Coconut milk fills a different niche than the popular coconut waters marketed as sports drinks due to their low-calorie, high-potassium profile. The milks are low in calories, most of which comes from fat. However, much of the fat in coconut milk is in the form of so-called medium-chain triglycerides, meaning that the fatty acids that make up the triglycerides (stored fat) are relatively short compared to the more common long-chain fatty acids that make up most triglycerides. The shorter fatty acids tend to be more readily used for energy and slightly less likely to be stored as body fat.
Probiotics constitute a new entry in the energy ingredient arsenal. Although their benefit is indirect, the evidence connecting digestive health, immunity and metabolism to a healthy stable of beneficial microbes is mounting.
It's compelling to note that people who have invigorated their digestive systems with probiotic bacteria typically mention feeling more energetic as a side benefit. The friendly little critters already are seeing a big uptick in use (see It's Alive! Probiotics Are Growing for Food Processors).
Once available almost exclusively in yogurt, probiotic formulations as drinkable yogurts and cultured milk (kefir) saw a huge increase in popularity in the past decade. Then, along came probiotic products such as the nondairy GoodBelly (www.goodbelly.com) line of juice-based probiotic drinks. Today, cultured coconut milks joins the nondairy cultured drink line-up.
"So Delicious Coconut Milk Beverages are up 45 percent over last year," says Chris Turek, marketing services manager at Turtle Mountain LLC (www.turtlemountain.com), Eugene, Ore. "This fall we're launching So Delicious Coconut Milk Seasonal Beverage with mint chocolate and egg nog flavors. "The non-dairy beverage category is growing in both natural and mainstream channels, and we have benefited from this, especially as consumers pursue alternatives to soy milk," he says.
KeVita Inc. (www.kevita.com), Ventura, Calif., also makes a line of vegan, gluten- and soy-free probiotic beverages. Water or tea is combined with a proprietary blend of probiotics and organic cold-extracted botanical extracts to produce an unusually light and refreshing probiotic drink.
"When incorporating probiotic bacteria into food and beverage formulations, a number of challenges arise," notes Winston Boyd, vice president and chief chemist for Lawrence Foods Inc. (www.lawrencefoods.com), Elk Grove Village, Ill. "The bacteria must survive the processing, handling and storage conditions used in preparation and, in a finished product with long shelf life, the bacteria must not continue to grow and metabolize.
"The more familiar probiotic bacteria found in yogurt and kefir thrive in those products — the cells remain viable, due to availability of water and food, for the shelf life of the product, which is fairly short even under refrigeration," Boyd continues. When consumed, the yogurt or kefir deliver active probiotics to the digestive system, where they must survive low-pH conditions in the stomach before they can enter the lower GI tract. Once in the lower GI, they begin to deliver the promised benefits.
Since the shelf life of yogurt and kefir products are relatively short, and since they are stored under refrigeration which slows bacterial growth and metabolism, the products remain edible while containing live cultures. Should the temperature be too high or the shelf time be too long, continued bacterial growth and metabolism will change the characteristics of the product and lead to fermentation and premature spoilage."
Building on a natural framework
New techniques of dispersion allow manufacturers to extract natural ingredients and rearrange them into an endless variety of applications. "Particle size reduction allows for finer mesh sizes on powder ingredients," says Lisa Drawer, global marketing director for Prinova USA (www.prinovausa.com), Carol Stream, Ill.
"Micronized and instantized products, such as amino acids and vitamins, greatly enhance solubility and suspension, enabling better dispersion in liquids. It creates a more uniform mesh for smoother mixing and blending in the manufacturing process. Overall it helps improve bioavailability of the ingredients due to the fact that they are more easily dispersed and digested."
Gums also come in handy for delivering otherwise tricky energy ingredients. Gum Technology Corp. (www.gumtech.com), Tucson, Ariz., developed multiple lines of natural gums as texture stabilizers and suspension mediums for nutraceutical ingredients.
One such is a line of tara gum-based compounds. Tara is a galactomannan polysaccharide derived from the seeds of the Peruvian Caesalpinia spinosa shrub. In beverages, tara gum adds viscosity, suspension and mouthfeel. Typical usage levels are between 0.10-0.25 percent.
Blends of tara gum and certain other hydrocolloids are synergistic, according to Janelle Litel, marketing director for Gum Technology. For example, tara gum and carrageenan, such as Coyote Brand Stabilizer CT-0109, can help provide a silky mouthfeel — ideal for dairy based beverages. In an acidified beverage, a pectin and tara blend at 0.7 percent helps protect the protein from denaturing in the low pH solution. This blend, called Coyote Brand Stabilizer PT-1110, helps stabilize the proteins while providing a creamy mouthfeel and suspension.