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Superb ingredients, super functional foods

Consumers are increasingly looking for healthy foods that taste great but don't have an ingredients list that reads like a United Nations roster. Kantha Shelke, PhD, discusses how superfoods can lead the way for formulators.

Research houses across the board concur: health and wellness, weight management, conscientiousness, affordability, and convenience are the leading trends in the food industry. Within these themes and in general, consumers seek nutrient density, satiation, natural, heart healthy, low glycaemic and energy. A formulator might be inclined to reach for the ingredients list, but consumers really want simplicity — nothing too complicated or highly fabricated. To design foods that will be successful in such an environment is a tall order and requires ingenuity.

Fortunately, nature offers an array of powerhouse foods that can be mined for a number of multitasking ingredients that can offer more than one benefit. The terms 'superfruits' and 'superfoods' were coined to refer to these foods and gained widespread appeal. While there is no legal definition of the terms 'superfood' or 'superfruit,' they have come to denote foods (or fruits) that are simply rich in nutrients.

One of the driving questions for the processed-food industry today is how to transform mainstream foods and other favourites into healthful foods that are affordable, commercially viable, convenient and downright good for you. The opportunity is ripe for naturally potent foods like almonds, cereals, fruits, berries, and vegetables to become destination ingredients. With some culinary knowledge and processing prowess, it is easy to transform these foods rich in multitasking ingredients into the backbone of wickedly good wholesome diets.

Ancient grains or mod superfoods?

Oats were perhaps the first superfood to spark the American health-food craze in the 1980s. Who can forget the oat bran carrot-cake era? And superfoods could be just another catch word for humble ancient grains like barley, rice, sorghum, quinoa, spelt and amaranth, consumed as a nutrient staple in many parts of the world. While not regarded as exotic, they have rock-star potential for their medicinal and health properties that are not limited to high fibre, phytonutrients and proteins.

Recent advances in food technology have opened an avenue for novel uses of grains including yoghurt and beverages, without the gritty mouthfeel. NFI Iowa, a new food-grade, ingredient manufacturing and R&D consulting facility, developed a quinoa beverage base similar to milk that has 2-3 per cent protein and three per cent fat. The technology uses a process that turns any grain or oilseed, such as chia, flax and quinoa, into a fully soluble powder or beverage. The end ingredient could include protein concentration, encapsulation of the lipid fraction, hydrolyzed starch, and custom-designed combinations of grains or oilseeds.

Even with new technology, there is always room for the wholesome, not-too-fabricated derivatives. At times, there is nothing better than downright plain food science with a healthy dose of ingenuity and respect for the nutritional value of foods that will leave the concentrates and isolates in the dust. One example is Cargill's Healthy Cookie Base using GrainWise wheat aleurone and WheatSelect white whole wheat, which contains 57.5 per cent total whole grains and more than 25 per cent total dietary fibre.

"Cargill developed the Healthy Cookie Base to promote consumption of nutritious whole grains and fibre and to preserve the pleasing sensory attributes school-age children prefer in their favourite cookies and bars," said Kyle Marinkovich, marketing manager, Cargill. The base reduces development time and cost.


The food industry believes that new and exotic fruits not only offer health benefits, but also present a flavour that cannot be easily duplicated. Yet there are notably few products in the marketplace that have taken advantage of more than just the juice or extract. Pomegranate juice and flavour (natural and otherwise) reigned in 2008 and 2009 new product launches but there were few new products incorporating its fruit pulp or seeds. Pomegranate concentrate, and dried and/or ground pomegranate pulp are treasured ingredients in the cuisines of the Middle East and India. The seeds are dried with the pulp and roasted or ground and used as a souring and flavouring/colouring agent and as the base for gravies and sauces.

Açai, although a fruit, does not necessarily have to be consumed sweet. The small purple berry is consumed very differently in its native Brazil where it is far from a 'fashion food.' The locals derive from it a significant percentage of their daily caloric intake — possibly as much as 30 per cent — from the pulp mixed in with manioc flour and consumed with fish or meat. Açai Roots, a San Diego-based ingredient company, offers authentic Brazilian-style açai to US food manufacturers.

A far-flung idea comes from RedBrick Pizza Worldwide. President Jim Minidis recently launched a whole-wheat artisan pizza crust made with açai, which keeps the crust moist and flavourful.

Skeptics question whether superfruits really offer nutritional benefits over and above other fruits commonly consumed today and also question the benefits of often miniscule amounts in sugar-laden beverages. There is also concern that many of the compounds that show antioxidant activity may not be bioavailable. Navindra Seeram, PhD, says superfruits offer more than just antioxidants. "They are a rich source of good fibre and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals that can prevent the onset of cancer and heart and neurodegenerative diseases that are mediated by inflammation," says Seeram, who is an assistant professor at the University of Rhode Island (Kingston) and is a phytonutrient expert.

Photo courtesy of The Almond Board.


Kantha Shelke, Phd, is principal at CorvusBlue and is FI editor at large.

NOODLE THIS: gluten free pasta and cereal from almonds

Almonds are mostly known for eating out of hand or slivered and diced, but apart from the usual range of formats, almonds also offer a wide array of meal/flour/butter/milk options that can work effectively in a number of food systems such as batters, breading and sauces. Almonds are known for fibre, decreases in glycaemic index and prebiotic properties, according to the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, UK.


KOR Food Innovation (Ashland, Virginia) replaced wheat with almond flour to create fresh pasta and used rice flour, xanthan gum, tapioca starch and flaxseed flour to replicate the taste and texture. "People want gluten-free products that taste just like the original but which are also good or better for you. Almonds offer us a range of functionalities just right for natural and healthful foods," says John Csukor, KOR founder/CEO.

KOR also created a satisfying, gluten-free cereal with 4g of fibre per 2oz serving. "It is virtually impossible to overeat a product made with almond flour … the satiation factor kicks in rapidly and for long," Csukor says.

A notable product made with almond ingredients is Mimiccreme (Green Rabbit LLC, Albany, New York, an all-natural nondairy, nonsoy cream substitute made from almonds and cashews. In addition to being gluten free and 100 per cent vegan, it contains no saturated fats or cholesterol, and naturally supplies antioxidants, vitamins and minerals found in the nuts.

A proprietary low-temperature grinding process helps preserve the bland taste profile and nutrition of the nuts. With only four or five ingredients, Mimiccreme is available unsweetened for use in cream soups, sauces, savory baked goods and confections, sweetened (with and without sugar) for use in shakes, smoothies, gelatos and ice cream, and as an unsweetened coffee creamer. Mimiccreme offers a wholesome and healthier alternative to additive-laden creamers and saturated fats.


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