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Ingredients for Healthy Indulgence

Oct. 8, 2008
Just a few tricks can deliver products consumers will buy that also are good for them.

Healthy indulgence shouldn’t be an oxymoron. In fact, indulgence has always been a healthy part of a balanced approach to eating, as demonstrated in the traditions of healthy civilizations.

However, one could argue that our obsession with guilt-promoting popular diets has been at least partly responsible for the fact that today the mere mention of the word “healthy” can trigger a knee-jerk association with “flavorless,” “unappetizing” and “boring.”

Consumers may demand healthier foods, and at the same time fund the flavor-only offerings. The smart strategy for processors intent on tapping the healthy indulgence market is to focus on the ingredients consumers equate with indulgence yet deliver healthy profiles to the foods and beverages they enhance.

Reinventing indulgence

“Achieving healthy indulgence is a challenge to both the food scientist and to the marketing manager,” says John Tucker, who has both titles – “director of marketing & technology” – at Turtle Mountain (www.turtlemountain.com), Eugene, Ore.

Every Turtle Mountain product seeks to bridge the healthy and indulgent gap by combining soy bases with decadent ingredients.

Turtle Mountain also has that split personality, specializing in soy-based ice cream and refrigerated yogurts. The appropriately titled Purely Decadent and So Delicious brands are certified vegan, Kosher and in most instances organic, depending on the product line.

“Creating healthy food products that are as indulgent as their not-so-healthy counterpart represents a daunting technical challenge,” Tucker continues. “It often requires the food scientist to think outside the box and to approach the problem in an unconventional fashion.”

Equally challenging is communicating that a food product is both healthy indulgent. “Healthy indulgence can be a double-edged sword. If you place too much emphasis on health, consumers are suspicious as to how it will taste. If you focus too much on indulgence, consumers fail to see the health benefits. As an example, we learned that exclusive use of the word ‘healthy’ could lead to reduced taste expectations,” says Tucker.

“Our experience at Turtle Mountain has been that applying standard ingredients and standard processes generally fails to achieve the breakthroughs required to create healthy products with exceptional taste,” he continues. “We often look to other product categories for solutions both from an ingredient perspective and processing perspective. It is amazing what you can discover.”

“Today, more than ever, it makes sense for manufacturers to optimize their overall protein strategy,” says Nick Weber, public relations manager for Solae (www.solae.com), St. Louis. “With animal protein costs rising and stability of supply affecting food companies, soy protein capitalizes on consumer health and wellness trends. As a plant-based, high-quality protein, soy protein is a great fit for products that are positioned as natural and good for the environment.”

Soy protein also can be included in products that address heart health, satiety/weight management, lean muscle mass development and sustained energy. Soy protein is comparable to meat, milk and eggs on a protein level. Solae soy protein can help processors provide healthy products to a consumer base that wants to indulge from time to time.

Icons of indulgence

Over the years, nothing has screamed, “indulgence” louder than chocolate. But when researchers began to uncover the value of phytochemicals, many of which were antioxidants like the flavanols found in chocolate, especially dark chocolate, the image of chocolate began to change. Maybe there was some reason behind our mad obsession with this indulgence. Maybe chocolate was innocent, even protective! 

Starting with a healthy image, Larabar moved into indulgent chocolate territory with its Jocalat line.

As it became clear that antioxidants were key factors in a healthy diet, Mars North America (www.mars.com), Mount Olive, N.J., expanded chocolate’s reach as a health-oriented extravagance with its CocoaVia Original Chocolate line (www.cocoavia.com). CocoaVia products are processed to contain 100mg of flavanols and 1.1g of natural plant extracts in both dark and milk chocolate forms. The chocolate bars are marketed as “an excellent source of calcium and a good source of folic acid, vitamins B6, B12 and antioxidant vitamins C and E.” Serving size, too, is focused toward the health benchmark snack size of 100 calories per serving.

