Beverages No Longer Equal Empty Calories

Shoring up the perceived beverage weak spot in the modern diet has been the objective of many processors and ingredient providers. As a result, much of what we see on the shelves has taken on a new look, feel and taste.

By Mark Anthony, Ph.D., Technical Editor

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Modern beverages have shared much of the blame for the obesity epidemic. Often labeled the ultimate source of "empty calories," made up of sugar solutions with no nutrients, that image — earned or not — is about to change.

"The trend I'm watching closely is the increasing demand for a 'meal in a bottle,' " says J.D. Sethi, founder of DAHLicious Lassi, Tewksbury, Mass. "That is, beverages that can replace meals."

Lassi is a traditional Indian beverage, a smoothie in the form of a slow-cultured blend of Indian-style yogurt and pure fruit. "According to a recent PepsiCo press release, the traditional definitions of snacks/foods as dry and beverages as liquid will change," adds Sethi. "With this trend, I believe more manufacturers will be adding real fruits, and even veggies, to their beverages."

It's already happening, of course. Campbell Soup has enjoyed much success with its V8 V-Fusion, which squeezes a full serving of vegetables and a full serving of fruit into each serving.

Meals in a bottle are happening, too. Abbott Laboratories is a broad-based health care company, but its Abbott Nutrition division, which originated as Ross Laboratories, looks very much like a dairy, filling single-serve bottles of Ensure, PediaSure and Glucerna – as well as EAS Myoplex nutrition shakes for athletes.

Consumers now demand beverages that perform, with ingredients that support health including probiotics, antioxidants and superfruits. A clean label also is integral to this trend, driving consumers toward beverages that contain natural flavors and colors. To meet these demands, ingredient providers are supplying beverage developers a host of viable options.

Non-dairy probiotic beverages are becoming popular. Good Belly, a line of juice and cultured oat flour-based, kefir-like beverages from NextFoods Inc., Boulder, Colo., has been a force in teaching consumers delicious, functional probiotic drinks need not be dairy based.

"GoodBelly products are designed to appeal to vegans and people with allergies to soy- and milk-based beverages," says Alan Murray, CEO of GoodBelly. "The specific probiotic bacteria in GoodBelly thrive in the acidic environment of juices." GoodBelly Splash, a new launch, is a reduced-calorie probiotic juice.

Bigelow Tea uses the probiotic BC30 from Ganeden Biotech in the Lemon Ginger variety of its Herb Plus line of teas. The probiotic strain is protected by a spore, which allows the probiotic to survive the heat and pressure of manufacturing processes – and of tea making.

An explosion of non-dairy beverage forms in recent years has seen milk replacers made from everything from soy to nuts, even hemp. But until recently, not from coconuts. Eugene, Ore.-based Turtle Mountain Inc.'s, So Delicious Dairy Free coconut milk and cultured coconut milk products fixed that.

"Our coconut milk beverage is completely different than coconut water," says Chris Turek, marketing services manager. "Coconut water is the liquid found exclusively in green, immature coconuts. Our base ingredient is essentially the pure coconut milk derived from pressing the white fleshy meat of mature coconuts. Then we add stabilizers and fortify with calcium and essential vitamins.

Mio from Kraft
On March 7 Kraft launches Mio "liquid water enhancer." Flip open the cap and drip a few drops into a glass or bottle of water to flavor it to your liking. Mio has no artificial flavors, caffeine or calories and comes in six flavors.

"The result is a product that can be used as a dairy milk replacement, even in cooking and baking," he continues. "Since our cultured coconut milk contains numerous live, active cultures, it possesses similar qualities to dairy cultured products. However, coconut milk is unique in medium-chain fatty acids, which support the body's immune system and get processed by the body as energy."

Since the beginning of the decade, coconut water-based drinks have been flourishing. Companies such as O.N.E., Zico and Vita Coco have released these primarily in single-serve TetraPak containers, but a recent launch of Vita Coco's larger, 32-oz. size points to the mainstreaming of coconut water drinks. An excellent source of electrolytes and phytochemicals in a naturally slightly sweet base, consumers find the product refreshing and invigorating.

Fruits, tea, whey
Nothing shouts modern beverages like the so-called superfruits, the ones rich in antioxidants. While the term originally was applied to exotic berries from the Amazon, blueberries, blackberries and other antioxidant-rich domestic fruits have joined those ranks.

"We're seeing an increasing amount of requests for natural fruit flavors, specifically those fruits rich in antioxidants," says Brandon Olson, director of R&D for Premium Ingredients International, Carol Stream, Ill. Some of the challenges include retaining the flavor, nutrients, aroma and color of the original fruit/juice in a shelf-stable format.

"We overcome these obstacles by using fruits in various forms, including freeze-dried fruit powders and spray-dried juice powders, which maintain high concentrations of the original fruit and can be matched to other flavors through research and development."

Exotic reds, blue and purple fruits are still trendy—açai remains a growing market. But one superfruit suddenly garnering attention is as American as cherry pie. Tart cherries, also called "pie cherries," are gaining ground as a superfruit. According to the Cherry Marketing Institute, Lansing, Mich., compounds in tart cherries could help athletes recover faster from tough workouts. A study recently reported in the American College of Sports Medicine's journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggests cherry juice may decrease oxidative damage in the muscles of hard-training athletes. This is the latest in a growing body of evidence linking cherries to muscle recovery.

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