Nuts, fruits, and other common inclusions deliver many attributes consumers seek, including elevated taste, texture, and nutrition. In addition, these ingredients address consumer increasing interest in plant-based foods and proteins, and often fit clean-label criteria.

“Plant-based protein ingredients represent an important opportunity for snack and bakery manufacturers looking to align their product offerings with consumer demand for healthy, clean-label, and functional foods,” says Laura Gerhard, director of strategy and marketing, Blue Diamond Almonds Global Ingredients Division, Sacramento, CA. “Today, 30 percent of consumers say they check the label for protein, according to data from the NPD Group, and plant-based protein in particular syncs with consumers’ desire to live a healthier and cleaner lifestyle.”


Sensory and nutritional benefits

The Almond Board of California, Modesto, CA, notes that while almonds are a classic ingredient, they have continued to undergo constant evolution and innovation in usage. “As health, taste, and texture demands change, research on global new product introductions sheds light on the newest opportunities for almonds in the snack and bakery categories,” says Harbinder Maan, associate director of trade marketing and stewardship. “According to the 2019 Innova Market Insights ‘Global New Product Introductions’ report, new almond snack products most often carry a ‘crunchy’ texture claim, but other claims in 2019 indicate opportunities in contrasting textures like ‘crispy,’ ‘luscious,’ ‘chunky,’ and ‘creamy.’”

Almonds are available in numerous formats that can be used to create a multitude of different textures. “Almond butter can be used as a smooth or chunky filling in snack bites, or as a binder, drizzle, or frosting in bakery products. Defatted almond flour is a less-traditional form that is lower in calories and fat and higher in protein than regular almond flour or meal. It has an extra-fine texture and clean taste, which is useful for adding density to snack bars, as a substitution in crusts, or as a binder,” shares Maan.

Blue Diamond Almonds Global Ingredients Division also notes the versatility of almond formats for creating different textures or as a premium topping. “Blue Diamond Almond Flour can help product developers re-create their bakery products as gluten-free options,” says Gerhard. “The ingredient has a smooth texture and fine granulation that is ideal for a wide variety of baking applications, including cakes, breads, and muffins, as well as cookies, bars, and crackers. Additionally, Blue Diamond Almond Protein Powder, our newest almond innovation, is ideal for a variety of food and beverage products, including nutrition, snack, and cereal bars. The ingredient’s clean taste and smooth texture also present a solution to many formulation challenges that are common with other plant-based proteins.”

Mariani Nut Co., Winters, CA, notes seeing an increased demand for seasoned almonds as consumers seek healthier options without compromising taste. Seasoning can help create another layer of flavor to create new, interesting flavor experiences. “Smoked is the top flavor trend for 2019 and is one of the top hottest cooking methods among chefs today,” says Kristen Holden, regional sales manager. “We have reformulated our original smoked seasoning to hickory smoked, which builds off the flavor profile by adding the specific wood characteristic. Additionally, we have launched two new flavors: Chipotle & Adobo and Cinnamon Sugar. These flavors enhance our seasoned line by appealing to spicy and sweet cravings.”

Mariani Nut Co. has also added Marcona almonds to its lineup. “Marcona almonds are a Spanish varietal that has historically been only found in trendy restaurants and specialty grocers,” says Holden. “The similar climate of California has allowed this varietal to start being grown here in the U.S. Marcona almonds are known as tasting sweeter compared to the classic almond and having a texture more similar to that of a macadamia nut.” The company offers blanched, roasted, and seasoned Marcona almonds, and these ingredients can be used in any formula that calls for classic almonds.

Use of walnuts as an inclusion is also growing rapidly, since this ingredient provides a trifecta of taste, texture, and nutrition. Walnuts have traditionally been used in sweet bakery products, such as banana breads, chocolate chip cookies, and brownies. However, the California Walnut Board and Commission, Folsom, CA, is seeing new uses in snack mixes, cereals, and granolas, and has also seen significant growth in bars made with walnuts.

“Seasoned walnuts have exploded in popularity among consumers because of their texture and ability to complement sweet, savory, and spicy profiles,” says Jennifer Williams, marketing director, California Walnut Board and Commission. “On the market, we’re seeing a host of seasonings used in walnuts, ranging from rosemary to espresso and pumpkin spice. From a flavor perspective, walnuts carry a unique and subtle nutty flavor profile that complements chocolate, vanilla, fruit, and more.” She notes that walnuts aren’t too hard or too soft, and their natural contours create a dynamic eating experience when seasonings are used.

