Processors are turning to a number of newly available and adaptable fruit choices. While standards such as apples, blueberries, pears, and mangoes are more popular than ever, the choices within these fruit types are expanding. Butterscotch pears, Green Dragon apples, Christmas Crunch grapes, and a myriad of new varietals are nudging out Anjou pears, Granny Smith apples, and other old favorites.
Exotic tropical fruits also are generating enormous interest. “Trendy tropical fruits such as passionfruit, dragon fruit, and jackfruit are really taking off,” says Robert Schueller, of Melissa’s World Variety Produce Inc. He also points to a big increase in popularity of persimmons, especially the firm and reliably sweet Sharon variety, as well as cactus pears.
The largest of tree fruits, jackfruit is shaped like a rugby ball and can grow to 150lb. The pulp has a flavor reminiscent of fruit gum and the seeds can be peeled, roasted, and ground into a flour. “The jackfruit trend started only a few years ago, and has really been moving forward now that the fruit is available year-round,” Schueller says. He adds that jackfruit’s most interesting application is as a meat substitute for vegans, since it has a subtle sweet flavor and a texture when cooked that resembles pulled pork.
“Passionfruit also is taking off due to the fruit being available all year,” says Schueller. “Its concentrated flavor profile pairs really well with other fruits, especially in juice applications.”
Two “new” fruits that have also burst on the scene recently are the pichuberry—also called golden berry, cape gooseberry, or choke cherry—and the aronia berry. While they have been around for many years, of course, they are now being grown in enough abundance to satisfy formulators seeking new fruit choices that are flavorful and healthy, yet attractive to consumers for their color and flavor.
Pichuberries are a small, round, gold-colored fruit, the size of a cherry. They resemble small tomatillos, with a smooth, waxy skin that ripens from green to orange or yellow. Inside, the fruit is sweet and juicy, with many small, edible seeds. Pichuberries grow inside papery husks as tomatillos do.
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Aronia berries are small, red or dark purple-to-black berries that look similar to blueberries and taste like a cross between a blueberry and a black currant. They have one of the highest concentrations of the healthy antioxidants called anthocyanins (see “A Matter of Color”) of any fruit.
More commonly provided as a dried fruit, sweetened aronia berries are finding use in formulations as diverse as hot cereals, teas, yogurt, baby food, and baked goods. North Dakota is a major producer of commercial aronia berries. Brenda Gorseth, CEO of the Woodward Farm LLC bakery makes prolific use of the berry in products that include pies, cakes, cupcakes, cookies, bars, küchen, and breads. And Dakota Sun Gardens LLC now produces an aronia berry wine that is attracting attention from wine writers.
Making Fruit Work
Working with fresh fruit in food formulations can bring certain complicated technical challenges. Research chefs and food scientists are constantly fine-tuning methods to obtain the best expected result.
The unique flavors and textures of fruits are subject to a host of outside influences, many of which are not under the formulator’s control. Everything from the source to the season, to the farm or grove (or even individual plant) where it was grown, to the method of picking, storing, shipping, and storing again, can affect a fruit long before it becomes an ingredient purveyed to the manufacturer.
Once a fruit ingredient is on the research chef’s worktable, it must prepare to deal with a new wave of factors that will either bring out its best attributes or obliterate its flavors and textures.
Those factors include heat, cold, pressure, air, acid, or even just combining a fruit with uncomplementary ingredients that have overwhelming or volatile flavor components or delicate texture attributes.
Browning of fruits and fruit products is one of the major problems for the industry. It is believed to be the first cause of quality loss during postharvest handling, processing, and storage. Browning can also adversely affect a fruit’s flavor and nutritional value.
More than a source of flavor, fruits in vari-ous forms can help from a technological standpoint by enhancing color and texture. For example, the acid in most fruits can contribute to a lower pH for microbiological stabilization. And the fiber and other physical aspects of fruit provide some of the organoleptic qualities of the finished product.
