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."
She says baobab is also used to develop fruit snacks and chews, and is being combined with other superfruits like pomegranate and acai in formulations.
Baobab powder is also a cost-effective way to enhance nutrients in beverages, mentions Stephan Broburg, general manager of Baobab Foods (www.baobabfoods.com), Bellevue, Wash. Opportunities for baobab will continue to grow, he says, given the surge in health-consciousness and nutrient-dense foods.
While not a fruit, sweet potatoes are being promoted as a superfood by Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients (cifingredients.com), Nashville, N.C. They're one of nature's best sources of beta-carotene, fiber and vitamin A, the company says. Sweet potatoes are known to benefit people with diabetes because they're low on the glycemic index and have little effect on blood glucose levels.
CIFI's sweet potato ingredients include a single-strength sweet potato juice called Carolina Pressed and juice concentrate for beverage applications as well as dehydrated sweet potato flour, crumbles and granules for clean-label applications. They can replace high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners in soups, desserts and baked goods, and the flour especially shows promise in gluten-free muffins and quick breads.
"The sweet potato ingredients add fiber, vitamins and minerals," explains John Kimber, COO. "We have active relationships with many top brands in beverage, bakery, snack and dressings and sauces," he says. "Our products are used in everything from smoothies, vodkas and beers to barbecue sauces and breakfast sausages. Our Carolina Original Purple sweet potato juice, made with purple sweet potatoes, boasts an increased level of anthocyanins, a valuable antioxidant, and it's a natural source of deep purple color."
Going with the grain … and sprouts
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend increasing fiber intake, which may inspire formulators to look to grain-based ingredients, including those with ancient grains, seeds and sprouts. Grains contribute to 31 percent of the daily dietary recommended amount of thiamin and 16 percent of zinc. They're also the largest source of fiber in the American diet, says the Grain Foods Foundation (www.grainfoodsfoundation.org), providing more fiber (40 percent) than fruits (10 percent) or vegetables (16 percent).
Ancient grains add dimension, whole-grain nutrition and a rustic wholesomeness to foods, plus added color and texture and flavor. Flours made from legumes, ancient grains, teff, amaranth, seeds and nuts are seen by experts at Whole Foods Market as a food trend to watch. Ancient grain flours are showing up in bean-based pastas and other packaged goods.
Ancient grains like emmer (farro) are viewed as superfoods because of their generous vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein. Most are also gluten-free and, substituting for wheat flours, remove one of the top eight allergens from a recipe. They also tend to hold more water than wheat flour, which may be useful for forming a workable dough, adds Vanessa Brovelli, senior product applications technologist for Bay State Milling (www.baystatemilling.com), Quincy, Mass.
Einkorn, emmer and other heirloom grains are becoming more readily available at greenmarkets and specialty shops. Emmer has the potential of becoming the next quinoa, notes Mark DiDomenico, a client solutions director at Datassential (new.datassential.com), Chicago.
Top chefs in high-end New York restaurants are favoring this nutty-tasting ancestor of durum wheat for its rich, earthy flavor. Upland Restaurant offers such dishes as a savory rye and emmer porridge beneath osso buco while chewy einkorn berries lend texture to pan sauces for chicken at Gramercy Tavern, says The New York Times.
Bluebird Grain Farms (www.bluebirdgrainfarms.com), Winthrop Wash., cultivates and mills heirloom and ancient grains such as emmer to order. The family farm owned by Sam and Brooke Lucy carefully de-hulls and stores emmer in old-world wooden granaries that keep it dry and free of mold. It also grows einkorn, dark rye, red and white spring wheat and many others on about 240 acres. Currently, emmer accounts for at least 75 percent of Bluebird's sales, says Sam Lucy.
Sprouted grains are even newer on the scene. The process involves soaking the grains in water until they begin to grow a sprout. Enzymes are released during the sprouting process, which break down proteins and carbohydrates and makes the grain even lower on the glycemic index and easier to digest. Traditional grains are harder to digest, and the body loses a good portion of the nutrients because it is unable to digest them. Sprouting provides a grain that already is partially broken down, making its nutrients more readily absorbed.
Sprouted grain bakery Angelic Bakehouse (www.angelicbakehouse.com), Cudahy, Wis., says the sprouted grains category is expected to grow eight-fold in the U.S. by 2018. Angelic scored a hit taking its non-GMO sprouted wheat beyond sliced bread with an extensive sprouted line from hamburger buns, pizza crusts and dinner rolls to wraps, baguettes and more. In the past five years, the bakery's proprietary sprouting process and nutritious, tasty sprouted mash have transformed its business from a small regional boutique to a national category leader, nearly tripling sales, says Jenny Marino, CEO and president. "Today’s consumers are turning the food industry on its head. They demand better ingredients, less processing, and higher nutritional value without sacrificing great taste."