Denver-based Lärabar Inc. (www.larabar.com) went deeper into chocolate territory with the launch of its Jocalat “organic chocolate food bars” in 2007. The Larabar healthy image derives from the simple ingredients, generally limited to no more than seven organic items sweetened with dates and other dried fruit. The addition of chocolate to the line created a perfect fit — health with indulgence.

At the 2008 IFT Food Expo in New Orleans, Solae showcased several concepts that aimed to capitalize on the health and wellness trends while delivering the exceptional taste of indulgent foods. One examples was a Pomegranate-Acai Heart-Healthy Smoothie — a 100 percent juice smoothie featuring pomegranate and acai combined with 7g of soy protein, delivering antioxidant and heart health benefits. Dark Chocolate Goji Berry Bliss was a high-protein (11g) soy-based bar with dark chocolate and goji berries. The prototype was a good source of fiber and 14 vitamins and minerals.

How’s this for healthy indulgence: dark chocolate with goji berries. It was a prototype at the recent IFT Food Expo from Solae.

Chips had become almost an icon of deep fried indulgence when some chip manufactures rushed to fill the demand for products that could better balance both sides of the health/indulgence equation. This entailed not only moving away from trans fats, but also expanding ingredient choices to include antioxidant-rich plants.

As early as 1990, companies such as Hain Celestial Group Inc.’s Terra Chips (www.terrachips.com), Boulder, Colo., set the pace with its exotic vegetable chips from taro root, beets and sweet potatoes and potato chips made from purple, Yukon gold and red potatoes.

Los Angeles-based Corazonas Foods took a different route, inserting CardioAid plant sterols from Archer Daniels Midland Co. – as well as lowering fat by an average of 40 percent over standard potato chips. Corazonas not only calls its snack “heart-healthy chips,” but the package clearly claims “proven to help lower cholesterol.”

Cool beans

Beans are a perfect example of a healthful ingredient struggling to gain a foothold in American consciousness. But add bean, pea and lentil flours to baked goods and you can give traditionally indulgent foods a high-protein, high-fiber, folate- and mineral-rich boost.

“Treats like cookies, crackers and muffins made with bean flour are a perfect fit for a healthful indulgence category,” says Peter Watts, director of market innovation for Pulse Canada (www.pulsecanada.com), the Winnipeg, Manitoba-based industry association representing growers, processors and traders of pulse crops.

ADM (www.admworld.com), Decatur, Ill., offers just such an option via its VegeFull line of cooked, ground bean ingredients. They’re “natural fits for creating healthier dessert alternatives,” says ADM nutrition scientist Patricia Williamson-Hughes and bean technologist Patricia DeMark. VegeFull helps “make it easier for manufactures to create healthy desserts, cakes, pies, cookies and chocolates.”

“One of the many advantages of working with beans is they carry flavors so well,” explains DeMark. “Something sweet or something savory can easily be enhanced nutritionally with the addition of beans. For instance, peanut butter cookies can be made [healthier] by adding VegeFull and reducing the fat and peanut butter, without affecting the taste. Replacing a flour portion of your favorite recipe with a VegeFull blend of peas and cooked beans makes a great product that kids will never suspect as being more healthy for them.”

Indulgent fiber?

According to Tate & Lyle North America (www.tateandlyle.com), Decatur, Ill., there’s a steady rise in the popularity of healthy eating, yet consumers perceive they are often faced with a choice between something that is good for them and something that tastes good. Tate & Lyle sees its dietary fiber offerings as addressing this issue by enabling manufacturers to include the desired health benefits of fiber in mainstream food and beverage products without compromising taste.

Key is the Promitor group of fibers, such as Promitor Soluble Corn Fiber, a dietary fiber with prebiotic properties. Available in powder and liquid, it functions like corn syrup and can be used as a partial or complete replacement for sucrose and sugar alcohols in combination with other sweeteners. Clear, with a bland-to-slightly sweet flavor (2 Kcal/g) and low viscosity, it leaves intact key characteristics in applications.

Promitor Corn Fiber is process stable, even in acid conditions, allowing wide applications in dairy, beverage, bakery, soups, sauces and dressings, fillings, confections, cereal coatings. It can be labeled as either soluble corn fiber, corn syrup or corn syrup solids.