The Sweeter the Fruit
According to the National Confectioners Assn. report on candy and snack industry trends of 2016, with chocolate and fruit, or chocolate and nut combinations performing increasingly well over the last several years (increasing 116% and 63%, respectively), a multitude of innovative fruit and nut products have recently been launched, with more on the way. New mouthwatering fruit and flavor pairings will emerge, according to the Association, including such combinations as mango and chocolate, blueberry and açai, or fig and vanilla.
Prepping fruits for dehydration, extraction of fruit juices, or elaborating fruit pulps and purées, requires cutting, chopping, or grinding that ruptures fruit cells and exposes fruit components to air. This leads to the oxidation of phenolic compounds into organic components, called quinones that are naturally present in the fruit tissue.
The endogenous enzyme polyphenoloxidase catalyzes this oxidation (known as “enzymatic browning”). There are other browning reactions involving nitrogen compounds—predominantly free amino acids and proteins—with carbohydrates, causing deterioration of color and development of off-flavor during processing and storage.
These other deteriorative reactions are generally known as nonenzymatic browning (NEB) reactions. They occur through Maillard-type reactions and cause color deterioration, followed by undesirable aroma and flavor changes.
High-temperature treatments during processing steps, such as blanching, are among the most effective methods to avoid browning. However, heat affects texture, flavor, and nutritional value of fruit products. Applying freezing or refrigeration temperatures can prevent these reactions, although some fruits can be susceptible to chill injuries.
The tendency to avoid high-temperature processing can be observed in the juice industry, where cold-press processing to obtain not-from-concentrate (NFC) juice is gaining popularity. The cold-press method also has the advantage of preserving most of the original fruit’s nutritional value.
Other methods to control browning include chemical inhibition, such as the use of acids, halides, phenolic acids, chelating agents, sulfites, reducing agents (such as ascorbic acid), quinone couplers (such as cysteine), and some other substrate-binding compounds. However, because the once-popularly used sulfites were linked to serious allergic reactions, in 1986 the FDA prohibited their use as preservatives in fresh fruits and vegetables.
Sometimes, however, Mother Nature lends a hand. The Opal brand apple, first discovered in Europe in 1999, stemmed from a cross between a Golden Delicious and a Topaz, and surprised growers with the ability to not turn brown once cut. These naturally non-browning apples are in full compliance with the Non-GMO Standard (Non-GMO Project verified), and have been tested in 63 orchards throughout Europe and the Mediterranean.
Grown exclusively by Broetje Orchards in Washington State, the Opal apple is being marketed and distributed in North America by First Fruits Marketing Inc. in Washington State. The apple began appearing nationwide only recently and already is proving to be quite popular with consumers. A non-browning apple could have definite and obvious advantages for processors as well.
Fruit-based beverage formulations also involve a lot of processing of their main ingredient, opening them up to multiple opportunities for stumbling blocks. But fruit beverages continue to grow in popularity, with the emphasis on purity of the product and reliance on real fruit, without such ingredients as added sugars.
For some products—mixtures of fruit and tea, for example—consumers are willing to accept such formerly negative attributes as cloudiness and pulp as positive indications that the item has few ingredients, one of which is real fruit. But other considerations in incorporating fruit into beverages exist, especially when it comes to popular functional beverages.
“One of the challenges in creating the ideal fruit beverage formulation with a functional target is getting the key ingredient into the beverage, with its bioactive components intact yet without creating any medicinal or objectionable flavor,” says Alan Murray, biochemist and CEO/president of NextFoods Inc.
The company makes the GoodBelly brand of fruit juice-based dairy-free probiotic beverages and shots. “Although most consumers would like to enjoy the benefits of some new, funky formula, they will not compromise on flavor,” adds Murray. “After all, food is primarily about enjoyment, and with fruit-based products, authentic and pleasing flavor is especially critical.”
GoodBelly products are a special challenge, because they serve as a vehicle for delivering healthful probiotic bacteria. Most live and active bacteria are not stable in fruit juice.
