The naturally occurring antioxidants in almonds can increase the flavonoid content of chocolate by 50 percent when the two are combined in confection products, according to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
"Almonds are a good source of dietary fiber (3.5g) and provide protein (6g), a combination that can help consumers feel more satiated," says Maan. One serving of almonds (28g) has 13g of unsaturated fat and only 1g of saturated fat. Clinical studies conducted over the past 13 years found consuming a handful of almonds a day as part of a diet low in saturated fat helps maintain healthy blood cholesterol levels and an overall healthy heart.
Hughson Nut markets a novel ingredient based on almonds. "Almond Bran is ground almond skin that is removed during the almond blanching process," says Miltner. "Because many healthful benefits of the almond are from substances found in its outer skin, Almond Bran is a concentration of these healthful benefits -- without the calories of fat.
"Almond Bran incorporated into snack bars, pastries, candies and inclusions for ice creams functions as an agent for nutrition, color, flavor and binding," he explains. Marketed under the Nut-trition label, it's suitable for inclusion in ice creams, candies, cereals, bakery items and any other food product in which nuts are used.
Almond Bran is a rich source of almond sterols and essential minerals such as magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and potassium, and a natural source of powerful antioxidants that are both bioactive and bioavailable. "Total antioxidant capacity of Almond Bran is more than 13 times greater than that of almonds alone, and it contains less than half the fat and nearly four times the dietary fiber," says Miltner. The ingredient adds insoluble fiber, natural color and a mild nutty flavor to many food products.
Another healthy option is the addition of fruits. "Using fruits, such as blueberries, to build up the healthy halo of confections provides exciting possibilities," says Tom Payne, industry specialist for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (www.blueberry.org) San Mateo, Calif.
"On the USDA website, candy is identified as one of the foods with the most of added sugars in American diets," says Payne. "But it doesn't have to be that way. "The combination of ingredient pairings -- chocolate and blueberries, blueberry with green tea, blueberry and flax, or blueberry and oatmeal -- provide interesting opportunities to push confections into the healthy snacking arena, positioning them in a whole new direction and not just simply a dessert ‘extra,' " says Payne.
Processors can use blueberries to improve confectionery products, since they are jam packed with health benefits, virtually fat-free, a good source of fiber and vitamin C, contain vitamin A, potassium and folate, are very low in sodium and contain just 80 calories per cup. Plus, there is mounting scientific evidence that blueberries are powerful little disease fighters.
"Blueberries can be used to create real fruit-filled jellies, and crushed berries can be easily incorporated into luscious fillings, and there is also the opportunity to take advantage of real fruit-piece identity in confectionery products," he says.
"There are many innovative blueberry formats today that have expanded the horizons of what is possible," says Payne. "For example, dried blueberries are available as 100 percent fruit, and there are blueberry powders, fibers, concentrates and purees. The development of real fruit formats that work in a range of confectionery products along with good availability make it a superb time to incorporate more real fruit into confections. One-fourth cup of dried fruit equals a fruit serving, so a manufacturer can combine dried blueberries with whole grains to provide healthy goodness and satisfy a sweet tooth."
Consumers equate blueberries with antioxidants and readily accept them as an ingredient in products. Payne says consumer research finds they are willing to pay more for products that contain real blueberries over imitation blue bits.