Promitor Resistant Starch is a dietary fiber with prebiotic properties that can act as a low calorie (1.7 Kcal/g) flour replacer. As an insoluble dietary fiber, it can be used in a wide range of baked goods and snacks. Its superior heat and shear resistance and low water-holding characteristics lead to more fiber at the end of the manufacturing process.

Promitor Resistant Starch may be used to reduce fat pick-up in fried foods such as corn chips, tortilla chips, batters and breading and is compatible with whole grains, for use in ready-to-eat cereal, snacks, tortillas, crackers, cookies, pizza crust, bread and pasta. It also can be labeled as “corn starch” and is GMO free.

Superfruit superinterest

“Including enough of a specific ingredient to support a health-oriented labeling claim, without compromising flavor or texture, is a crucial factor when formulating foods one would consider indulgent,” says Ram Chaudhari, chief scientific officer at Fortitech Inc. (www.fortitech.com), Schenectady, NY. “Currently, superfruits such as açai, mangosteen, goji and pomegranate are popular with food and beverage processors because of their antioxidant profiles. The challenge of including these fruits happens during the processing stage, where it’s easy to lose nutritional benefit.”

For instance, a product such as a muffin might not be sweet enough to offset the plain or bitter flavor that can occur in grain-based ingredients. “Using flavor modulation technology or flavor extracts and/or essential oils are a few ways manufacturers can include a superfruit ingredient to creates an end product that tastes great.

“Consumers looking for an indulgent experience also may be looking for ingredients to help with a particular health condition, such as cognitive function, weight and diabetic management and cardiovascular disease prevention,” Chaudhari continues. “Popular ingredients that address those health concerns include pre- and probiotics, antioxidants, superfruits, omega-3s, CoQ10 and Lycopene.

“More products include flaxseed as an ingredient for to its omega-3 fatty acid content. While it has mostly appeared in breads, cereals and nutrition bars, it is crossing over into more ‘indulgent’ snack choices, such as cookies. Ice cream containing phytosterols would be of interest to a consumer looking for a product that lowers cholesterol. Phytosterols (including stanol esters) can achieve this by suppressing intestinal cholesterol absorption while partially suppressing cholesterol biosynthesis. It is also a great fortification vehicle for vitamins A and D, so consumers should accept the addition of another healthy ingredient, omega-3s as an added benefit.

Dairy products already have health benefits associated with them, including prevention of osteoporosis, hypertension, obesity, type 2 diabetes, CVD, stroke, cancer and dental health. Issues surrounding omega-3-enhanced dairy products are primarily formulation challenges: How much to add? How is the product labeled? Are there allergen concerns? What claims can be made on the label? What about contaminants?

“Microencapsulated fish oil has solved a main formulation challenge — the flavor/odor problem — allowing its addition to a wide variety of foods,” continues Chaudhari. “There is no established recommended daily amount for EPA/DHA, but delivering 50mg to 100mg per serving in a variety of foods will help people reach the 500mg/day amount proposed by FDA, AHA and others.”

Newman’s Own Organics (www.newmansownorganics.com), Westport, Conn., is in its 15th year of proving “healthy” and “indulgence” belong together. Now a separate company from Newman’s Own, the company offers dozens of healthy indulgences across the range of foods, beverages and condiments.

All, of course, are organic, and with a focus on flavor first. One of the company’s slogans echoes the principle behind bringing together two seemingly opposing ideals: “Great Tasting Products That Happen To Be Organic.”

With an intricate ingredient selection and formulation development process, Newman’s Own Organics offers not just pretzels, popcorn and soy crisps, but some two dozen varieties of cookies and nearly a dozen kinds of chocolate bars and cups.

What seems to be re-emerging is an old tradition, one in which indulgence is part of a healthy diet. It’s not really new, just newly popular. They are so connected that maybe the work put into creating healthy indulgent foods will have a positive influence on a healthy diet.

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