Murray explains that GoodBelly employs a patented live and active probiotic strain—Lactobacillus plantarum 299v (Lp299v)—as opposed to the commonly used spore-forming, dormant bacteria. “This poses certain challenges, as the bacteria are literally alive and ready to get to work in the consumer’s digestive tract, as opposed to having to lie dormant until the temperature and pH are ideal,” he says. “Bacteria can be highly delicate organisms; as the temperature heats up, they can multiply until the heat reaches an intolerable level; then they die off. These conditions can result in off flavors and lack of efficacy.”
Another challenge to a fruit-based functional probiotic beverage, Murray points out, is that the product must live up to its promise of the number of CFU (colony forming units). The count must be accurate even through the end of the coded sell-by date. “Dialing in the right conditions for this unique bacterium to survive and thrive—but not too much—is part of the food-science ‘magic’ mastered by NextFoods’ chief scientist and formulator, Armin Salmen, PhD, and his team,” says Murray.
To attain that perfect balance, many products and ingredients had to pass through the food labs at GoodBelly. “Sometimes, even one or two berries too many can render the probiotic bacteria ineffective,” Murray explains. “It’s not just a question of getting the right acidity or brix, but also the synergistic interplay of the various ingredients, with the qualities and functionalities of each one needing consideration.” And, even with a doctorate in food science, Salmen readily admits that achieving the prime balance between full fruit flavor and maximum probiotic efficacy is as much an art as a science.
More recently, Salmen developed a line of reduced-sugar versions of GoodBelly probiotic juices, classified by the company as “ades,” specifically Lemon Limeade and Tropical Orangeade. The challenge in crafting them was two-pronged: Citrus fruits are highly acidic and contain little sugar, and bacteria typically need sugar to feed on and nourish them.
“With the trend toward lowering or eliminating sugar in beverages, there was a need to find a way to keep the bacteria happy without their regular sugar fix,” says Murray. “Recently, a technological breakthrough was achieved after testing multiple substrates and combinations of fruits and other natural ingredients, and within various temperatures.”
The company’s new ades just hit supermarket shelves, and have only 60 calories per serving, while maintaining the company standard of 20 billion probiotic CFUs. “We’re constantly innovating for further proliferation of the GoodBelly probiotic fruit juice product range,” Murray enthuses.
A Matter of Color
Fruits are a great source of natural colors and antioxidants for food preparations. However, the dependability of their color can be limited by their stability under certain environmental conditions. A prime example is anthocyanins in red and purple produce, such as cherries, grapes and especially berries, including strawberries, raspberries, blackberry, blueberries, aronia berries, currants, açai, and maqui berry.
These red, blue, and purple pigments are water-soluble and highly susceptible to degradation. Their stability is affected by factors such as pH, storage temperature, chemical structure, concentration, light, oxygen, solvents, enzymes, flavonoids, proteins, sugars, and metallic ions.
Below pH 3, anthocyanins express intense red coloration. However, at pH 4 and pH 5, the intensity decays to a level of near colorlessness. Closer to the neutral pH range, anthocyanins turn purple to blue. If pH is raised to alkaline levels, anthocyanins can turn green to yellow. Therefore, it is definitely more challenging to use berries to color food products with an alkaline pH. Because of this behavior, anthocyanins are sometimes used as pH indicators.
Color stability of anthocyanins can be improved by intermolecular co-pigmentation by such methods as interactions between the anthocyanins and metal compounds in food formulations.
Examples include complexing the anthocyanins with molecules such as iron, tin, aluminum, copper, and other metal ions.
Other compounds found in food, such as sugars, can accelerate degradation of anthocyanins, similar to the Maillard reaction. The latter is relevant for food preparations that utilize that reaction in applications such as bakery products, since it will be expected to see a color decrease in the final product. High temperatures, especially in the range from 50°C (122°F) to 110°C (230°F), have a negative impact on anthocyanin color.