Pecan Deluxe Candy Co., Dallas, was founded on the ability to add value to classic pecans through its traditional praline process. The company’s recipe uses sugar and butter in an age-old style using copper kettles. These praline nuts can be used as inclusions in range of bakery and snack products and help create unique flavor and texture experiences. The company has since grown to include a wide variety of other types of nuts and inclusions.

“In the past, we really focused on sweet candied nut meats and have recently been placing a lot of focus on savory nut items,” says Walter Waters, director of culinary innovation, Pecan Deluxe Candy Co. “Our process allows for the nuts—especially pecans, almonds, peanuts, and cashews—to have sweet undertones, driven by our artisan praline process and then finished off with any number of savory profiles. You may find a Moroccan spiced pecan blended with dark chocolate pieces, roasted almonds, and sea salt toffee used as an afternoon pick me up or a bar mix with a simple smoked black pepper pretzel rod mixed in for a little extra layering of flavor.” These inclusions can be used in a wide variety of applications including granola bars, protein-fortified cookies, snack blends, and more.


Flavorfully fruity

Fruits can be used alone or in combination with other inclusions, such as nuts, to provide contrasting texture and flavor experiences in snack and bakery products. Van Drunen Farms has added two new exotic superfoods to its product line: maqui berry and açaí. According to Gary Augustine, director of marketing, these new superfoods provide a range of nutritional, sensory, and functional benefits. “They provide a subtle sweetness and tartness, and contain antioxidants, anthocyanins, polyphenols, and the fundamental nutrients of vitamins A, C, and E. According to Mintel, consumer interest in exotic superfruits continues to grow in the West, and we expect to see more snacks and baked goods made with these powerful purple ingredients.” The new products are available in powder format and are well suited for bakery mixes, bars, cookies, muffins, sweet goods, and snack cakes.

Van Drunen Farms also offers a wide range of fruit, vegetable, and herb ingredients that can be combined to create unique sweet and savory flavor profiles. “Apple and cheese has long been a popular sweet and savory combination,” says Augustine. “Chocolate also is being paired with more spices and vegetables. A variety of chile peppers, as well as carrot and zucchini, for example, can create many new combinations with chocolate in bakery items such as cakes and muffins. Sweet potato has also grown in popularity because of its versatility in sweet and savory products, such as cheesecakes, chips, cupcakes, breads, pies, and pizza dough/crusts.” All of these plant-based, dried ingredients retain their color and nutritional value and offer a shelf-stable solution that can be used to create new and exciting on-trend applications.

Paradise Fruits by Jahncke, Salzwedel, Germany, is a family-owned business with over a 130-year history known for its global fruit processing and products. The company’s Paradise Fruit Solutions division recently launched a new “Taste of the East” line of inclusions that was inspired from Japan and meets a growing trend for Eastern flavors.

“Taste of East is offered in a number of formats, including our unique irregular-cut granulates, standard granulates, fruit pastes, juice drops, and standard and bespoke shapes,” says Kurt Jahncke, CEO, Paradise Fruits by Jahncke. “All are suitable for a variety of applications, from biscuits and filled pastries to snack bars and individual snack packs. The range is available in Mandarin & Yuzu, Lychee & Raspberry, Apple & Green Tea, Lime & Matcha Tea, and Ginger & Plum, as well as bespoke combinations which we can develop specifically to suit our customer’s requirements.”

Paradise Fruits by Jahncke has also developed new Paradise Fruits Solutions high-fiber granulates to address the needs of manufacturers looking for functional ingredients to create better-for-you products. “Our high-fiber granulates are designed using our better-for-you, fruit-first recipe with no added sugar formulations and contain only the naturally occurring sugars found in fruit. The product delivers 40 grams of fiber per 100 grams of finished product (Solutions Granulates) using a natural liquid fiber. Our high-fiber granulates can be developed in almost all flavors and combinations, including traditional fruits such as cherry, which is on course to make a strong return as a leading taste trend in the second half of 2020 and 2021,” notes Jahncke. These naturally healthy ingredients can be used in applications such as snack bars and baked goods.