Glanbia Nutritionals (www.glanbianutritionals.com), Kilkenny, Ireland, recently unveiled a line of heat-treated, sprouted flaxseed ingredients called ChoiceGrad in Brown and Golden. The grades are fully-traceable, according to the company, and undergo a rigorous heat treatment to ensure optimal purity, stability and shelf life.
Time to replace added sugars
With added sugars being called out in the 2018 version of the Nutrition Facts panel, many processors will be working in 2017 to minimize this label statement. There are many non-nutritive sweeteners on the market, but finding a natural one will be the goal for many formulators.
Stevia already is making a dent in the market. Monk fruit, or luo han guo, might not get as much attention as stevia, mainly because there are few U.S. distributors of it. But its use is expanding beyond niche status in the natural space. The centuries-old plant native to Southern China and northern Thailand contains sweetener compounds called mogrosides. Monk fruit extracts can be up to 300 times as sweet as sugar and have been used in hundreds of products in the U.S., such as juice drinks, ready-to-drink coffee, snack bars, fruit cups, bakery items, frozen novelties, yogurt and carbonated soft drinks.
Tate & Lyle (www.tateandlyle.com) says monk fruit has a clean taste, no bitter aftertaste and zero calories, making it a good choice as a non-nutritive sweetener. Tate & Lyle established an exclusive global marketing and distribution partnership in 2011 with New Zealand's BioVittoria Ltd., and introduced monk fruit extract under the name Purefruit. BioVittoria Ltd. has since been renamed Monk Fruit Corp.
Non-GMO, allergen-free and GRAS, Purefruit and Purefruit Select sweeteners are used in a wide range of products, the company says, especially in dairy and beverage applications.
In June, Archer Daniels Midland Co. (www.adm.com), Chicago, announced its partnership with Canada's GLG Life Tech Corp. (www.glglifetech.com), Richmond, British Columbia, to develop monk fruit sweeteners and ingredients to meet the demand for sugar reduction and clean-label ingredients. "More consumers want healthier foods made with natural ingredients that taste great," sums up Rodney Schanefelt, ADM's director, sugar and high-intensity sweeteners. GLG will produce the low-calorie monk fruit sweeteners and ADM will market and distribute the ingredients to food and beverage companies.
Suntava Inc. (www.suntava.com), an Afton, Minn., plant-based specialty ingredients company and part of Healthy Food Ingredients LLC, grows and develops multigrain purple corn and purple corn ingredients that are non-GMO Project Verified. Suntava's president Bill Petrich says the purple corn is gluten-free and is used in products such as tortilla chips, pasta, cereals and tortillas. The ingredients are available as a sweet purple extract that can be used as a binder for energy and breakfast bars, popcorn, cereals, granola, jelly or beverages. "Suntava's rich purple color comes from the high level of anthocyanins contained in the entire plant, down to the kernels," notes Petrich. "For too long, nutrition has been bred out of our food. Suntava is excited to be part of the movement to cultivate foods that are naturally fortified from seed to table."
Heart-healthy nutrients like coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ10), another powerful antioxidant, help fight damaging free radical particles in the body. The fat-soluble antioxidant compound is made naturally in the body and consumed in the diet. CoQ10 is indispensable for energy production in the mitochondria cells, and the heart muscle is particularly rich in mitochondria.
Evidence suggests that CoQ10 may lower blood pressure in people with diabetes and studies show its antioxidant properties may help improve immune function, prevent migraines and control blood sugar. Although CoQ10 supplements are widely available, foods like meat, poultry, fish and broccoli also contain dietary CoQ10. Moderate sources include fruit such as cherries, vegetables, eggs and dairy products.
Fortifying food products can increase intake of the antioxidant, says the National Institute of Health, although CoQ10's success so far has been as supplements. Until recently, the compound's solubility in fats, oils, lipids and non-polar solvents made fortifying foods with it difficult, especially with low-fat, water-based products. Forms of CoQ10 with increased water-solubility are being developed to fortify aqueous products, and processors are looking at ways to use it in other foods. All-Q from DSM Nutritional Products (www.dsm.com) provides a water soluble format for creating products such as, flavored water, yogurt and cereal bars.