Fruits and Vegetables / Dietary Guidelines

Fruit Finds Perennial 'A Peel' with Manufacturers and Consumers

Super exotics aside, even regular apples, bananas, berries and grapes connote health with their antioxidants, fiber and transparent implications.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

As consumers push for more healthy foods and beverages, manufacturers can look to fruit when creating new products. Fruit is frequently used in baked goods, desserts, cereals and yogurt, but it's also popping up in energy drinks and snacks; even pet offerings.

Most fruit easily fits into consumers' ideas of clean-label foods. Many colors derived from fruit are organic and can be labeled as such. Recent nutrition trends relating to clean ingredients have increased the potential for using fruit in different formats, from dried fruit to powders, purees, extracts and large inclusion chunks with varying moisture levels.

Yet most Americans don't eat enough fruits and vegetables, per the 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommendations. The USDA's Economic Research Service earlier this year reported children and adults who eat more fruit tend to have lower body mass indices (a measure of being overweight). But the ERS also reported dietary intake of fruit and vegetables by U.S. children ages 6-19 is on average half of what it should be.

Besides being clean-label, fruits adds natural sweetness, critical considering the current spotlight on sugar and sweetener reduction. "Fruit provides both a nutritional functionality from the nutrients it provides like fiber, vitamins and minerals, and an appealing taste profile to snacks," says Stephanie Perruzza, integrated communications specialist at Kind Healthy Snacks (www.kindsnacks.com), New York. In August, Kind introduced Fruit Bites, which contain only fruit and no added sugar. They were developed to address over-consumption of sugar by kids, who typically get 19 teaspoons of added sugar a day, more than three times the American Heart Assn.'s recommended limit of 25g. Fruit Bites also are devoid of gluten, preservatives or genetically engineered ingredients. They have three ingredients or less, and each 0.6-oz. pouch features varieties made with cherries, apples and pineapple.

"Adding fruit to snacks is an easy way consumers can increase their fruit consumption on the go," she says." Fruit allows us to achieve a simpler ingredient list without compromising taste, and it's naturally sweet, so allows us to avoid using added sugar."

Barnanaorganic peanutIf you prefer bananas, Barnana (barnana.com) developed Banana Brittle, a crunchy snack in chocolate, gingersnap, peanut butter and toasted coconut flavors. The gluten-free, non-GMO brittle squares are also organic. And they're made with partially dehydrated, upcycled bananas that are deemed "imperfect" for regular consumption, which helps reduce food waste, the Santa Monica, Calif., company says.

Even our furry friends can get more fruit in their diets. Crunchy Diet Fruity Snacks, baked with oatmeal and either cranberries or apple pieces, is offered by Hill's Pet Nutrition, Topeka, Kan. Blueberries are popping up in many pet foods. The same benefits they give humans apply to pets, with some pet owners particularly interested in blueberries' cancer-fighting properties.

Zuke’s LLC, a high-end pet food manufacturer in Durango, Colo., uses visible blueberries, cranberries, cherries and mango in its recipes. The fruits are provided by Milne MicroDried (milnemicrodried.com), a processor that uses a unique drying process  – radiant energy vacuum drying – that maintains higher levels of whole-food nutrition and yields pieces that are close to the original forms.

Dole Food Co. (www.dole.com) introduces a portable way to enjoy berries. Fresh fruit snacks called Go Berries! are three-packs of fresh strawberries or blueberries packed for on-the-go snacking. Launched in August, the ventilated packs hold 6-oz., snap-apart compartments that offer easy access and rinse-and-go convenience.

Dole Go Berries

Cranberries rank high on the list of fall flavors. They're low in calories, reduce risk of urinary tract infections, improve immune function, decrease blood pressure and may prevent certain types of cancer. Thomas' English Muffins (www.thomasbreads.com) from Bimbo Bakeries USA, Horsham, Pa., introduced limited-edition Cranberry English Muffins as well as Cranberry Swirl Bread and Cranberry Bagels, available until Jan. 5, 2018.

Benefits of berries

"Superfruits" have been newsworthy for a while because of their free-radical-fighting health benefits. Adding blueberries, blackberries and other high-antioxidant superfruits to formulations can be an advantage, as superfruit has a "health halo" seemingly beyond reproach.

Studies indicate deeply colored berries can help prevent neural tube defects in infants during pregnancy, possibly slow Alzheimer's disease, inhibit the growth of cancer cells, guard against osteoporosis and can help lower cholesterol levels. They're also compatible with nuts and seeds, a traditional accompaniment to many grains.

Research from the National Processed Raspberry Council (www.redrazz.org), Washington, reveals promising aspects of red raspberry intake on gut microbiota, as well as improved glucose control and increased satiety in participants of short-term human trials.

"We're excited about this new flurry of studies, which builds on previously published research aimed to better understand the potential health benefits of red raspberries," notes Tom Krugman, executive director of the NPRC. Preliminary evidence suggests the actions of essential nutrients, fiber and polyphenolic phytochemicals found in red raspberries may play a role in supporting key metabolic functions, including anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative and metabolic stabilizing activity.

