This situation has changed because of the hard work of many dedicated developers. Wheat- and gluten-free are becoming increasingly popular claims, and manufactures are meeting this demand with greater variety than ever. Pamela's Products (www.pamelasproducts.com), Ukiah, Calif., has been making gluten-free cakes, desserts and other confections since 1988. The niche they fit spans both the restrictions of gluten-free and overall health through use of all-natural ingredients.
Building healthier desserts and confections is about getting back to basics when it comes to a number of ingredients besides sweeteners and trends such as gluten-free. "When it comes to desserts there is only so much that any of us can do to improve what we love," says Cecilia McCollum, executive vice president of Blue California Inc. (www.bluecal-ingredients.com), Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. "But we can start with the most basic, using natural flavors and colors for example."
According to McCollum, using natural non-caloric botanicals to add color and health is another easy way to improve desserts and confections. "Many of the natural extracts derived from berries offer deep colors with a good dose of antioxidants to any product," she says. Blue California makes a proprietary blend of water-soluble berry extracts that produces a deep red/purple color and offers high antioxidant value.
For example, bilberry extract is as high as 25 percent anthocyanidins. Lutein, which gives egg yolk a rich golden color, is a carotenoid that can help prevent age-related macular degeneration and cataract formation.
"Imagine a sorbet made with fresh fruit plus added berry antioxidant power," says McCollum. "There are many concentrated ingredients derived from edible fruits in the market that can offer added value to these types of products."
Nestlé hit a sweet spot a few years back with Skinny Cow ice cream novelties and more recently took the brand into the candy aisle. Both lines make use of natural sweeteners and reduce calories, fat and added sugars to meet demands for a healthier indulging.
At Nestle/Dreyer's Inc.'s Haägen Dazs (www.haagendazs.com) unit, Oakland, Calif., formulators imagined something very similar. They created intensely colored, low-calorie, fat-free sorbets made with real fruit purées. The desserts weigh in between 120 and 150 calories per serving, quite svelte as frozen desserts go.
Tru Sweets LLC's Surf Sweets (www.surfsweets.com), Wheeling, Ill., take simple confections — organically sweetened gummy candies and jelly beans — and turn them into a healthy statement. Organically grown ingredients, attention to common allergens, no artificial flavors or colors, they make use of the natural colors and flavors available in fruits. This type of confection presents a challenge in that such products are associated with brilliant colors.
"Natural color blends can be challenging to formulate and equally difficult to use," says Phil Sprovieri, vice president of Flavorchem Corp. (www.flavorchem.com), Downers Grove, Ill. "Natural colors are less stable than synthetic; stability is influenced by the interaction of temperature, light, pH, water and activity presence of oxygen."
Key questions Sprovieri targets are:
- What is the physical form of the color – powder or liquid?
- Should it be oil- or water-soluble?
- What is the product's final pH?
- Will it require heat processing?
- Is the packaging clear?
- What is the product's shelf life?
- Will the product require kosher or halal approval?
- What regulations are required for the color?
Anthocyanins, for example, are susceptible to breakdown in acidic conditions and start to fade rapidly as pH lowers. They will appear increasingly red rather than blue or purple, and heat processing leads to browning. Annatto precipitates at pH values less than 4, and free calcium cations interact and change the color from orange to pink.
"This is why we recommend that all-natural color blend samples be evaluated in the system for which they are being used," says Sprovieri.
"Appealing and vibrant colors have always been a major driver for confection and desserts," notes Vitiva's Gay. "Since the European Commission has asked processors to put a warning for consumers when using some synthetic azo colors, all food processors producing for EU market, including overseas ones, switched to natural colors or coloring foodstuffs. This led the whole industry into a huge task of reformulation, since natural colors are less vibrant, less intense and less stable than synthetic ones. There are also technical restrictions due to pH in confections and due to fact that no natural blue exists at low pH."
Some pigments, such as carmine, cis-betacarotene and caramel class IV (E150d) are under scrutiny of retailers and consumer groups. Vitiva offers a natural carmine alternative suitable for vegetarian formulations and designed for all confection applications. The company currently is working on developing a caramel Class IV alternative based on burnt sugar.
LycoRed USA (www.lycored.com), Orange, N.J., recently launched a new range of natural, vegetarian red and orange colors with non-migrating properties for fruit preparation, used mainly in dairy desserts and confectionery. "The new line is based on both tomato lycopene and natural beta-carotene and covers a full spectrum of color possibilities ranging from red to yellow," notes Roee Nir, color and flavor global commercial manager for LycoRed. "The colors are extracted from carotenoids, which are widely recognized as healthful alternatives to synthetic colorants due to their natural antioxidants benefits."
Nir also points to the trend in dairy-containing confections to have colored fruit-based layers or stripes. "For these formulations, it is critical that the colorful appearance of the fruit preparation base remains stable and does not bleed into the white dairy phase," he says.
"Stability during processing and throughout shelf life is one of the main issues the food industry faces when using natural colors. Formulation challenges can relate to stability to pH, light, temperature and oxidative degradation, as well as to interactions with other ingredients," he says. LycoRed has overcome these problems to produce natural carotenoid-based formulations delivering vibrant, stable natural food colors.
The idea of attracting consumers' sweet cravings with pretty, luscious-looking confections and desserts will pay off only when flavor follows. Manufacturers are getting their just desserts as ingredient technicians merge the alluring aspects of indulgences with better-for-you technology. Not a bad way to finish a meal at the end of the day.