Functional Food Ingredients 6399e488307d9

10 Ingredients With Benefits You'll Want to Add to your Product Formulations

Dec. 28, 2022
In addition to helping with flavor and texture, some ingredients can deliver health-imparting properties.

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).


Gum acacia is a historical hydrocolloid all-star for its ability to emulsify, thicken and provide pleasing textures. Recently it’s received new attention for its health benefits. While older studies have supported its cholesterol-leveling capabilities, more recent studies highlight acacia’s ability to help reduce body fat and boost the immune system.

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

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

For U.S.-based food manufacturers, algae and seaweed are most known as sources of hydrocolloids, providing thickening, gelling and emulsifying properties in the form of alginates, agar and carrageenan. Today, however, food and beverage companies are expanding their use of these greens of the sea to boost nutritional content.

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.

Aronia Berries

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

Native to Asia, the butterfly pea flower is well-known for its brilliant blue hue. Butterfly pea flowers contain antioxidants, including ternatins, kaempferol, p-coumaric acid and delphinidin-3,5-glucoside. Research suggests that the compounds in butterfly pea flowers may help increase weight loss, stabilize blood sugar levels and support skin and hair health. It received FDA approval in 2021 for categories including beverages, gums, candy, coated nuts, ice creams, and yogurt. It is heat-, light- and acid-stable and comes dried, powdered and as an extract.


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.)


Bright and fruity elderberries are not new on the scene, but they are increasing in popularity because they boost immunity. They contain high levels of vitamin C, antioxidants and fiber. Elderberries promote gut health, reduce fever and increase protection against disease. Elderberries come dried, dehydrated and powdered, as well as in juice concentrates and syrups. They go particularly well with pork and bring a refreshingly tart note to granola, snack bars, and beverages. Syrups and concentrates are great additions to RTD beverages and smoothies.


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.

Maqui Berries

Harvested primarily in Chile, maqui berries are similar to açaí in that both are nutritional powerhouses packed in a tiny purple berry. Hailing from South America, they grow on evergreen bushes and trees. Maqui berries taste like blackberries, succulent and sweet, with a slightly tart flavor. Their high levels of anthocyanins help reduce heart disease risk and alleviate inflammation. They also contain delphinol, which is being studied for its ability to help regulate blood sugar. In most parts of the world, fresh maqui berries are unavailable. They are hard to transport. For now, maqui berries are commercially available dried and dehydrated and in juice and extract form.


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.

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