Science shows the blueberry, a powerful purple fruit, has anthocyanins and other flavonoids that can assist with brain function and memory, anti-aging, gut health, eye health, inflammation, cancer prevention, obesity, mood and more. Tom Payne, market developer and industry specialist at the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (www.blueberrycouncil.org), Folsom, Calif., says blueberries come in a wide range of formats: juice, pureed, frozen, freeze-dried and infused.

"The interest in 'natural' ingredients has food manufacturers looking for real sources of color and flavor," Payne says. "Blueberry juice concentrate and purée may be used as coloring and flavoring agents. They have a low pH range (2.8-3.5) and provide a tangy flavor. Whether the product is a liquid, a paste or something in between, these blueberry products contribute texture to the finished product.

"Free-flowing dehydrated blueberries are easy to integrate into dry goods, such as breakfast cereals and intermediate moisture products and can also be used in cookies, breads and snack mixes," he adds. "Powders can be used as coatings in chocolate and confectionary, cereals and bars. Infused blueberries provide chewiness and mouthfeel, while freeze-dried and micro-dried blueberries have crisp flavor notes." Using real fruit conveys an important message to consumes, Payne emphasizes. "Fruits and vegetables are important in the diet, essential to overall health and well being. Clean labels make it easy to show off real fruit and convey the brand is truthful to its customers."

Though not classified as berries, Montmorency tart cherries can help with sleep issues because they're one of the few food sources of the sleep regulating hormone melatonin, according to a recent study from the Harris Poll and the Cherry Marketing Institute (www.choosecherries.com), Dewitt, Mich. Montmorency tart cherry juice has been scientifically studied for its ability to improve sleep quality and duration. And tart cherry juice offers exercise-recovery properties, eases muscle soreness and its anti-inflammatory properties have been valued by arthritis sufferers, the institute says.

The power of purple goes beyond a vibrant color and often indicates nutrient density and antioxidants. The reservatol (natural polyphenol compounds) found in the skins of red and purple grapes may interfere with cancer development, says nutritionist and author Lisa Young. Eating the whole fruit instead of consuming the juice provides the added benefit of fiber, Young says. Fiber intake is tied to a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and obesity.

Welch Concord grape Global The Concord variety of purple grapes is loaded with polyphenols, notes Welch's Global Ingredients Group (www.welchs.com.), Concord, Mass. There are many opportunities to develop beverages, snacks and breakfast cereals formulated using ingredients made from deep purple Concord grapes, says Greg May, technical sales scientist with Welch's. "There's room in the market for new snacks containing fruit if it's real fruit. There's a real opportunity from a product development perspective. Manufacturers can tap into this with new products that will lift this purple haze and make it easier for shoppers to add the benefits of purple into their diets."

Welch's Ingredients business produces FruitWorx real-fruit pieces and juice powder in a range of formats using Concord and Niagara grapes. The chewy pieces are deep purple in color, are naturally sweet and deliver the same type of beneficial plant nutrients found in the grape, May remarks. "It's important for snack companies to consider and be open about the provenance of the ingredients they use."

Advances with avocados, coconuts

While all fruits are healthy, avocados are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and may help raise levels of HDL (good cholesterol) and lower LDL (bad cholesterol). Tasty, buttery and versatile, the avocado -- which is botanically a large berry containing a single large seed – is also high in the antioxidant vitamin E as well as vitamins A, B6 and C, plus calcium, iron and magnesium.

Americans ate 1.9 billion avocados in 2016, up a whopping 57 percent from five years ago, according to the Hass Avocado Board.

A new discovery reveals more about avocado's powerful nutrition. A study in August presented at the American Chemical Society’s (www.acs.org) national meeting in Washington concludes the husks of the large avocado seed can treat several diseases. To find beneficial molecular compounds, researchers grouped about 300 avocado seeds and smashed them into a powder, resulting in seed husk oil and seed husk wax. Chemists found more than 130 different compounds in the oil, and 16 molecules in the wax. Among them was docosanol, the main ingredient in cold sore creams. It also has lauric acid, which is used to raise levels of HDL cholesterol.

Debasish Bandyopadhyay, a chemist at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley who tested the avocado husk, claims the compounds could eventually be used to treat a host of debilitating diseases. "Avocado seed husks, which most people consider as waste, could be the gem of gems because the medicinal compounds within them could eventually be used to treat cancer, heart disease and other conditions," says Bandyopadhyay.

Trendy coconut seems to be in everything −coconut water, oil, milk, cream and sugar. A good source of fiber, vitamins, minerals and electrolytes, "coconut-flavored variants can be expected to continue growing across the food and drink sector," mentions Chris Brockman, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel (www.mintel.com), Chicago.

Dietitians and nutritionists say coconut oil, a medium-chain fatty acid, is converted by the liver directly into energy. This helps the liver in its process of elimination, and it's a source of energy that can increase metabolism and possibly help with weight loss. Each part of the coconut can be used to create new product options. The coconut kernel is rich in protein and saturated fats, one of which is lauric acid, said to aid in preventing atherosclerosis. Yet coconut oil is a saturated fat, so should be used in moderation, reminds the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (www.eatright.org).

The interest in plant-based foods continues to stay strong, and that's good news for fruit, Welch's May sums up. "Fruit has always been popular, and always will be. Trends come and go, but fruit will always retain its reputation for being delicious and healthy."