Nuts, seeds and other inclusions add new dimensions of color, appearance, texture, nutrition, flavor and more to an increasing range of snack and bakery products. Nut and seed consumption has continued to increase over the past several years. One of the contributing factors to the growth is consumer awareness and interest in plant-based foods.

The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines encourage a healthy eating pattern that emphasizes nutrient-dense, plant-based foods while eating a variety of protein foods, including nuts and seeds. Also, the American Heart Association describes crunchy nuts as petite powerhouses of taste and nutrition and has included nuts in its dietary guidelines since 2000.


Taste, texture and nutrition

The California Walnut Commission recently worked with an independent research firm to conduct a study among 3,032 consumers to understand their attitudes and usage of walnuts. One highlight from the research showed that 72 percent of consumers would purchase a food product knowing it contains walnuts. Consumer purchase interest for products containing walnuts was strong across multiple categories:

  • 83 percent would purchase walnut snack mixes
  • 78 percent would purchase walnut cookies
  • 73 percent would purchase walnut baking mixes
  • 70 percent would purchase walnut energy bars

In addition, the study noted that consumers perceive walnuts as being nutritious and all natural. Jennifer Olmstead, marketing director, U.S., California Walnut Commission, Folsom, CA, points out that walnuts are the only nut to contain a significant amount of plant based omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid (2.5 grams per ounce of English walnuts, or 9 grams in 100 grams of walnuts). They also contain protein and fiber, and are a good source of magnesium.

Walnuts ingredients, available in a variety of forms, sizes and colors, can be used in the development of new snack and bakery products to deliver taste, texture and nutrition. Olmstead details the different formats of walnuts and offers tips on how they can be used in snack and bakery applications:

  • Walnut meal. Walnut meal makes a great gluten-free flour replacement in baked goods. As it may increase total oil content, the amount of oil that is typically added to the product should be adjusted.
  • Walnut pieces. Walnut pieces can sink to the bottom of a wet batter and cause uneven distribution in a product. To address the issue, pre-coating the walnut with gum or starch will keep the nut suspended. Alternatively, lightly toasting the walnuts will dehydrate them and make them lighter, which will improve the final suspension.
  • Walnut paste. Walnut pastes enhance the taste and texture of fillings in baked goods and can be used to help bind together ingredients like grains, dried fruits, nuts and seeds in various products, like bars.
  • Caramelized walnuts. Toasted and caramelized walnuts add a sweetness and a soft nut crunch, lending a distinctive taste to products.

Walnuts also pair well with other flavors. In a 2017 study conducted by Davis Sensory Institute, consumers evaluated 15 different combinations of walnuts prepared in sweet, spicy and savory applications. The top seven pairings with walnuts, from the research were:

  • Dark chocolate
  • Vanilla
  • Sesame and cayenne
  • Sea salt and caramel
  • Coffee
  • Candied orange
  • Cinnamon and chai spice

Almonds have the highest per capita consumption among tree nuts and were the most popular nut used in new, worldwide product launches from 2006 to 2016 according to Innova Market Insights. Almonds are known for their heart-healthy benefits and energy-boosting qualities, and they are packed with protein, fiber and essential nutrients. They can be used as a garnish, topping or inclusion for cakes, pies and other baked goods, as well as in snack bars and mixes.

Blue Diamond Global Ingredients Division, Sacramento, CA, recently introduced a premium, expeller-pressed almond oil for the food ingredients market. “Blue Diamond Almond Oil surpasses other specialty, plant-based oils in nutritional and functional benefits,” says Jeff Smith, director of marketing. “The oil’s clean and mild flavor lets other product flavors shine, making it uniquely positioned for use across multiple applications and food categories. Nutritionally, Blue Diamond Almond Oil is high in vitamin E, an essential nutrient. The oil is low in saturated fat and high (70 percent) in monounsaturated fat and omega-9 fatty acids.” The product works well as a functional ingredient in snack bar formulations and bakery applications. Also, its smoke point of 470°F makes it suited to the high-heat applications typically seen in snack food manufacturing, such as frying and baking.

In addition, Blue Diamond also offers Blue Diamond Almond Flour as part of its portfolio. As with all its almond products, the almond flour is naturally gluten-free and available in three formats to suit most baking applications.


