Food Researchers Studying The New Wave Of Superfruits

Superfruits don't need to be exotic. Even domestic fruits can pack high levels of antioxidants.

By Rory Gillespie, Contributing Editor

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You always remember your first.

I was in eighth grade, walking home, and the question was simple enough: "Want to see something cool?" That's when superfruits entered my life.

This was a new fruit introduced into my friend's family's produce and meat market. Cleaved in half, the pomegranate revealed its tasty seeds, and I remember digging out the juicy bits with a fork. My mother remembers the stain on my shirt.

Superfruits have sparked a worldwide following fueled by health benefits ranging from preventing diseases to boosting energy and immune systems. Consumers are constantly seeking greater health benefits, and food producers are delivering with ingredients such as superfruits.

The once exotic pomegranate is pretty much mainstream now and can be found in many products. There are chips, ice cream and teas to go along with juices. Bakery products are coming along. Oprah even has a pomegranate martini recipe on her website.

Pomegranate producer Pom Wonderful just released new 100 percent juice tropical blends. It combines its pomegranate juice with pineapple and organic apple in Pom Hula, employs coconut water and pineapple juice to create Pom Coconut, and delivers Pom Mango by using mango and pear juices.

"Pom Wonderful Tropical Blends' allows us to grow the category by giving families another way to enjoy the benefits of pomegranate juice in a refreshingly light and delicious tropical juice," said Marc Seguin, vice president of marketing for Pom Wonderful, Los Angeles. "Pairing with on-trend and fast-growing fruit juices allows us to not only capitalize on the power of the Pom brand, but also to attract new consumers to the premium juice category, particularly during the summer months."

For pomegranates and other superfruits, antioxidants appear to be the key – to both their health benefits and their attractiveness to consumers. Antioxidants are molecules that fight free radicals, cell-damaging chemicals that are produced during normal human functions.

Food researchers are busily studying the new wave of superfruits — acai berry, noni, dragon fruit, mangosteen – for benefits beyond those attributed to antioxidants. Many, such as the acai, have omega fatty acids and protein, in addition to loads of antioxidants. And there's a certain adventure factor in them, too. Many consumers think it's a shopping treat to go in search of the elusive mangosteen or marching into an Asian part area of your local town to find dragon fruit.

Seeking the exotic can be fun, but there is plenty of evidence to just look in your own backyard.

"This whole buzz is very trendy and everybody loves the word super," said Joan Salge Blake, who is a clinical associate at Boston University, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, formerly the American Dietetic Assn. "You can't really go wrong with any fruit and vegetable. I get discouraged when I see a fruit becoming a superfruit and a consumer is thinking this fruit is by far better than the others in the produce aisle.

"It's like saying you have 10 children and you have to rank them in order of saying how much more you love one than the other," she says. "You love all your children; all your children are good."

It's fun to believe that a fruit or vegetable from a rain forest or a tropical locale tastes great and has magic powers to impart health. But, as usual, there are no magic bullets. Food experts say eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is the way to better eating.

"So for today's consumer, the real trend in superfruits is to get real. The message to eat real food and healthy ingredients has put blueberries in the spotlight," said Thomas Payne, industry consultant to the U. S. Highbush Blueberry Council, Folsom Calif. "People already identify blueberries with the healthiest possible eating. Lists of superfruits not only include blueberries, they compare everything on the list with blueberries.

"People associate blueberries with natural goodness, good times, happy days, health and wellness as well as the positive associations of comfort foods. Consumers are looking for products that help them include more healthy blueberries in their diets," he adds.

This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of Food Processing Magazine.

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