Whether replacing traditional ingredients, cleaning up a label or eliminating genetically modified organisms, emerging ingredients -- and a few ancient products we haven't seen in food for quite some time -- are satisfying the need for healthier foods and beverages.
Food processors are testing and commercializing items featuring plant-based proteins such as microalgae, ancient grains, turmeric, new non-sugar sweeteners, various seeds and functional probiotics.
Sweet potatoes, recently labeled a superfood by its marketers, are making inroads into breads, cereals, bars and snacks. Sweet potato ingredients are versatile and gaining popularity for their nutritional density and alignment with the paleo trend, says Nathan Holleman, vice president of marketing and sales at Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients (CIFI), Nashville, N.C. "Sweet potato ingredients can provide outstanding clean label and sensory properties. Our team has been successful creating applications with sensory appeal as well as compelling nutritional profiles."
CIFI offers sweet potato products such as juice and dehydrated ingredients (flour and granules), sourced and processed in North Carolina. CIFI says its ingredients boast a clean label as well as a healthy profile for applications such as nutrition bars (using dehydrated sweet potato crumbles), artificial sweetener replacements, condiments, sauces and desserts.
CIFI's dehydrated sweet potato flour in particular shows promise as a component in gluten-free muffins and other quick breads, but can be used in just about any food segment to add fiber and other vitamins and minerals.
Kashi, La Jolla, Calif., recently unveiled its first sweet potato-containing cereal, Sweet Potato Sunshine, an organic, non-genetically modified (GMO) sprouted grains delivering the orange tuber in the form of flakes, sprinkled with cinnamon and molasses.
Another brightly colored trend setter, turmeric is one of the top nine natural and organic food trends for 2015, according to the Sterling-Rice Group, Boulder, Colo. Primarily used in curry powder and a key flavor choice in Chinese foods, Indian curry dishes and good old bright-yellow mustard, turmeric is being called "a miracle spice" by some doctors.
Sterling Rice Group says turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin (the natural phenol that lends that bright yellow color) are notable for their cognitive health maintenance and anti-inflammatory properties, healing abilities and support of joints and muscles.
Until recently, it was challenging to find many tasty products featuring turmeric, but today, it's used in beverages, rice products, soups and convenience staples. A few examples include Numi Organic Tea and Healthee Organic Turmeric Brown Rice.
In April, Kraft Foods announced it would replacing artificial colors or preservatives in its Original Macaroni & Cheese Boxed Dinner in the U.S., and switched to using turmeric, along with annatto and paprika, because they're derived from natural sources.
It's also in new products from New Attitude Beverage Corp., Redondo Beach, Calif., which markets Blue Monkey Coconut Collection coconut waters and juice drinks. This year, Blue Monkey is offering three flavors of gluten-free, toasted coconut chips that are high in fiber. The chips contain ginger, espresso, chocolate, wasabi, bacon, mango, sriracha, cinnamon, matcha and turmeric. Original, ginger and wasabi flavors are packed in 1.4-oz. standup pouches available nationally in select markets.
Combining turmeric and the digestive benefits of probiotics, Temple Turmeric, a New York City-based marketer of turmeric-based beverages that support a positive inflammation response, is now rolling out two seasonal beverages that contain probiotics, its first probiotic offerings. New Holiday Spiced Lassi and Pure Fire Cider both contain turmeric as well as one billion colony-forming units of the patented spore-forming probiotic BC30 from Ganeden Inc., Mayfield Heights, Ohio (more on BC30 later).
Temple Turmeric uses a proprietary varietal of the spice – non-GMO Hawaiian Oana turmeric — as the beverages' base ingredient. Like the rest of the company's drinks, these beverages are processed and packaged using high-pressure processing to preserve nutrition and ingredient efficacy (for more on Temple Turmeric, see this month's Rollout section).
Ancient and sprouted grains take root
Ancient grains have been in diets for thousands of years, and several like quinoa, flax, farro, chia and teff, have made a comeback. They're starting to figure prominently in food trends for being whole grain, gluten-free, non-GMO, high-fiber, high-protein and vegan.
Consumers are discovering more of these nutrient-rich alternatives to conventional wheat, and are realizing the less-refined grains have notable nutritional profiles.
"Sprouted ingredients are trending, particularly flax, quinoa and chia seed," says Jim Breen, founder and CEO of Live Better Brands, a whole-grain snack chips and crackers company in Minneapolis. "Sprouted grains, beans and seeds have seen a big rise in popularity in the last few years. Folks are more mindful about maximizing and enhancing the nutrition in the foods they eat and look for quality protein sources ... increasingly in snacking."
In September, Breen's company rolled out new tortilla chip flavors under its Way Better Snacks label. One version called Oh Snap! Ginger Snap, teams ginger, molasses and warm spices in a healthful chip made with sprouted flax seed, chia seed and quinoa. The company's limited-edition holiday chips include Oh My Sweet Punkin Cranberry with dried cranberries dotting each chip, sprouted flax seed and quinoa as well as a base of pumpkin. And its new "everyday flavor" rolling out in 2016 is Ginger-Kissed Sweeet Potato, which balances ginger and sweet potatoes, sprouted quinoa and flax seed. All are gluten- and GMO-free and whole grain.