Anthocyanin colors are typically suitable for use in nonalcoholic and alcoholic beverages, but generally incompatible with milk-based beverages because they change to bluish hues at milk’s pH of 6.7 or for extruded products because of their likelihood to undergo heat degradation.
On the other hand, their stability at low water activity makes them appropriate for dry-mix beverages and snack foods.
Fruits whose natural color comes from fat-soluble compounds, such as chlorophylls (green) and carotenoids (yellow, orange, and red), are fragile under high heat and acid conditions. However, these fruits are color-stable under alkaline conditions, while carotenoids are sensitive to light and oxidation but stable when exposed to heat.
Hot and Fruity
The National Restaurant Association surveyed nearly 1,300 professional chefs—members of the American Culinary Federation—on the foods, cuisines, beverages, and culinary themes chefs predict will be hot trends on restaurant menus in the year ahead. Landing in the Top 10 were “heirloom fruits and vegetables.” Overall, three of the top five produce items included fruit, including the aforementioned heirloom fruits and vegetables, hybrid fruits/vegetables, and exotic fruit.
Fresh fruit is certainly attractive, and has indisputable consumer appeal. However, the water content of fruit in its whole natural state presents challenges for product developers, especially where baked products and snacks are concerned.
One of the greatest challenges with using fresh fruit in baked products has to do with moisture. Although accounting for fruit juice in a formula allows it to provide desired moisture and flavor, this is offset by the way color from the fruit will bleed into the body of the item during baking. While some techniques, such as coating a fresh berry with a starch (such as corn starch) will mitigate some of this effect, it also subjects the finished item to perhaps undesirable textural changes.
Other challenges in using fresh fruits in formulations include diminished shelflife. Moisture can hasten spoilage. To address these challenges, most formulations using fruit—from stone fruits like apples and cherries (especially tart Montmorency cherries), to delicate soft fruits like blueberries and figs, to fruits like grapes with a high juice level—rely on dehydrated or dried fruits.
Drying fruits into powder allows for concentrated flavor and natural color. Beverages, icings, sauces and other formulations where fruit pieces might not be integral can benefit greatly from pure fruit powders. Dehydrating an ingredient as delicate as fruit changes not only the texture but, in most cases, the nature of its flavor.
For some fruits, such as the tart cherry or the cranberry (the latter being essentially unpalatable in its fresh form), flavor is improved and concentrated with dehydration, even when the process is done without added sweeteners. Other fruits, such as the fig or the raisin, become an essentially separate entity altogether when dehydrated as compared to their fresh form.
Recent technological advances are narrowing the gap between fresh and dehydrated, however. Ultra-rapid concentration is one such method. This process not only preserves the nutrients, in a fruit (especially water-soluble vitamins and antioxidant compounds), but the full, authentic flavor and color of the original. A fruit dehydrated by this ultra-rapid method can bridge the gap between a desirable fresh-fruit texture and flavor and a standard dehydrated fruit piece.
One of the fruits more commonly used in formulations lately would have to be blueberries. According to the Mintel Global New Products Database, more than 900 new blueberry-containing products were developed last year in the US.
“Product developers are using the blueberry goodness cachet to promote snacks of all types, from salty-sweet and baked or fried, to trail mixes, bars, and crackers,” says Tom Payne, industry specialist for the US Highbush Blueberry Council. “Blueberries lend themselves to no end of bar concepts and other innovative product ideas.”
Payne points out the fruit’s versatility and synergy with a range of ingredients, including untraditional and savory pairings such as with herbs and ethnic spices. “Blueberries can be incorporated in a variety of grain-based products, sauces, jerky, fillings, and stuffings,” he states, also citing examples of developers “creating bar concepts based on salsas, curries, chutneys, and barbecue flavorings.”
Baking is still a major application for fruits like blueberries. Notes Payne, “The rich color and sweetness of blueberries are advantageous in pie and pastry fillings, as well as croissants, puff pastry, and strudel. Blueberries are also used in toaster pastries, bars, and doughnut fillings. [And] pastry chefs and bakers have long used the fresh blueberry as a topping for fancy cakes, pastries, and tarts.”
