Israel lies 6,000 miles away, and culturally it seems even more distant. Its food culture is the perfect blend of exotic and comfortable, and its food & beverage processors and ingredient suppliers can both stretch the American palate and supply its current wants.
Israel as a food processing partner has two big things going for it. Despite the country being mostly desert, it has a strong agricultural foundation, especially in fruits and vegetables that need a warm and sunny climate. And with a population of less than eight million, it's very export-minded.
On a recent tour there – admittedly sponsored by the Israel Export & International Cooperation Institute – I saw a number of finished food products that would do well here in the States; plus some novel ingredients that could give American processors an edge. Most of these companies are eager to find an American or Canadian partner to help them penetrate this market.
First, the food products. Dorot Garlic & Herbs (www.dorot.co.il) already has penetrated the U.S. market with its unique flash-frozen herbs and other vegetables. The ingredients sit in what resembles a miniature ice cube tray, each cube a typical portion of the ingredient, which thaws in minutes or goes directly into the frying pan or pot, while the rest go back in the freezer to stay fresh.
The key market is busy home cooks, who want to cook with fresh ingredients but not truly from scratch (the ingredients already are chopped and premeasured). These cooks also want small quantities of these "fresh" ingredients because they don't cook often enough to warrant typical quantities of these ingredients and the attendant expense.
Basil, parsley, garlic and other vegetable ingredients are grown on a large kibbutz in south Israel. They're cleaned and chopped or otherwise prepared and are flash-frozen on-site. Dorot already has shelf space in Trader Joe's and Whole Foods and American sales of $30 million a year.
The company is using the same freezing and packaging technologies to develop herb mixes, marinades, even pasta sauces in single-serve quantities that thaw quickly and cook like freshly made sauces (tomato, alfredo and sweet potato sauce) in three minutes. Perfect for single chefs.
Capitalizing on the fruit side of Israeli agriculture, Gan Shmuel Group has been turning especially citrus fruits into juices, nectars and other beverages since 1942. With its origins in the Israeli kibbutz system, the group owns citrus orchards covering nearly 5,000 acres.
Israel grows a plethora of tropical fruits. Lemon Tree dehydrates lemons into a powder that can be used in place of fresh lemons.
Gan Shmuel exports 85 percent of its products around the globe, has subsidiaries in Spain, Uruguay, Poland and Italy and is represented in 45 countries. Oranges, mandarins, grapefruits and lemons are its raw materials, and products include not-from-concentrate and concentrated juices, citrus cells, taste and aroma components, extract concentrates, compounds and bases and essential oils. Products are found in industrial, foodservice and retail.
Speaking of lemons, Lemon Tree (www.lemon-tree.co.il) is both a company and the product name for a powdered lemon juice. Concentrated and shelf-stable, the product can be used wherever lemon juice would be -- but it's sprinkled, rather than squeezed. Containing no sweeteners, preservatives or other components, the lemon powder is suitable for hot and cold beverages, fish, salads, etc. Lemon Tree is selling the powder in small stick packs for the retail market but also in industrial sizes for food processing and foodservice.
Gat Foods (www.gatfoods.com) is another company capitalizing on the availability of Israeli fruits. It's vertically integrated, owning many of the fields, even the seeds, where its products begin, then processing them into ingredients for itself and other beverage makers. It owns Prigat, the leading Israeli fruit-based beverage brand. It recently partnered with mineral water producer Neviot to create Water+, a lightly fruit-flavored drink using mineral water rather than purified water.
Gat's drink bases and emulsions, not-from-concentrate and concentrated juices and other fruit-based drink ingredients – some of them organic – also are used by a number of Israeli beverage companies.
Wake Up is a different type of beverage. Inno-Bev Ltd. (www.drinkwakeup.com) targets this natural energy beverage at the "post-lunch dip" (the company even has given siesta time the clinical acronym PLD). The 100ml (3.4-oz.) bottle contains guarana, gingko biloba, an apple sugar and elderberry. A double-blind clinical study confirmed its efficacy over coffee and a placebo.
Specific health benefits fill the larger bottles of Novel Creation (www.novelcreation.com). The liquid dietary supplements come in single-serve pouches (15ml) or in 450ml (15-oz) bottles to be mixed with a half cup of water.
Novel's Maximum Antioxidant is made from pomegranates and wild berries with coenzyme Q10. Maximum Sambucus combines black elderberry fruit and flower with acerola for general health and immunity. In addition to its named fruit, Maximum Cranberry includes juniper fruit and hollyhock root extracts supplemented by magnesium citrate and MSM. Other "Maximums" include curcumin, iron, co-Q10, calcium, multivitamin, red alga and "cleansing."
Gluten-free is becoming as big in Israel as it is in the U.S. GreenLite Foods (www.greenlitegf.com) is 100 percent dedicated to gluten-free while at the same time "designed to meet Whole Foods' definition of ‘natural,' " according to Ofer Eliav, marketing manager.
