With consumers now taking a closer look at better health through nutrition, fruit products are among the first ingredients they turn to. They rightly associate plant-heavy, produce-centric diets as a primary preventive measure against disease.
Adding fruit to formulations has become not only easier, but more exciting with the continuously expanding variety of fruits to choose from and the near disappearance of seasonality. When it comes to product formulation, developers can choose from a multitude of fruit-derived ingredients and types, including whole or prepped; fresh or frozen; freeze-dried, dehydrated, or puréed; and concentrates, juices, or powders.
For the developer, it’s crucial to understand how each ingredient is used and how it performs in a finished product so they can select the ingredient most appropriate for their project. For example, taking the fresh route when adding fruit to your recipe isn’t always the best option. Fresh produce tends to create too many challenges to make the romance of touting “fresh fruit” or other marketing claims on a label worthwhile.
Once picked, the product starts degrading, creating a rush for logistics and operations to use product before it’s no longer viable. Fresh fruit brought in Monday morning will taste and function differently by Wednesday. Even fresh produce used in a refrigerated product will require careful execution, including protection from foodborne pathogens. This means there must be either a heated “kill step” or some sort of protective additive included.
WHEN ALMOST IS ENOUGH
For an “almost fresh” experience, individually quick frozen (IQF) fruits are excellent options, especially for use in desserts and baked goods. IQF also works well for smoothies and smoothie bowls, many beverages, and even some savory dishes and sauces, where chunky, fresh-appearing fruit can add visual, textural, and flavor appeal.
In most formulations, IQF fruit won’t require thawing before use. However, it should be noted that IQF fruit has some limitations, inside and outside of formulation. It has a shorter shelf life than some other fruit products, and comes with the same consistency issues as fresh. Specifically, flavor profile, Brix (degree of sugar concentration), and texture will vary from crop to crop.
Texture loss is a drawback for frozen fruit. No matter how quickly freezing happens, or how innovative the process, frozen fruit comes with some texture loss due to the rupturing of plant cells that release water once the item is thawed.
This means it can be necessary to adjust the moisture level of other ingredients in a formula to ensure that texture, water activity, and other affected aspects stay within project parameters. IQF products also require freezer space and can fall victim to temperature abuse during shipping and holding, further degrading quality.
For wet formulas, such as batters, fillings, sauces, dressings, and beverages, fruit purées work well. Fruit ingredient manufacturers can balance and adjust sourced raw products in order to maintain dependable flavor profile, consistency and Brix, and the ingredient statement can simply list the original fruit.
If a manufacturer needs leeway in viscosity, flavor, or strength of a fruit, or is seeking to tweak a particular fruit-centered formulation or its flavor profile, fruit concentrates are an excellent choice. Concentrates typically take up less space, weigh less, and are lower in price (per Brix) than their puréed counterparts.
A significant drawback for some manufacturers, however, is the requirement that “concentrate” appear on the label and for many consumers, “concentrate” equates to a difference in quality and could be perceived negatively.
Fruit processed via retort — typically packed in glass, rigid plastic, or cans — is among the lowest cost options but has several drawbacks. Retort products can cause considerable flavor, texture, and color change versus the original fresh form during processing. Packaging is heavy and takes up a lot of space. There is also risk of physical contamination, as glass is easily broken and metal shavings from can openers are hard to track, even with the best metal detectors.
INACTIVITY OF WATER
For processors seeking to avoid issues of water activity in fruit formulations, dehydrated fruits, freeze-dried fruits, and fruit powders are good turn-tos. One of the primary considerations in choosing dried fruit forms is piece identity. Whether diced or sliced, distinctly shaped freeze-dried fruit pieces allow consumers to visualize the whole food they are eating. This can deliver a healthy halo to shelf-stable baked goods, cereals, and better-for-you snacks.
Freeze-dried pieces are somewhat fragile. Because of this, mixing, blending, and other manufacturing processes will need to be performed so as to ensure that as little breakage as possible occurs. Developers looking for a soluble solution should note that the solubility and dispersibility of dried fruit ingredients is highly dependent on the application, types of carriers used, and the method of rehydration.
If the end goal is a homogenous mixture, freeze-dried and drum-dried powders are the best choice. Powders are excellent for formulating ready-to-mix (RTM) beverages, dressings, baking mixes, and snacks with real, whole food ingredients promoted on the label.
Air-dried, sun-dried, and similarly dessicated fruits are also versatile, being available in whole or pieced formats or as pastes. Concentrated in sweetness and flavor, they contribute a deeper flavor profile. They have a long shelf life and require little additional processing, although some formulations can call for soaking them to rehydrate.
Dried fruits, especially as applied in items such as sports bars or snack mixes, carry a health halo, too. And their use is trending. “Recently, we’ve seen an increase in demand for dried cherries,” says Robert Schueller, director for Melissa’s World Variety Produce, Inc. “Bing cherries and tart cherries are typical, but interestingly, there’s also been a big jump in interest for dried Rainier cherries.”
Other dried fruits Schueller sees trending up are the more common tropical fruits. “Because of the popularity of mangoes and their increased use cross-culturally, we’ve seen lots of demand. This is happening with papaya now, as well.” Schueller says that for all fruits, requests for organic versions have been especially popular.
It is also important to note that flavor and color retention of fruit ingredients are impacted by water activity, pH, and the final packaging. High water-activity formulations tend to most dramatically impact flavor loss, while poor barrier packaging tends to lead to oxidation. These factors are crucial if color or piece identity are important to the overall experience.
COMFORT AND HEALTH
Familiar standby fruits, such as bananas, apples, blueberries, grapes, plums and citrus, all are playing big these days in condiments, savory dishes, and snack foods. They’ve benefited from the huge comfort trend that became especially favored by consumers last year. Berries of all sorts are becoming food and beverage product workhorses because of their bold fruit flavor and powerful nutrition profile.
Health has played a sizable role in putting Tart Montmorency cherries in the limelight. Recent studies find that these rosy beauties help in treating illnesses like gout, arthritis, and cardiovascular disease because of their high anthocyanin levels. They also contain a high amount of melatonin, making them a natural defense against insomnia.
Macqui berries, like the açaí, are little blue-purple berries from South America that pack a significant nutritional punch. Harvested primarily in Chile, they grow wild on evergreen trees or bushes. Their high levels of anthocyanins help alleviate inflammation and reduce heart disease risk, plus they contain a compound called delphinol, which has been studied for its capacity to help regulate blood sugar. Primarily commercially available in dried and dehydrated forms right now, macqui berries are an exotic alternative to dried blueberries in formulations.
While not completely unfamiliar, elderberries are gaining in popularity because of their association with immunity, especially viral immunity. They boast high levels of antioxidants, vitamin C, and fiber and have been studied for promoting gut health, reducing fever, and boosting overall protection from certain exogenous diseases. Their bright, fruity, slightly bitter flavor pairs well with meats, especially pork. Dried elderberries add a refreshing tart note to granola blends, and syrups and concentrates are fantastic matches for smoothies, smoothie bowls, and RTD beverages.
Anne-marie Ramo is a Seattle-based research chef and food writer with more than 25 years of experience in flavor development. She was director of culinary development for Revolution Foods Inc., executive chef of Fork in the Road Foods, LLC, and executive chef for Aidell’s Sausage Co. Ramo is a regular industry contributor and writer, and co-authored The Great Meat Cookbook (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012). Read more of her articles at www.preparedfoods.com. You may contact her at email@example.com.