Fruits! From recently introduced foods like Tropicana’s new Trop50 Raspberry Acai beverage with raspberry, banana and acai purees to Fruigees’ Kalefornia Grape fruit snack, food processors know consumers love fruit-based products.
Fruits are doubly blessed. They have desirable sensory properties and generally wear a halo of health. Even as various incarnations of the low carb diet advise restrictions on fruit, reason often prevails. One “more sensible than most” weight loss website quips in its “71 Tips to Lose Fat”: “Eat more fruits: No one ever gained weight from eating more fruit, even the so called 'high sugar' fruits."
In the past decade, açai, pomegranate, blueberries and other high-antioxidant fruits garnered much attention in the U.S. due to their health benefits. Additionally, with globalization, both Americans and consumers in other world regions are widening the range of types of fruits they consume. For example, Innova Market Insights reports that in Western Europe, new product introductions with exotic fruits grew 20 percent in 2013’s third quarter compared to 2012. As to which fruits, papaya leads with a 123 percent increase followed by acerola at 86 percent and guava with an 82 percent gain.
In general, however, most Americans do not eat a large variety of fruits, says Kantha Shelke, principal with Corvus Blue. Statistics from the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) back her up. Its U.S. food consumption data (from Sept. 18, 2012) shows that 41 percent of the fruits consumed in the U.S. are orange products, followed by apple products (17 percent), bananas and melons products (8 percent each) and grape products including raisins (7 percent). This contrasts with consumption of foods from exotic fruits and berries at 5 percent and 3 percent of total fruits respectively.
On a positive note, the daily consumption per person of fruits and fruit juices (fruits more than juices) is expected to increase from 5.8 oz. in 2000 to 6.4 oz. in 2020, according to USDA ERS report “Food and Agricultural Commodity Consumption in the United States / AER-820.”
A particularly important global trend for food formulators is the apparent increased use of fruit-based ingredients in foods and beverages. Innova Market Research reports 27 percent of new product launches that were tracked in Europe in 2013 featured fruit ingredients. “Fruit ingredients in product launches tracked have shown a healthy growth rate in Europe, up 22.0 percent.” The global rate since 2008 is reported to be even greater than Europe's.
Formulating with functional fruit ingredients
Several major driving forces encourage the use of fruit as an ingredient. One health trend is to emphasize the consumption of whole foods. The fewer components removed from a food, the greater the likelihood that a broader range and higher level of nutrients will be consumed. For example, the use of whole apple pieces, including skin, provides more dietary fiber than apple juice. Extracted and refined fruit ingredients are crucial tools in many applications, of course.
Second, the “clean label” movement, driven both by consumer interests and the globalization of food distribution, also influences formulations. In Fruigees’ “Nothing Beets Cherry” fruit snack, the expected red coloring is provided by organic beet and dark sweet cherry juice. Not even natural coloring extracts grace its ingredient statement. Such extracts are often crucial to provide a food a consistent, customized color. More concentrated forms of fruits such as powders, concentrates and purees contribute desired doses of anthocyanins, carotenoids and betalains.
In a related trend, consumers want to trust their food sources and look for transparency in the products they are offered. The inclusion of visible pieces of fruits and vegetables, nuts and grains is one way a food processor can do this. It supports the image of the food as a “real,” “authentic” and/or “legitimate.”
Fruits can function as food additives in a number of ways. Beyond coloring, their ability to impact sweetness and texture are two of their many physiochemical properties that may provide needed functional benefits in foods.
- Sweetness: From whole dates and raisins to juice concentrates, the food industry has long looked to fruits as a natural sweetener. With proposed food nutritional labeling requiring added sugar to be identified, fruit ingredients will be a good alternative for some products.
The higher apparent cost per kilogram of fruit as a sweetener source compared to commonly used sweetener ingredients should be put in context. Fruit ingredients contribute desirable properties beyond sweetness. Even cost is relative. One processor at the 2014 Natural Products Expo relayed [to this writer] that they had been using maple syrup to sweeten their snack bars, but changed to a fruit ingredient to lower cost.
Sweetness is provided by a mix of sugars. Glucose, fructose and sucrose are the most common. The USDA’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference-Release 26 puts the sugar content of dried, sulfured apricots at 33.08 percent glucose, 12.47 percent fructose and 7.89 percent sucrose. Medjool dates contain 33.68 percent glucose, 31.95 percent fructose and 0.53 percent sucrose. Raw pears are comprised of 2.6 percent, 6.42 percent and 0.71 percent of each of these sugars. Pear and grape juice concentrates are processed to remove much of their color and flavor and have long been used as sucrose replacements.
- Texturizing agents: Both ancient cuisines and modern food technologists make use of the texturizing properties of fruits. “Dried fruits are used more in the foods from other cultures,” comments Shelke. “For example, they add a rich, malty taste to the traditional Iranian pilafs. When added to meats or grains, the texture of dried fruits can enhance a rich, fatty rich texture.”
Fruits contain cellulose, lignin, pectin and other fibers, which are separated and used on their own as texturizing additives. Researchers have investigated a variety of whole fruits for use as fat substitutes and a number are used commercially. For example, The California Dried Plums Board credits the fiber and sorbitol content of dried plums for their ability to function as a fat replacer. Research also suggests prune puree can replace up to 30 percent of the fat in cupcakes.
Sorbitol, a sugar alcohol, is also found in fruits such as apples, pears and peaches, among other fruits. On its own, sorbitol is a humectant and often used for moisture control.
Future fruit trends
As one of the world’s primary food categories, fruit and fruit ingredients will always be key components in our food supply. They will also surprise and delight us both as consumers and as product formulators. Here are a few safe predictions on what the future holds for fruit ingredients.
- New fruits and superfruits: Highly nutritional fruits from other cultures, such as açai and goji, have intrigued consumers and risen to commercial success in the U.S. The emergence of novel fruits will continue. For just one, Pouteria lucuma or lúcuma was touted as an “ancient and legendary superfruit of the Incas” at the 2014 Research Chef Assn. meeting by Klaus Tenbergen in the Dept. of Food Science and Nutrition at California State University-Fresno.
- Old fruits, new applications: As food trends and preferences evolve, fruit ingredients will ride along. In a new rendition of fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt, Nemi Chia LLC blends almond and coconut milk with creamy cooked chai seeds that sit on top of a blueberry, peach or strawberry fruit prep. Shelke notes that the current trend toward beverages composed of fruit and vegetable blends are a way to “sneak vegetables into the diet.” This tactic holds true for many good-for-you foods needing a sensory assist. For example, Interfoods also uses chia with strawberries, raspberries or blackberries for its “authentic natural and healthy” Chia &Fruit Spreads line.
- New and/or improved properties: Fruit-based ingredients are found in an array of formats to meet food manufacturing needs. The U. S. Highbush Blueberry Council reports blueberries are offered in forms such as IQF, sugar infused (Aw of 0.5-0.87), freeze dried, osmotically preserved and powders of various granulation sizes.
One ongoing trend has been to develop gentler processing treatments due to the unstable nature of phytochemicals from pigments to antioxidant nutrients. Examples include spraying drying at temperatures below 50 degrees centigrade and radiant zone drying. In this later case, fruit liquid (e.g., puree or juice) is deposited on a conveyer belt that passes through different temperature zones produced by radiant heaters. Maximum water removal is achieved during the early stages of drying. In one study, research published in the January 2010 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found no statistical differences in total anthocyanins or antioxidant activity between pre-dried blueberry liquids and the final dried ingredient.
In the ongoing march toward more healthful and convenient processed foods, fruits and fruit-based ingredients will play key roles.