"Brands are looking for ways to insert more healthful ingredients into their products, while keeping flavor a top priority," Breen adds. "Sprouted ingredients not only provide increased nutrients and better nutrient absorption, but also a richer, nuttier flavor."
Live Better Brands also launched sprouted barley crackers in four flavors, which include Black Bean & Salsa. The new crackers feature heritage grains such as spelt and farro, and have 21g of whole grains per serving. "Farro wheat is also an on-trend grain high in protein. Spelt, one of the oldest heritage grains, has a nutty flavor," Breen notes.
Rajen Mehta, senior director of specialty ingredients at Grain Millers, Eden Prairie, Minn., says the company's recently developed natural, functional oat fibers and its processing of flax seed have been great additions to its line of grain-based ingredients.
Aside from increasing dietary fiber for a nutrient content claim, oat fibers can increase crunchiness and crispiness of snacks and cereals, he says, and can enhance shelf life and the makeup of flatbreads while improving texture. "The functional flours line brings many properties of naturally modified starches to oat flours," he says. The oat fibers and functional flours can be used in flatbreads, protein powders, bars and traditional bakery products, Mehta suggests.
Spreading seeds and 'Peace'
Chia seeds could be the ultimate superfood, says fast-growing Health Warrior, Richmond, Va. The company uses chia in its portable Chia Protein snack bars in five flavors. The bars claim to have more omega-3s (1,000g) than 10 lbs. of salmon, more protein (4g) than 3 lbs. of tofu, 4g of fiber and 100 calories each. The vegan, non-GMO bars are also gluten-free.
"We in the natural food world feel like everyone knows about it, but there's so much white space with people who are unfamiliar with the [chia] story and the food," states Shane Emmett, CEO of Health Warrior. While chia began to take off a few years ago, there are "still loads of Americans who haven't discovered it."
Consumers can find chia and hemp seeds as well as quinoa in the Peace Cereal line from digestive health food company Attune Foods LLC, San Francisco. All of the Peace Cereals are packed with whole grains, fiber and protein. A serving contains 7g of protein and 4-5g of fiber. The brand also helps the community. For every box of Peace Cereal sold, a contribution is made to non-profit causes.
Attune's CEO Rob Hurlbut says the cereals have simple ingredients and are simply made. Attune's consumers value clean labels and minimally processed, simple, good-for-you foods, he says. Joining 15 other varieties that also include emerging ingredients, the new Peace cereal varieties include Quinoa Chia Crunch Supergrains and Maple Buckwheat Hemp Supergrains.
Spreading the seeds further, General Mills' Yoplait introduced Plenti Greek yogurt in August. Each cup contains oats, flax, pumpkin seeds and fruit in a creamy yogurt base. Adding grains and seeds makes yogurt heartier, more substantial and satisfying, so that it keeps you fuller longer, says marketing manager Joanna Hargus. "Shoppers are looking for a more filling yogurt. There was a bigger opportunity to ... create a new brand that stood for this benefit in the category, and that's where Plenti came from."
Sweetening the options
Sweeteners are being scrutinized because of health concerns and the FDA’s proposal to include a separate “added sugars” listing on nutrition panels. Consequently, more consumers are recognizing sweeteners such as stevia, monk fruit and coconut sugar, so it's easier for processors to incorporate them on a clean label, explains Thom King, president of Steviva Ingredients, Portland, Ore.
Steviva Ingredients recently introduced CocoSweet+ coconut sugar as a plug-in replacement for sucrose. Made of coconut sugar harvested from the coconut tree blossoms and water-extracted stevia, CocoSweet+, is free of gluten, GMOs, soy, corn, allergens, pesticides and petrochemicals, King points out.
"The optimum blend of these two natural sweeteners delivers a full, clean flavor profile with hints of honey or caramel, and a mouthfeel comparable to sugar," King explains. "Blending stevia and coconut sugar in CocoSweet+ gives food and beverage manufacturers greater flexibility to create clean-label products with extraordinary sweetness profiles. It has a glycemic index of just 35 and a robust nutritional profile."
CocoSweet+'s mild caramel flavor pairs well with flavored dairy, teas and chai, King says. And it contains vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6 and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron.
Steviva's new MonkSweet, MonkSweet+ and MonkSweetLS monk fruit sweetening systems are made by extracting mogroside V-- the sweetest of the glycosides from which monk fruit is derived -- from the pulp of the fruit via water extraction. This helps provide a clean flavor.
"As the new monk fruit crop comes in, prices should start coming down, making it an affordable and viable solution for food manufacturers,"
King notes. Highly soluble MonkSweet can also be used as a plug-in ingredient in formulations to replace sucrose or high fructose corn syrup. Both CocoSweet+ and MonkSweet are available at the retail level in 1-lb. bags.
Cargill has developed a method of using fermentation to produce certain molecules found in the stevia plant, potentially solving some of the obstacles preventing wider use of the calorie-free sweetener. The Minneapolis-based company separated out 40 glycosides in the stevia leaf to test different combinations for taste and mouthfeel and found a pairing that created the "best" taste, but made up less than 1 percent of the leaf. EverSweet, the resulting product, was invented in conjunction with Swiss biotech company Evolva Holding SA.
Unveiled at the SupplySide West show in October, the next-generation steviol glycosides sweetener has no bitterness or aftertaste and will be commercially available in the U.S. next year, says Scott Fabro, Cargill's global product development director of high-intensity sweeteners.
Despite its market success, the stevia plant has been tricky to use in colas and other beverages requiring more sweetness, and can have an aftertaste and a sweetness that hits taste buds too late and too strongly, Fabro points out. "Certain stevia sweetener molecules do not have this problem, but because they only make up a tiny portion of the plant's leaf (less than one percent), it's prohibitively costly to obtain them from the stevia plant."
That's where the glycoside separation process and Evolva came in. The Swiss Evolva helped craft a fermentation process by genetically modifying baker's yeast to create the two desired compounds. "Fermentation should allow for a dramatic expansion in use of molecules such as rebaudiosides M and D, so producers can create new classes of lower-calorie products that taste great and are affordable," says Fabro. Cargill so far has been testing EverSweet with potential customers for 18 months.
Another next big thing in sweeteners is allulose, predicts Mike Harrison, senior vice president of new product development at Tate & Lyle, Hoffman Estates, Ill. Allulose can be found in small quantities in some fruits and other foods, although Tate & Lyle uses corn as the source for its Dolcia Prima allulose. It has the mouthfeel and 70 percent of the sweetness of sucrose (but 90 percent fewer calories), so food and beverage manufacturers can significantly reduce calories in products while maintaining the same taste, the company claims.
"We're focused on educating the industry on the multifaceted benefits of allulose," says Harrison. "There’s still a tremendous amount of education required for manufacturers to understand how to use the product to its full potential."
"Dolcia Prima can be used in combination with non-caloric, high-potency sweeteners like monk fruit and stevia to reduce calories and sugars while maintaining great taste," says Ami Krishan, category marketing director-sweeteners at Tate & Lyle. Dolcia Prima launched commercially early this year, and customers are now in advanced stages of formulation and approvals for its use in their products.
"We’re working with several large baked-goods producers to help them decrease sugar and calories and increase fiber in reduced-calorie brownies, cakes, muffins and snack bars," adds Luis Fernandez, Tate & Lyle's senior vice president of global applications.
Tate & Lyle is not the only company developing allulose. In July, Matsutani America, Itasca, Ill., announced Astraea allulose, which it says is the first plant-based, low-calorie monosaccharide sweetener with proven physiological benefits. Matsutani says Astraea is scientifically proven both to attenuate blood glucose and lower lipid accumulation.
Astraea is created using a process known as "izumoring," in which a monosaccharide reacts with a microbial enzyme, causing the sugar to change from one type to another. “Until now, rare sugar has been almost unavailable commercially, and has been exceptionally expensive, making it difficult to obtain the steady supply necessary for manufacturing and conducting proper research,” explains Tetsuo Iida, director of rare sugar research and development at Matsutani America. "Astraea is a perfect match for people with diabetes and it's gluten-free" adds Yuma Tani, with Matsutani Chemical Industry Ltd. in Itami, Japan.
Probiotics, microalgae in the mix
Who would think microalgae and probiotics could team up for brownie and baking mixes? Enjoy Life Foods' new vegan, gluten-free baking mixes list a relative newcomer in the ingredient repertoire: algal protein. Enjoy Life uses AlgaVia, a whole algal protein powder from Solazyme, which boasts 65 percent protein as well as insoluble fiber, healthy lipids and micronutrients.
A year ago, Joel Warady, chief sales and marketing officer at Enjoy Life, Schiller Park, Ill., says he was totally unfamiliar with algal. But the product not only tastes great, it has 5g of protein per serving. "Most people are surprised when they find out there's microalgae in the mixes," he says. "Ours are among the first baking products to feature algal protein."
Algal protein also maintains the brand's promise of being free of the top allergens, many of which limit protein source options for people with food allergies and intolerances. The AlgaVia powder doesn't affect the taste of the five ready-to-use mixes for brownies, muffins, pizza crust and pancakes and waffles, as well as all-purpose flour. Available since June, the mixes also incorporate sprouted and ancient grains (teff, buckwheat, millet and quinoa flours, depending on the variety).
Consumers also asked for functionality, so Enjoy Life added Ganeden's patented BC30 allergy-friendly probiotic to the mixes. "BC30 won't break down during baking, so the combination of the plant-based protein in teff, the BC30 and the AlgaVia provide the functionality people want and a clean label," Warady explains. "BC30 was the best probiotic at standing up to the heat from our baking requirements."
The retail response to the mixes has been better than the company anticipated, he says. "We expect demand for the baking mixes will continue to grow nationwide."