Today’s consumer is rarely satisfied with packaged food the way it used to be - inexpensive, gut-filling and tasty. These days consumers are seeking healthful extras in their packaged foods, AND they want it all in a delicious, low-calorie product that is good for the planet.
Enter “ingredients with benefits,” those ingredients that can boost the health profile of packaged food while delivering on flavor and texture. Here we offer a selection of the best and brightest nutritional powerhouse ingredients, including a couple that are still on the horizon (in alphabetical order).
As early as last year, acacia was approved by the FDA as a prebiotic. It’s worth noting that pure acacia fiber is not as rapidly fermented as medium-chain fructooligosaccharide prebiotics. Therefore, it doesn’t create the same gastrointestinal discomfort. This makes it well-suited for products conforming to FODMAP diets.
Ahiflower oil is pressed and extracted from the seeds of non-GMO, proprietary varieties of Buglossoides arvensis, an herb in the Boraginaceae (Borage) family. The oil is rich in omega-3 stearidonic acid (SDA) and omega-6 gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), supporting heart, brain, skin, and immune health.
Natures Crops International, its exclusive producer, claims Ahiflower products contain more omegas than any other natural pant or seed, delivering the health advantages of fish oil, evening primrose oil, olive oil and flax seed oil all in one plant. Ahiflower is available in powder and oil. It pairs well with a variety of food & beverage products, such as dairy beverages, dressings, dips, and spreads.
Algae and Seaweed
Edible seaweeds and algae are known for high fiber content, while some species tout up to 70% protein that contains all the essential amino acids. Algae also contain vitamins B12, C and E, minerals like calcium and potassium, omega-3 fatty acids like docosahexaenoic (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and a wide range of carotenoids, including lutein, zeaxanthin, astaxanthin and beta-carotene. Some species of algae, like Haematococcus Pluvialis, have some of the highest concentrations of astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant that supports mitochondrial health. In addition, Euglena gracilis boasts high levels of linear beta-1,3-glucan, which has positively impacted the immune system.
Seaweed and algae products come in many forms. One new use is as a natural source of minerals, and ingredient companies have created mineral complex formulas for everything from meal replacement beverages to bakery items. As mentioned above, algae is also becoming known as a source of plant-based, sustainable protein. Oil is extracted to create omega-3 fats.
The dark purple aronia berry is gaining popularity as the next berry superfruit. Dried aronia berries contain some of the highest levels of polyphenols and antioxidants in any berry. Considered a bit of a chameleon, its flavor seems to change when combined with other fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains.
Formulators note they share attributes with blueberries, with earthier, sweet-tart flavors and a wine-like complexity that works well in traditional berry recipes such as cereals, snack bars, desserts, confections and savory applications. In addition, aronia works exceptionally well with pork. The berry is primarily available in dried and powder forms, where the nutritional benefits are amplified.
Butterfly Pea Flower
Tart Montmorency cherries have gained popularity because of their multitude of health benefits. Recent research shows these sweet-tart morsels help treat insomnia, cardiovascular disease, gout and arthritis. This is because they contain high levels of melatonin and anthocyanin. In addition, developers can blend tart cherry concentrate with other nutrient-rich ingredients, such as ashwagandha, chamomile and ginseng, to create tasty sleepytime beverages. (It’s worth noting, however, that labeling standards may hinder marketing a cherry product as a sleep aid.)
Inulin, a non-digestible oligosaccharide (NDO) derived from natural sources, is another hydrocolloid that adds a nutritional boost to food formulations. Inulin helps maintain gastrointestinal health by reinforcing gut barrier function, stimulating immune function and preventing harmful bacteria from settling in the gastrointestinal tract walls.
In addition to its use as a thickener and texturizer, it can be used to replace sugar and fat in food formulations. It is low on the glycemic index and is lower in sweetness and caloric value than sugar. It improves body and mouthfeel, helps retain moisture, is acid- and heat-stable helps to mask the aftertaste of intense non-nutritive sweeteners, and may prolong shelf life.
Mushrooms have long been known as formidable nutritional ingredients because of their high levels of beta-glucan. Mushrooms like lion’s mane (Hericium Erinaceus), shiitake and reishi (Ganoderma lingzhi) boost immune support and act as adaptogens. Research shows that the nutrients in mushrooms supply powerful antioxidants, stimulate the immune system, assist with blood pressure management and support overall wellness.
Other research suggests mushroom compounds may promote focus, boost cognition and provide cardiovascular and skin health support. Mushrooms are available in extract and powder forms and play very well with bold, earthy flavors. Their woodsy flavor lends well to soups, stews, sauces, and snack foods.