The company makes fully baked and frozen/par-baked products using any of four starches: tapioca, corn, potato and rice. While his company has only been in business three years, Eliav joked that Jews have been making gluten-free products for Passover for more than 2,000 years.
While less than 20 parts gluten per million is the limit for a gluten-free label in the U.S., GreenLite keeps all its products under 10ppm, and most are under 5.
Co-Q10 – I mentioned that earlier -- is slowly gaining traction here in the U.S. HerbaMed Ltd. (www.herbamed.co.il) is using it in cereal bars that are catching on in Israel – and company officials claim they have expressions of interest from American companies.
As a compound that plays an essential role in the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), co-Q10 has a generally accepted connection with endurance and muscle recovery, and other studies indicate it may help high blood pressure. So HerbaMed aims the marketing of its NutraVida bar at athletes, or at least weekend warriors. Research performed at Hebrew University of Jerusalem showed: "Oral administration of 400mg of Ultrasome-CoQ10 (60 mg of CoQ10) as nutrition bar form before physical activity for one week significantly reduced muscle soreness and fatigue at the intervention group."
HerbaMed has a number of other bars in development: for reducing cholesterol, a multivitamin and minerals one, one especially for diabetics and one for sedation.
Innovative Israeli ingredients
On the purely ingredient side: Lycored (www.lycored.com) already is well established in the States (with an office in Orange, N.J.), but its tomato-derived ingredients originated in Israel. The $100 million company is global now, with production sites also in China, the UK and the U.S. All its products come from tomatoes, but Lycored has mined that fruit/vegetable for flavorings, colorings, fortification and fiber.
Lycopene, the tomato's main phytonutrient, is the first half of the company name; and red, the second half, refers to the natural colorants Lycored has developed. The company has benefited from recent interest in natural colors, and was rumored to be the solution earlier this year when Starbucks' strawberry Frappuccino got bad press for its use of carmine colorant from insects.
Sante is a flavor enhancer and sodium replacer in crystalline form, which Lycored debuted just more than a year ago. Tomato fiber is making inroads as a viable and natural form of added fiber.
NutriGal (www.galamgroup.com), like a number of U.S. companies, has morphed a history of agricultural processing into highly refined ingredients with emphasis on "natural" and non-GMO. Interest in gluten-free products is as high in Israel as it is here, so a lot of marketing is being put behind gluten-free ingredients based on soy.
NutriFree+ is a high-protein, high-fiber, starch-like soy powder that can be used to produce breakfast cereals, bars, breads, pastas, even meat products. It contributes 32g of protein and 45g of fiber per 100g. It has less than 5ppm gluten.
NutriMore has identical nutritional information but is not certified gluten-free, so it's aimed at the general market. NutriTex is a customized blend of NutriFree and NutriMore with starches to produce puffed products.
Another member of the Galam Group specializes in specialty sweeteners. Fruitose is a crystalline fructose. HiSweet is a portfolio of stevia blends, some with sugars and other components, using 95 percent or 97 percent redaudioside-A.
Astaxanthin is one of the more powerful antioxidants in nature with proven health benefits – as well as being a colorant (in the U.S. it is restricted to use in animal food). Most astaxanthin comes from the same marine sources as omega-3 fatty acids, salmon and krill, but also crustaceans and microalgae. While most of that produced by microalgae is grown in open ponds, Alga Technologies (www.algatech.com) has a unique, patented, closed system, growing microalgae in glass tubes in the sunny Arava desert.
The closed system allows for tightly controlled cultivation, eliminating foreign objects, agricultural residues and microbial contamination. And the astaxanthin is extracted using supercritical carbon dioxide technology, not solvents.
The medicinal uses of mushrooms are fringe in the U.S. But Mycolivia Medicinal Mushrooms (www.mycolivia.co.il) is working to change that by growing varieties of the fungi and creating extracts. Research indicates mushrooms can reduce cholesterol, and they're recognized by cancer associations in Japan, China, Australia and the UK for battling cancer.
The Galilee region has a special place in the hearts of Christians – it's the area Jesus did most of his ministry. Galilee Nutritionals (www.galileenutritionals.com) is capitalizing on that historical connection between Christianity and the land of Israel by developing nutraceuticals in Israel but selling them through Christian organizations in the U.S.
"We tithe 5 percent of all our sales, divided between organizations in Israel and Christian organizations and congregations in the U.S.," says David Hart, an American who emigrated to Israel in 2000 and has worked for a number of Israeli ingredient companies. "We have created a technology in our website as part of the web-store checkout process that allows you to input the details of the organization that you would like to earmark your tithe. "You help support your church as well as creating a stronger and better Israel."
Galilee Nutritionals main ingredients are pomegranate and resveratrol for antioxidants, olive oil, olive leaf and grape seed for circulation support and omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils.