Superfruits Are Still Super

The term 'superfruits' might not be used as much as it used to, but the power-packed produce remains popular.

By Mark Anthony, Ph.D., Technical Editor

As a label, superfruit lost a little of its sheen once science disclosed that pretty much every edible plant-derived ingredient has nutraceutical benefits that make it super. But that certainly doesn’t negate the formidable health benefits found in those dark and juicy fruits that burst with bioactive phytochemicals such as flavanols, flavonols, flavanones, flavones, anthocyanidins, phytosterols, lignans and the thousands of ingredients in their classes and subclasses.

These ingredients became subjects of intense research in the past couple of decades as investigators sought the link between eating a healthful diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, and its significant reduction in risk, and protection from, multiple forms of cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, cognitive decline, lung disease, birth defects, depression blindness, cataracts and myriad other illnesses and dysfunctions.

One constant in many of these studies was that of color. The darker-colored fruits often proved to be more concentrated in their phytochemical content. They were thus dubbed “superfruits.”

One constant in many of these studies was that of color. The darker-colored fruits often proved to be more concentrated in their phytochemical content. They were thus dubbed "superfruits."

At first, the moniker referred mostly to exotic fruits, such as acai, goji, currants, mangosteen, acerola, etc. Then came the less used but more familiar, such as tart cherries, mangos, kiwi, pumpkin, avocado and papaya. (Pomegranate, which could be said to have been the first of the superfruits, became so pervasive in the food and beverage sphere that it will be treated on its own in the next issue of Wellness Foods.)

Then, when the bottom fell out of the economy, it was a double shot in the arm for those fruits (many of them domestic) that had all the power of the exotics but got none of the limelight: blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries and the like. These common blue, purple and red berries and stone fruits are every bit as rich in lifesaving and health-promoting components.

Processors seeking to develop products featuring useful amounts of these phytochemicals have benefited from food science and ingredient processing advances that have been able to preserve the delicate, often heat-sensitive nutrients of fruits in dried formats. Technologies such as vacuum-drying, microwave drying, cold dehydration (actually an old technology revived) and gentler forms of dehydration, spray drying and drum drying allow ingredient makers to pull the water out and leave the flavors and nutrients in.

Extracts, too, are more precisely drawn, leaving nutraceutical benefits of fruits and vegetables intact. Best of all, these techniques preserve color, too.

Another benefit to the more efficient and preservative techniques for creating superfruit ingredients is that of increased cost control and waste reduction. Here, the advantage includes the ability to bring more exotic and unique superfruits back into the mix. One of the more recent superfruits to trend is the Inca Berry (Physalis peruviana), also called the Cape gooseberry, Peruvian ground cherry or golden berry. Related to the tomatillo, but sweet-tart and deep gold in color, the berry is loaded with B vitamins, vitamin A (and other carotenoids), vitamin C and iron. It also contains vitamin K (see [title of bone health article in this same issue], page 00) and phytosterols.

The yumberry (Myrica rubra), too, seems poised to become a popular superfruit. The Asian fruit is typically available dried or in juice form. It is rich in polyphenols and ellagic acid, believed to protect cells from DNA damage by nitrosamines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Some processors are beginning to include yumberry in yogurts and beverages.

According to Robert Schueller of Melissa’s World Variety produce, people are searching for the next new thing. Right now mulberries -- especially white mulberries -- are “hot”, as are aronia berries. Those are now grown domestically and typically are dried. Although some, like acai and goji, are not permitted into the U.S. as fresh, it’s becoming more common to develop and grow them domestically when possible. Dragonfruit is now grown in California and Florida.

Exotic fruits might not all be as “super” as their more common and familiar cousins, but with their growing availability they bring the attraction of being new and different to American consumers. They are unlikely to slow the popularity of blueberries, cherries, strawberries, etc., but they will definitely bring a little extra color to future fruit formulations.

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