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By Mark Anthony, Ph.D., Technical Editor | 01/08/2013
It will be interesting to see how processors take to the "orphan nutraceuticals" in the coming year. These are ingredients that have a proven track record supporting healthful functions of the body and mind, are readily available and efficacious in formulation — yet have been largely ignored by processors. Two cases in point are coenzyme Q-10 (Co-Q10) and vitamin K2.
Vitamin K2 MK7 (menaquinone) has been clinically proven to have both bone and heart health applications because it improves utilization of calcium. This still is not well known by consumers, however, and that has stunted introduction of the important ingredient in food products.
Co-Q10, a.k.a. ubiquinone, is a critical component of the electron transport chain, the end-stage machinery that converts food into energy as adenosine triphosphate (ATP) the body can use. But that's not all. Located in the mitochondria, the so-called powerhouse of every cell, co-Q10 also functions as a potent fat-soluble antioxidant. It also helps regenerate the antioxidant vitamins C and E.
The heart-muscle is rich in mitochondria, and this makes co-Q10 a key heart-health ingredient. Age and disease can drain the body's supply of co-Q10 and hinder its synthesis, which is why it is often used as a supplement. Microencapsulation makes this bright orange, fat-soluble compound available in multiple applications, yet currently it appears only in some performance products, typically sports bars and beverages.
Probiotics continue to be an increasingly hot ingredient worldwide, and technology is enabling their use in formulations that subject them to heat, pressure and other conditions that used to kill them before they ever made it to the packaging stage.
"Dannon's Activia [line of yogurt products] is widely acknowledged as the pioneer brand in the probiotic arena in terms of building consumer awareness," says PL Thomas' Davis.
"However, not every consumer wants to get their probiotics via yogurt, so they look to other foods. But the majority of probiotics can't be included in food items as they don't survive high heat and pressure and have limited shelflife."
PL Thomas partnered with Ganeden Biotech Inc. to market the latter's GanedenBC30 brand of Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086. The microbe not only survives processing and long shelflife but also survives stomach acids and enzymes so it can arrive alive and proliferate in the intestine, the goal of all probiotics.
The key to GanedenBC30's hardiness is that around the genetic core of each cell is a hardened structure, or spore, that makes it similar to a seed. This spore provides a natural protective shield against the heat and pressure of manufacturing as well as the strong acids in the stomach.
The customization of microbes is rapidly becoming common. LactoSpore from Sabinsa Corp., Payson, Utah, is another spore-forming probiotic that can serve as a functional ingredient in foods and beverages, as well as in dietary supplements.
"As consumer acceptance [of probiotics] grows, so does their knowledge of [the concept of] viability," says Shaheen Majeed marketing director for Sabinsa. "The shelf-stable characteristics become a major plus, as is the ability to withstand temperature extremes while maintaining its function, allowing the use of probiotics in foods such as bread."
Sabinsa also is exploring the use of LactoSpore in formulations such as cheese, soft candy, puddings and instant coffee/tea. The latter two product types — probiotic puddings and probiotic hot caffeinated beverages — already are available at the retail level.
On the other side of the microscope, ingredient trends are happening on a macro level. It may have been the antioxidants that helped propel pomegranate to popularity last year (and has kept the term superfruits alive in at least some consumers' minds), but the root (and source) of this healthy snacking was fruits. And the bigger category enjoyed some resurgence as well.
"Popular fruit flavors for 2013 will include a diversity of familiar and not-so-familiar items," says Robert Schueller, vice president of communications for Melissa's World Variety Produce. "In the familiar line, mango is still hot and getting hotter as a flavor trend for both retail and foodservice, along with guava."
The not-so-familiar fruits are from the citrus family. "Finger limes are emerging as a potential trend from foodservice due to their unique shape and textural properties. Kishu Mandarin tangerines – walnut-size, seedless and easy to peel -- are a fresh retail trend." Schueller also notes that Seville oranges, a more sour orange, has "big potential" and "could become an emerging trend in 2013/2014." It matches the flavor trend of sour and tangy that is predicted by many experts for the coming year.
Macro-ingredient trends are certainly not limited to fruits. Proteins, too, are moving beyond ground beef, steak, poultry breast, pork chop and overfished/overfarmed seafood.
"The use of new and unique cuts of meat and Southeast Asian ethnic cuisines such as Thai, Vietnamese, Korean and Malaysian cuisines," are the predictions of Jeffrey Troiola, corporate chef of research and development for Woodland Foods Inc., Waukegan, Ill. He concurs with the flavor predictions of increasing affinity for tangy flavors.
Troiola also calls attention to non-Mexican Central and South American flavors and ingredient concepts, with special attention to Peruvian cuisine. "Peru recently won the top honor as World's Leading Culinary Destination at the 2012 World Travel Awards," he remarks. "And Indian cuisine and all types of curries will continue to gain popularity."
Along with Troiola, Sterling-Rice Group, a brand strategy company, thinks sour flavors will be popular, including tart, acidic and bitter flavors such as fermented cherry juice, varietal vinegars and sour beer. Also more pickling and brining, sauerkrauts, pickles and tart flavors at restaurants. Sour and tart flavors are replacing much of the sweet, salty and fatty staples, consistent with the healthier trend.
If the bacon fad has peaked, perhaps the pendulum is swinging back to lower fat foods. "Healthier ingredients such as brown rice, high-fiber/ancient grains and vegetable broths as opposed to fatty favorites such as butter, bacon and cream" are the answers, says Troiola. "Vegetables will become a more integral part of meals with dishes such as cauliflower 'steaks,' squash noodles and celery juice cocktails."
Troiola also notes a variety of not-so-new grains that are appearing in food preparations, an observation he credits to Chicago food consulting firm Technomic. "Dishes such as polenta, couscous and bulgur were identified as some of today's hottest ethnic foods," he says. "Technomic also noted a number of grains -- quinoa, amaranth, millet, wild rice, corn, oats and buckwheat -- do not contain gluten and are being moved to the fore as part of the movement to eat gluten-free." Use of bean and ancient grain flours in place of wheat flours also can increase the nutritional profile of foods.
Pea flour is another gluten-free substitute; it's high in protein, too. Other flours acknowledged by Troiola are bean flours, such as those from sweet lupin, cici, yellow peas, habas (dried green lima), pintos and black beans, and ancient grain flours from millet, quinoa, amaranth and others.
Sustainable fish, a trend that started with farm-raised salmon and shrimp, moved on to tilapia and now to swai and barramundi. The latter is the perfect solution for processors making ready-to-eat fish dishes and answers controversies over fish farming and overfishing. Making use of specialized tanks, barramundi farming does not spoil the water table or allow waste to escape into streams. For that reason it's a trend to keep an eye on as it has experienced a sudden rise only in the past half year or so.
That interest in foods and ingredients supporting a healthy lifestyle will continue to grow has never been more apparent. The trends for the coming year, while no doubt subject to whim and fashion, do have an underpinning of practicality. It will be hard to bet against health, clean labels, increased diversity and sustainability.
This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of Food Processing Magazine.