Manufacturers are increasingly enhancing confection formulations with innovative nutritional ingredients to offer today's consumers real guiltless pleasures. Juliana Zeiher explains how
Typically consumed as indulgence foods, confections are rarely viewed as products that deliver health benefits along with flavour and taste. Therein lies a unique opportunity for manufacturers — to enhance the nutritional profile of confections and provide consumers with alternative products that address many dietary and health concerns.
This category offers broad opportunities for delivering unique health benefits to all ages and segments of consumers. The time has come for the guiltless pleasure concept, which can be realized with innovative ingredients that may afford interesting ways to communicate with consumers who not only want good taste but also good health.
The confectionery market has evolved in recent years to now offer sugar-free, zero-calorie and low-carb/GI treats that tout the same sweet taste and mouthfeel as their traditional versions. Yet, to improve health and wellness, formulators must add nutrients in addition to reducing the levels of less-healthy components of the product.
Today's consumers are more health conscious and therefore more in tune to what they eat and drink. Although convenience and taste still top the list as one of the deciding factors when making a purchase decision, functionality is coming in close behind. Confections can serve as a convenient approach to deliver functional ingredients to customers, thus targeting dietary consumer needs as well as offering indulgence.
Prebiotic fibres, such as short-chain fructo-oligosaccharides (scFOS), deliver a variety of health benefits such as improving mineral absorption and enhancing immunity. To amplify these benefits, scFOS can be blended with a natural marine mineral matrix that contains calcium, magnesium and trace minerals to create a unique prebiotic mineral blend that delivers additional benefits to consumers who want to indulge without sacrificing taste, texture or health. It is an ideal ingredient for fortifying confectionery products. However, there are some considerations when developing 'better for you' confections with nutritional ingredients.
This unique mineral matrix has a porous structure that easily blends with other ingredients in the formulation. The calcium present in the mixture is composed of vaterite, aragonite and calcite crystal lattice structures, conferring a smooth nonchalky mouthfeel — making it an ideal source of calcium for confectionery products. Furthermore, the prebiotic component of this blend is 30 per cent as sweet as sucrose, yet delivers only 1.5kcal per gram. ScFOS also has the ability to enhance flavours, mask off-notes, extend product shelflife and improve texture.
In addition, a prebiotic mineral blend answers both the need to obtain optimal levels of calcium, as well as the need to increase mineral absorption in one product. This efficient combination of sea minerals and prebiotic fibre delivers an appropriate ratio of these functional ingredients to optimise and support bone, digestive and immune health at a low cost.
A variety of studies shows that by coupling scFOS with minerals, the end result is improved mineral absorption. A prebiotic mineral blend is capable of improving calcium absorption by modulating the pH of the large intestine, which improves the solubility of calcium and extends the window of opportunity for calcium absorption. The scFOS also increases the levels of calcium binding protein in the system, an active calcium carrier, assuring the highest mineral bioavailability. Thus, it is formulated to deliver the most calcium to the body in a convenient prebiotic mineral formulation.
The scFOS in the blend also support immune health — the purpose of a prebiotic is to foster the growth of bacterial species that benefit our health through their growth, activity and metabolic products. The intake level for immune-function benefits is directly related to increasing the growth of beneficial bacteria, and basic bifidogenesis occurs at 1g per day.
Recently, scFOS also have been shown to reduce the symptoms associated with irritable bowel, provide probiotic support vs broad-spectrum antibiotic use and increase the effectiveness of lactobacilli in the body.
In developing confectionery formulations, formulators must consider several aspects such as ingredient performance and handling characteristics. For example, a sugar-free chocolate calcium chew was developed using a prebiotic mineral blend (see table below). The advantages of using this ingredient for formulating functional confections are many. It is heat stable, effective at low inclusion rates and easy to handle. In addition, it provides a smooth texture profile, along with a sweet flavour that enhances the chocolate notes of the chew. This allows manufacturers to potentially reduce the level of sweeteners and flavours in the formulation.
In developing caramels and chews, formulators have to consider the ratios of syrups and solids, along with the appropriate processing conditions, in order to achieve the desired texture and flow characteristics in the finished product. In this particular case, the use of a combination of sugar alcohols allows for a chew that is free of sugar, but has a texture similar to one containing sugar. Furthermore, the solids can be adjusted accordingly to accommodate the prebiotic mineral blend, which is available in a powder form. This blend will not interfere with the natural moisture balance of the original formulation.
This chocolate chew could bear a variety of nutrition, health and structure function claims, making it attractive to consumers looking for ways to improve their diet. Nutrition claims such as 'Good Source of Fibre' and 'Excellent Source of Calcium' can be achieved with levels as low as eight per cent of prebiotic mineral blend in the formulation. In addition, at the level included, the prebiotic mineral blend could lead to a health claim for the prevention of osteoporosis, and structure function claims such as 'Increases Mineral Absorption,' 'Promotes a Healthier Digestive System' and 'Strengthens the Immune System.'
Other confections — including hard candies, chewing gum, mints and chocolates — can also be enhanced with functional ingredients as a prebiotic mineral blend. However, special considerations must be taken for each individual application to ensure appropriate use levels based on serving size. This will guarantee that the finished product will deliver health benefits along with the desired taste and texture profiles.
Confections traditionally have a small serving size, making it difficult to incorporate health benefits and indulgence in one product. Healthful ingredients that are effective at low inclusion rates and that do not compromise the overall appeal of the product are crucial for the development of functional confections. Another barrier that manufacturers encounter is the fact that confections are typically not viewed as healthy foods. Therefore, manufacturers have to pair product development with creative marketing and communications to educate consumers about the many benefits of functional products.
The future for the confectionery market looks not only sweet, but strong thanks in part to healthy indulgence alternatives. The possibilities are endless for functional, nutraceutical confectionery products.
Health messages, statistics, and trade and consumer media coverage that result from growing health concerns will continue to drive consumer interest and buying patterns. Although traditional methods of maintaining well-being will remain strong, more and more manufacturers are producing fortified confections and foods — surely a trend that will build momentum now and in years to come.