Versatility also applies to format, the Council stresses, with fruit packets included in muffin, cake, pancake mixes, and pie and dessert fillings. While fresh blueberries are now available almost year-round, dried blueberries are typically favored for items such as bread mixes, providing texture and flavor.
According to the Mintel Global New Products Database, more than 900 new blueberry-containing products were developed last year in the US.
Also, adds Payne, “Freeze-dried and microwave-dried [berries] have a lot of potential with nut mixes and work very well with moisture compatibility.” Another aspect of versatility Payne points to is the use of blueberry concentrate as a sweetener and coloring agent, specifically in items such as granola bars, bagels, and cookies.
Flavor and Texture Help
The flavor challenges behind the use of fruit in food preparations include off-flavors that can occur through the action of enzymes, such as lipoxygenase or peroxidase (which form reactive free-radicals), and hydroperoxides catalyzing the oxidation of lipid compounds. When these reactions occur, undesirable flavors described as rancid, “cardboard,” or “metallic” (oxidized) can result. (Sometimes, however, enzyme-catalyzed reactions can actually create desirable flavors.)
The process of encapsulating fruit ingredients can prevent off-flavor formation. Such ingredients are enveloped in a coating material that protects compounds from the environment, thus avoiding degradation reactions. Currently, there is a variety of food-grade microencapsulating agents that include gelatin, alginate, and maltodextrin, among others.
Fruit purée concentrates are a great way to enhance natural fruit flavor and dietary fiber content. Fruits are a good source of compounds such as cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, pectin, and other dietary fibers that not only contribute to improve a product’s nutritional value, but can enhance viscosity, texture, and other
sensory characteristics. Those fibers also can help increase shelflife in foods due to their physicochemical properties.
Originally appeared in the May, 2017 issue of Prepared Foods as Fruit in Formulations.
Ugly is Beautiful
It was just a few years ago that the movement to reduce food waste exploded from an effort by individuals throughout the food and beverage industry to an actual, organized and cohesive effort. Whether groups such as Danielle Nierenberg’s FoodTank Think Tank, to entire governments (France) penalizing food waste, or a federation of UK chefs’ (the WasteED pop-up efforts), mindful groups are advocating creations made from “ugly” produce and unused but wholesome produce pieces once left on the processing room floor (think post-juiced fruit pulp or the tops and bottoms of pineapples that don’t form perfect rings).
Project Juice LLC, a certified organic, non-GMO, cold-pressed juice company launched its seasonal juice blend, “Ugly and Awesome,” made from “99% ugly produce.” The company makes the blend from “fruits and vegetables that have unusual shapes, colors, or sizes” and that are “sadly subject to the similar stringent physical expectations as the human body.” The company points out that, “Despite having the same nutrient profiles and density as their pretty counterparts, 6 billion pounds of perfectly edible produce is thrown out each year due to... societally imposed imperfections.”
Project Juice is “enthusiastically taking on so-called ugly produce” and thus keeping thousands of pounds of it from getting tossed out. “At Project Juice, we use ‘ugly produce’ as a way to prevent delicious and nutritious produce from going to waste,” writes Project Juice co-founder Marra St. Clair. “While the produce might not look as perfect as we have been conditioned to expect, it is nutritionally perfect and delivers awesome farm-fresh flavor.”
As St. Clair and other advocates of “ugly” produce point out, the advantages of using a dimpled apple for juice or an undersized berry for jam is not only to keep billions of pounds of food from landing in the trash, but to avoid the incalculable loss of money and resources devoted to growing and harvesting the produce. While the truth is that manufacturers have known this and practiced it from the earliest days of food processing—perfect-looking produce is only perfect for supermarkets—the practice has come out into the open and is now a mark of distinction, showing social responsibility and raising consumer consciousness.