Fruits with high levels of antioxidants can deliver both nutritional benefits and taste enhancement, particularly when combined with chocolate.

Since the earliest times, confectioners have looked at fruits as an ideal inclusion for chocolate confections. Recent and ongoing research regarding chocolate’s inherent health benefits stemming from high levels of antioxidants have repositioned this decadent treat in a brave new light, one that meshes goodness withgouter.

Thus, it’s no surprise that confectioners have been formulating chocolates with fruits that would work the same wonders, delivering not only pleasure, but polyphenols, as well. One fruit, often grouped with many of the exotic superfruits, is cranberry.

Traditionally known for its role in preventing urinary tract infections, most recent research suggests that the fruit also delivers a variety of health benefits throughout the body, including cardiovascular, immune, cellular, oral and gastrointestinal areas.

These whole body benefits are derived from the fruit’s dual antioxidant and anti-adhesion mechanism. Unique A-linked compounds called proanthocyanidins (PACs) prevent bacteria from adhering to cell walls and removing the potential to cause infection, while the high antioxidant content helps fight free-radicals that can damage cells throughout the body. With a rich combination of other nutrients such as fiber, vitamin C and quercetin, the cranberry offers truly multidimensional health benefits.

Such “good-for-you” characteristics have propelled cranberry use not only into chocolate bars and pieces, but even as individual chocolate-covered cranberries. In response to confectioner demand for larger piece sizes, one supplier, Ocean Spray, launched the Classic Whole sweetened dried cranberry (SDC).

The larger sweetened dried cranberry maintains its characteristic red color and sweet, tart taste at every step of production. The deep red works particularly well as a bright addition to nut mixes and contrasts perfectly with the richness of chocolate in confectionery applications. Launched in November 2009, the Classic Whole SDC is generating considerable customer interest, globally.

To enable manufacturers to use other varieties of fruit in confectionery, even soft fruits, Ocean Spray Integrated Technology Group (ITG) developedBerryFusionsFruits.BerryFusionsFruits are real fruit pieces with all the process tolerance of a cranberry. They are available in a variety of flavors - cherry, strawberry, raspberry, orange, mango and blueberry - offering customers an innovative way to create fruit confections in varieties of their choosing.

With its network of local distributors, Ocean Spray ITG has witnessed first-hand the growing popularity of healthy indulgence in different countries around the world. The cranberry’s taste and luxurious texture have won over consumers globally, but regional preferences can sometimes apply.

German and Eastern European manufacturers have been quick to see the appeal of the cranberry and chocolate pairing. Diced cranberries are popular, as they spread evenly through a product, offering a consistent fruity texture.

Manufacturers in China and Japan also are beginning to experiment with cranberries in products such as white chocolate-covered cranberries and cranberry fruit gums. One microtrend in Japan is for fruit-flavored chocolate, where cranberry powder is used to give a pink coloring and fruity taste.

In the United States, health and wellness remains a key trend, which has reinforced the popularity of fruit flavors in confectionery. Several large, midsized and artisan chocolate companies, ranging from Mars Chocolate North American and The Hershey Co. to Endangered Species and Wolfgang Chocolates, have introduced chocolate items with cranberries.

Another superfruit that’s been a longtime confectioner favorite, tart cherry, has re-emerged with a powerful health message. The latest research suggests that cherry juice may help reduce exercise-induced muscle pain and soreness, in addition to already being known for helping ease inflammation associated with arthritis or heart disease. 

How? Cherries contain powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins, which have anti-inflammatory properties that can help protect muscles and joints even before a workout, thereby reducing post-exercise pain. These antioxidants also are responsible for cherries’ bright red color.

Such health benefits haven’t gone unnoticed by confectioners. One classic example involves Nestlé, which recently introduced CherryRaisinets, which debuted at Target stores this June.

“Cherries were the perfect choice as the second new fruit in more than 80 years to be added to the belovedRaisinetsfamily,” explains Tricia Bowles, spokesperson for Nestlé Confections & Snacks.

“Nestlé CherryRaisinets are made with premium, whole dried Montmorency tart cherries drenched in pure Nestlé dark chocolate,” she says. “Both provide the benefits of natural antioxidants and there’s a ½ serving of real fruit in every ¼ cup. CherryRaisinetsmake the perfect ‘better-for-you’ treat, and consumers, agree; public demand is driving retail distribution.”

Clearly, such fruits will encourage further experimentation by confectioners in order to launch more better-for-you offerings and, undoubtedly, spark additional demand by consumers.