red color as it brings higher value and quality to their products such as muffins, cereal bars and snack mixes.”

Arb also concurs with the findings of Mintel, Business Insights and other research experts that floral-based flavors, such as rose water, hibiscus and lavender, will continue to make headway. “(These flavors) support the clean and healthy trend while adding a unique taste profile. Other flavors geared toward the health and wellness connotation include Kaffir lime and coconut, ginger, lemongrass, mango and prickly pear cactus.”

This mix of traditional and exotic is not so much a division as a merging. According to Carson, “Flavor trends are developed against four common personality types that Sensient has identified: loyalists, sophisticates, adventurists and connoisseurs. For example, some of the flavors that have been inspired from the adventurist profile include pomegranate pummelo, pear cardamom chai and longan pineapple.”

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