Nuttin’ But the Best

By Kathie Canning

Fruit and nuts add flavor and health benefits to bakery and snack offerings.

From comfort foods such as blueberry muffins and banana-nut bread to newfangled delights such as cranberry-apple breakfast cookies and macadamia nut pancakes, fruit and nuts are bakery and snack-filling favorites. These popular ingredients not only add flavor, color and texture to foods, but they also serve up impressive health benefits.
Big on Berries
Loosely defined as the edible parts of the ripened ovary or ovaries of seed-bearing plants, fruit long has been a sweet addition to bakery and snack products. Fruit’s popularity continues to rise — with some varieties attracting particularly high consumer interest.
“We are really seeing a demand on the part of consumers for more berries in many baked goods,” says Cat McKenzie, a spokesperson for the Oregon Raspberry & Blackberry Commission. “Pies have been a berry tradition for generations and are still popular. … Muffins are of particular interest, especially if they are low-fat or contain whole grains.”
The Marionberry — a blackberry variety grown only in Oregon — is known for its flavor and boasts high fiber, vitamin and antioxidant content, McKenzie says. Recent studies have linked the consumption of blackberries with heart health and cancer prevention. Black raspberries have become extremely popular during the last few years, she adds, as a result of their high antioxidant and anthocyanin levels.
“Snack bars are also something that consumers are using as part of a healthy eating plan,” McKenzie notes. “[A number of bar manufacturers] are including berries or are working on including berries in their formulations to give consumers new taste options and higher health benefits. Dried berries are another source of interest for R&D people.”
Bob Moore, president of North Hollywood, Calif.-based RDM International, a provider of a wide range of fruit ingredients, notes that blackberries are becoming more popular for bakery applications because they are less expensive than blueberries.
Arun Hiranandani, senior manager of worldwide marketing for the global Ocean Spray Ingredient Technology Group, also notes that there is enhanced interest in berries.
“Berry fruits are particularly popular in most bakery items, and certain berries such as cranberries have specific processing and consumer benefits which enhance their appeal,” Hiranandani says. “Cranberries have a distinctive flavor and color, are visually appealing and enjoy a healthy image. Cranberries also convey a premium semblance to many products, giving them an indulgent perception.”
On the health front, a number of independent studies have linked the North American cranberry — and its A-type proanthocyanidins — to the prevention of urinary tract infections and more. Cranberries also deliver antioxidant health benefits, Hiranandani stresses.
Interest in health benefits is particularly high on the snack side of things. According to “The U.S. Market for Sweet Baked Goods,” a December 2005 report published by Packaged Facts, a division of, the U.S. market for healthy snacks is expected to reach $57.3 billion by 2008.
“Consumer demand for trail mixes and snack bars that include cranberries is very high,” Hiranandani contends. “In fact, recent independent consumer research commissioned by Ocean Spray revealed that 74% of consumers are willing to try a new trail mix if it contains cranberries.”
But berries aren’t the only fruit capturing consumers’ fancy.
“The banana as an ingredient has shown immense strength in the past, but it has undergone a strong resurgence in recent years due to its versatility, broader flavor characteristics, breadth of packaging designed for the bakery industry, and its nutritional/health value,” says Maurice Moragne, global sales representative for Cincinnati, Ohio-based Chiquita Fresh Ingredients.
Moragne says many bakery companies are paying closer attention to the functional benefits of products in light of USDA’s new dietary guidelines, which recommend the consumption of more fruit and vegetables.
“Bananas are rich in vitamin B6, vitamin C and potassium, and are naturally fat-, cholesterol- and sodium-free,” he says. “We also are working with a number of companies on new applications that span mango, pineapple, papaya and passion fruit.” On the snack side, Moragne says “convenience is key,” and there is a need for items with more natural-based products and ingredients.
Raisin the Bar
Raisins are yet another fruit ingredient experiencing a “renaissance” in the baking and snack arenas, says Tom Payne, a consultant to the California Raisin Marketing Board.
“Ten years ago, there were raisin oatmeal cookies and a handful of traditional baking items,” he says. “Now, bakery and snack food manufacturers are utilizing California raisins for health food and variety positioning in dozens of new areas, including performance bars, breakfast cookies, a new generation of trail mixes and others.”
Indeed, Payne notes, raisins make a desirable snack from a Glycemic Index standpoint. They essentially offer a slow-release form of energy. Moreover, raisins boast high antioxidant levels and are a source of soluble fiber and inulin.
Although health benefits are stealing the thunder, they certainly aren’t the only news in fruit ingredients. A number of technology improvements also stand to benefit bakery and snack food manufacturers.
More and more formulators are turning to fruit juices as a natural sweetener, Moore says. Moreover, with individually quick frozen ingredients, researchers are working on methods — different drying techniques — to reduce sugar levels.