Seasoned inclusions

The addition of inclusions to augment seasonings and other ingredients can help create a multi-sensory eating experience. Kerry has extensive capabilities that can transform traditional nuts and seeds into more on-trend inclusions. “We have enrobing capabilities to cover nuts in chocolate, meeting consumer demand for permissible indulgence. When you enrobe an inclusion, for example, it can become the hero piece in trail mix—the unique piece that would drive a consumer to purchase the product. On-trend seasonings, such as clean label, and trending flavor profiles, such as smoke, can take flavor to new heights,” says Cassandra Edwards, senior manager marketing communications and customer engagement, snacks, Kerry, Beloit, WI.

Consumers are looking for more bold and authentic taste experiences. “Flavors such as togarashi, berbere and Thai red curry and ginger are all emerging in the snack industry,” says Edwards. Accourding to Datassential, berbere has increased 143 percent on U.S. menus in the past four years, and ginger is on almost 53 percent of U.S. menus, with 3.6 percent growth in the last year. Traditional flavors saw strong growth in 2017, especially with hot/spicy flavors up 14 percent, while 34 percent of consumers want exotic flavors.” Adding on-trend flavors to inclusions can help boost the appeal of various snacks and baked goods.

Savory and spicy flavors are continuing to gain traction. “Chile peppers are often used to add an exciting layer to provide an adventurous flavor profile,” says Kristie Hung, marketing specialist at Sensient Natural Ingredients, Turlock, CA. “Most chiles can be used flexibly in all kinds of product applications by incorporating powder or pieces of chile peppers in the food development process, or added as a topical seasoning.”

Specific regional chile varieties may also resonate with consumers. Sensient Natural Ingredients offers a Green Hatch chile described as having a bold, savory flavor with mild back end heat. It can be used in a range of applications, including scones, tortilla chips, brownies, cookies and pastries.

Boldness also comes into play with color. Healthy Food Ingredients, Fargo, ND, recently added a flake form to its signature line of Suntava Purple Corn products. The flakes provide natural color, texture and functionality while delivering antioxidants and anthocyanins. The ingredients can be used in a variety of snack and bakery applications, including pressed bars, toppings, tortilla chips and clusters. “Vibrant colors have really translated over to foods to incorporate bold colors and in a natural way,” says Tara Froemming, marketing coordinator. “Our Suntava Purple Corn has been an excellent fit for this color trend. Over the last few years, there has been a dramatic increase in the product launches made with purple-colored foods, including tortilla chips, cereals, extruded snacks, breads and beverages made with our colorful, high-antioxidant purple corn. In fact Pantone’s color of the year is Ultra Violet.”

Froemming notes that the whole-grain, minimally processed flakes help meet consumer desire for clean-label. The products are also available as non-GMO or organic.


Going allergen-free

With the growing prevalence of nut allergies, more snack and bakery manufacturers are looking toward offering nut- and allergen-free products.

Inclusions Technologies LLC, Atchison, KS, recently launched three new allergen-free inclusion product lines. All of these new products deliver flavor, texture and color, and can also be used as a delivery system for nutritional attributes. The Nadanut 100% Nut-Free Praline are made from nutritious wheat germ and delivers the look, taste and crunch of real pralines—but without the nut allergens or the high costs tied to pecans, notes Dennis J. Reid, vice president of sales and marketing. “The pralines are best suited as a new nut-free inclusion component for trail and snack mixes.”

The company’s new addition of savory inclusions to the Bits-O-Flavor brand is a kosher vegan bacon bit formulated with texturized soy protein crisps. Like the wheat-germ-based Nadanut product, the kosher vegan bacon bit is another example of a product using a plant-based protein, which is something consumers are interested in. “The bacon bits can be used in new specialty breads and rolls,” says Reid. They are both vegan and kosher.

Also launched under the Bits-O-Flavor brand is a new line of allergen-free coated sugars. These coated sugars are available in a variety of sizes, colors and flavors, such as apple, cherry, salted caramel, chocolate and maple, to name a few. These products are, sealed with a coating fat to protect the natural flavors and colors and allow for improve stability in the finished application, notes Reid. “These new coated sugars are designed to add a burst of color, flavor, texture and crunch to a variety of end-use products, and are an easy and convenient way for companies to offer line extensions of existing brands or introduce brand new ones.” The coated sugars are designed to be used after baking as a topical application.

Consumers today are more aware of what they are eating and looking for healthier options that don’t compromise on taste. Thanks to the wide range of nuts, seeds and inclusions in the supply chain today, snack and bakery product developers can deliver on both taste and nutrition, positioning products to capitalize on this growing trend.