Consumers are more aware today of how food contributes to health and wellness. They seek nutrient-dense products with ingredients that address heart health, aging, blood sugar control and cancer protection, or at least that contribute to their general health. As the new year dawns, food processors will amping up efforts already under way to formulate with ingredients that have some kind of health halo.
Most of these ingredients are found in plant-based foods and botanicals. Chicago's Mintel Group (www.mintel.com) predicts that food and beverage processors will explore a number of plant-based food formulations in 2017, and incorporate more ancient grains, antioxidants, plant proteins, superfoods and botanicals as main ingredients to align with consumers' interests in healthier lifestyles. Here's what's gaining ground in the market:
Pulses, plant proteins
Only in the past four or five years have most consumers discovered the agricultural meaning of the word "pulse." Peas, beans and lentils have become attractive ingredients of late. They're high in protein, fiber and antioxidants and are gluten-free Plus, they are even more environmentally friendly than other crops. They come in many useful forms -- ground into flour, they're fractionated into fiber, protein and starch – and as a result have found their way into snack chips, baked goods, dressings, even meat analogues.
One in three consumers favors vegetable-sourced protein, while protein in general drives preferences for 40 percent of consumers, says Santiago Vega, senior manager of nutrition marketing at Ingredion Inc. (www.ingredion.com), Westchester, Ill. "Vegetable-based protein fortification and 'whole-food nutrition' are among the hottest consumer trends at the moment." Vega points out that Ingredion's Homecraft pulse-based flours and Vitessence pulse protein concentrates align with these trends.
The new CT (clean-taste) Vitessence and Homecraft protein concentrates and flours work for a broad range of applications, imparting a neutral flavor for formulations that need a balance of flavors, such as gluten-free snacks, baked goods, pasta and cereals. "They also provide potassium, zinc and other minerals, as well as certain vitamins, supporting consumers’ desire for whole-food nutrition, with the clean label, gluten-free and non-GMO claims consumers want," he says.
The terms superfood and superfruit came into vogue about a decade ago. Originally reserved for exotic fruits from Africa or the Amazon – things like acai, acerola, cupuaçu and goji – it eventually became apparent some American-grown fruits and berries delivered just as many nutrients and antioxidants as their foreign cousins. Blueberries, pomegranates, strawberries, cherries and blackberries all have used the superfruit claim.
Antioxidants may prevent or delay some types of cell damage and disease. Several decades of dietary research suggests consuming greater amounts of antioxidant-rich foods should help protect against diseases. Good sources are vegetables and fruits that include vitamins C and E, selenium and carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin.
The antioxidant compounds are what give Montmorency cherries their red color and tart taste. Studies suggest Montmorency cherries can help reduce post-exercise muscle and joint pain. According to the Cherry Marketing Institute (www.choosecherries.com), Dewitt, Mich., the tart cherries are also known to reduce pain from gout and arthritis and provide heart health benefits. Many purple foods contain anthocyanins, which are healthy antioxidants that may boost the immune system and reduce inflammation.
One exotic on the rise is baobab. The fruit is gaining attention among formulators for its rich vitamin C content, natural anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidant power (50 percent more antioxidants than acai). It's also high in polyphenols, which help maintain healthy blood sugar levels, and high in vitamin A, thiamine, B6 and bioflavanoids.
But unless you're located in Africa, finding fresh baobab fruit can be a problem; it's not available fresh in the U.S. That's why Nature’s Power Nutraceuticals (www.npnutra.com), Gardena, Calif., recently added certified organic baobab fruit powder to its repertoire. The powder is produced in an ISO 22000-certified facility in Africa, says Margaret Gomes, director of marketing. "We started supplying baobab organic fruit powder due to its increasing popularity in the market and its many healthful properties. Product developers are attracted to its acidic tart taste, [a cross] between grapefruit, pear and vanilla."