Despite all the talk of diets and obesity, of nutrients and health, one thing is certain; we will eat sweets. And we should! Desserts and confections can be readily compatible with health and healthy weight.
The focus on healthier sweets once focused solely on removal of fat and scaling down portions. The results were rarely in keeping with the theme of an indulgent treat. But several ingredient paradigms for re-making sweet-tooth satisfiers are becoming the coin of the dessert realm.
Fruit has always been both a stand-in for sugar and an indicator of health. The latter all the more since high-antioxidant fruits became stars. Today, however, the impetus is keeping fruit real.
"Blueberries seem to be ubiquitous in desserts and other sweet things these days," says Tom Payne, industry specialist for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, Folsom, Calif. "Food processors, bakers and chefs use real blueberries in a range of dessert applications, from baked goods, fillings and toppings to sauces, frozen novelties and healthy treats."
Their color, taste and nutritional profile make blueberries an attractive addition to any dessert formulation.
Payne notes that because consumers identify blueberries as irrefutably beneficial, they actively seek them. "Consumers see blueberries as a value-added ingredient because they are linked to heart health, anti-aging properties, cancer prevention, improved eyesight and better memory," he adds. Blueberries and other purple and red fruits manage this via a variety of phytochemicals -- such as anthocyanins, resveratrol, flavonols and tannins, which act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds -- plus fiber, minerals, folate and a wealth of vitamins.
The best thing is, fruit is an ingredient class consumers associate equally with highly favorable flavor. Processors can enhance this dual level of acceptance when used in clever applications. Notes Payne, "Blueberries provide an acidic note that adds the perfect accent to rich desserts, chocolate and otherwise. With fruity, burst-in-the-mouth flavor, blueberries give products lush taste, broad appeal and a clean label."
Fruits such as blueberries "find a ready market in every demographic, from those concerned about childhood obesity to adult interest in health-perpetuating lifestyle and eating habits. Even in this challenging economy, these concerns bode well for ingredients consumers view as good for them," says Payne.
Which also explains why other common berries and fruits are becoming more popular: In a down economy, they are inexpensive and provide "retro" comfort.
Botanicals grow sweet
The sugar-swap method of cutting calories while maintaining cravability has been one of the hardest to employ. Basically, zero- and low-calorie sugar substitutes fail to make confections that can successfully mimic their high-cal counterparts. The arrival of stevia was supposed to change that, but because the natural sweetener is about 300 times as powerful as sugar, it's difficult to use in baked dessert formulations that also rely on sugar for its bulking effect. But even in other applications, stevia did not hold up well to heat, leaving products with a bitter aftertaste.
Blue California's purified rebaudioside A (reb-A), Good&Sweet, is a zero-calorie natural sweetener that can be used in a variety of food products and applications that require heats of up to 385°F. "Good&Sweet is preferred by consumers [and is especially important] for children's treats, pastries, chocolates, etc.," says Cecilia McCollum, executive vice president at Blue California, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. "Because of its high purity — greater than 99 percent — it offers the best taste possible from reb-A.
PureCircle's stevia product, SG95, also is finding application in desserts and confections. Lisa Drawer, global marketing director for PureCircle's U.S. distributor, Premium Ingredients International, Carol Stream, Ill., points to SG95's stability at multiple pH levels and wide temperature ranges.
"Its high purity composition of nine sweet steviol glycosides is ideal for sugar reduction," she says "In confections, we've found it can replace up to 20 percent of the caloric content from sugar, and in bakery items up to a 35 percent reduction. These characteristics make it a lot easier to work through flavor formulation and masking." Processors still will have to adjust for the difference in bulking, however.
New, natural, low-calorie sweeteners are available that function in a dual capacity to compensate for some of the bulking effect. The CereSweet line, from Grain Millers Inc., Eden Prairie, Minn., is a sweetener derived from certified organically grown oat varieties via a proprietary enzymatic process. About 60 percent as sweet as sugar, CereSweet #30 is sucrose-free and can work as a fat replacer and sweetness enhancer in baked goods. CereSweet #40 is 35-40 percent maltose (a disaccharide composed of two glucose sugars) that can be used as a sweetener in breads, pastries and even low-fat ice creams — its high maltose content minimizes crystallization.