Ocean Spray’s BerryFusions fruits are designed to solve many of the processing challenges associated with fruit inclusion. (The company also can enrobe the ingredients with glycerine to hinder moisture migration in snacks.)
“They use cranberry as a carrier, which then is infused with the flavors of other less process-tolerant fruits, including strawberry, raspberry, orange, mango, cherry and blueberry,” Hiranandani says. “The cranberry’s naturally tough outer shell withstands all the vigors of heat treatment and processing, preventing piece degradation. Particularly suited to baked goods, BerryFusions fruits allow bakers to enhance the appeal of their products by using innovative fruit flavors by means of real fruit.”
Got Antioxidants?
The following fruit and nuts boast the highest antioxidant levels, according to a recent study performed by Norweigan and U.S. scientists:*
Fruit or Nut Antioxidant Content (mmol/100 g)
Walnuts 13.126
Pecans 9.668
Blackberries 3.990
Cranberries 3.289
Raspberries 2.334
Strawberries 2.159
Blueberries 2.154
Prunes 2.018
Cherries, Sour 1.814
Pistachios 1.426
* Halvorsen et al., The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2006.
To boost food safety, processors of fruit and vegetables now can apply ultra-high-pressure processing, Moragne notes. Additional bonuses of this newer technology are improved flavor and texture.
Raisins, too, are the subject of recent processing advances, Payne says. Some California raisin packers have developed infusion processes that reduce moisture transference in low-moisture products, while at least one raisin packer is offering the opposite — pre-conditioned high-moisture raisins. And some raisins now are being flavored with fruit, cinnamon and other flavors.
But perhaps the most significant technology advance involves not the raisins themselves, but their processing equipment.
“A major advance has been in the use of optical-and-laser sorting equipment in raisin processing, which gives fastidious snack food processors a product with extremely desirable specifications for sanitary baking and snack making,” Payne says.
A Healthful Crunch
Nuts are also experiencing a renaissance. For bakery items, almonds, walnuts, pecans and macadamias lead the pack in popularity, says Bobby Tankersley, senior vice president of industrial sales for Elk Grove Village, Ill.-based John B. Sanfilippo & Son Inc., which offers a full line of domestic and imported nut products — along with technical support — to food manufacturers.
“Price stability, along with the excellent job that the Walnut and Almond Marketing Boards have done to make people aware of the health benefits of nuts, have translated into strong consumer demand for new bakery items with almonds and walnuts,” he says. “The versatility of pecans, along with historic consumer perception of the ‘premium’ or ‘indulgent’ image of both pecans and macadamia nuts, make them popular choices for certain applications.”
On the snack side, trail mixes make up the fastest-growing category in the snack nut aisle, Tankersley notes.
“Almonds, peanuts, cashews and pecans are the most popular choices for trail mixes,” he says. “Breakfast bars and snack bars are replacing conventional breakfasts for many consumers who are looking for a healthier and mobile alternative, with peanuts, almonds and cashews as ingredients being the most popular choices.”
Speaking of healthier choices, medical research studies have linked nuts to benefits ranging from heart-health promotion to Type-2 diabetes and obesity prevention, Tankersley says.
In fact, the Food and Drug Administration granted its first food-related qualified health claim to nuts in 2003, allowing manufacturers to add the following language to certain nut-containing products: “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 oz. per day of most nuts, such as peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachio nuts and/or walnuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”
The health benefits associated with almonds are having a positive impact on almond sales, notes Rick Meridth, president and CEO of Wasco, Calif.-based Sunny Gem.
“Sales of manufactured almonds in the United States have increased 140% since 1997, and the overall volume of production has more than doubled,” he says. “Almonds help to combat serious health conditions such as cholesterol, obesity, heart disease and diabetes, making them a tasty, yet healthy addition to any item.”
Almonds also give both baked and snack items the “most potential and flexibility,” Meridth contends. His company’s almonds, for example, can be used either natural or blanched as whole, split, sliced, slivered, diced or meal.
Golden West Nuts Inc. of Ripon, Calif., which refers to almonds as “one of the world’s oldest cultivated food sources,” also offers numerous varieties, sizes, “cuts” and grades of almonds. Just call them diamonds in the rough.
In addition to having a “healthy halo,” almonds are versatile and complement a wide array of sweet and savory foods, notes Steve Gikas, co-owner of Golden West Nuts.
Nut-related technology advances also bode well for bakery and snack manufacturers.
“Ingredient users are always looking for ways to increase the stability and shelf life of nuts as they look to make them part of new product applications,” Tankersley says. “The new coated nut products — whether they are glazed, frosted or yogurt-coated — along with antioxidant properties, help extend shelf life and offer new tastes and flavors as well.”
Electronic sorting and processing devices also represent a step forward, Meridth notes.
“This technology has come so far and continues to evolve today,” he says. “Electronic sorting has dramatically decreased the amount of foreign material such as rocks and shell fragments from the process. This has helped tremendously in ensuring a safe, quality product.” SF&WB