Whether a probiotic-enriched yogurt, vitamin-enriched cereal, mineral-enriched dairy analog, or something as fundamental as a customized sweetener system, premixes are valued highly by product makers and the consumers they serve.

Premixes range from the mandated vitamins and minerals for addressing nutrient shortfalls to trendy ingredients like turmeric, ginger, activated charcoal, collagen, and botanical bioactives that consumers believe are healthier for them. While these can be incorporated individually or in combination with other ingredients, the actual process of developing and testing them can be expensive and tediously time-consuming.

In this recent era of supply chain hurdles, another driving factor has been stringent import regulations. These have led to greater focus on the quality, safety, and traceability that premixes offer, encouraging greater reliance on vetted suppliers.

Premix makers use a range of technologies—such as microencapsulation and flavor masking ingredients—to counter astringency, bitterness, and other unpleasant and unique flavor challenges often associated with functional ingredients. Pairing premixes of inherently bitter and astringent functional ingredients with coffee, chocolate, tea, or citrus beverages allows them to be harmoniously in concert rather than jarring and unpleasant.

Alternately, crafty premixes can leverage spicy flavors like ginger and cayenne and sweet, indulgent flavors like caramel, honey, and maple to mask off-tastes of functional ingredients. Premixes also can provide the right combination of hot peppers and fruits like lime or mango for bold and innovative application of traditional ethnic flavors.

Boosting Baked Goods
The growing demand for improving the nutritional profile of pastries, breads, and other baked goods brought premixes to the forefront. The need to balance isolated vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients—some of which can impart off-flavors—in dispersal with leavening, conditioning, or other structural ingredients led to a new trend for premixes of whole-food ingredients. These are concentrated with the critical nutrients for consumers, and, importantly, they avoid “chemical sounding” ingredients.

One prominent example is the use of berries (dried or in powder form) for rich color and promotable anthocyanin antioxidant capacities. Another example of nutritional, structural, and flavorful ingredient combinations is that of tortilla manufacturers making use of premixes of mold inhibitors, dough conditioners, and softeners joined with inclusions such as dried tomatoes or herbs for flavor, visual appeal, and premium positioning.

Fortifying dairy products with calcium and vitamin D is one of the earliest uses of premixes in manufacturing. Today, such mixtures are being employed in baked goods and tortillas. Bakers also have turned to mixtures of vitamin D with other immunity-supporting ingredients, including antioxidants, probiotics, and postbiotics.

The microbial sensitivity of premixes, an inherent issue because of extensive handling during batching, is controlled with extrusion as a microbial kill-step. Heat-sensitive ingredients, such as water-soluble vitamins or probiotic bacteria, require stringent supply chain control and regular testing to ensure the blends are still bioactive and free of pathogens. (Probiotic-based premixes for ready-to-eat products usually rely on the probiotic application after the kill step to maintain viable bacteria.)

Premixes of vitamins and minerals are complex to begin with. Adding functional ingredients such as fibers, gums, amino acids, proteins, and botanicals further confounds their complexity, as their vastly different physical, chemical, and physiological properties pose different and unique business challenges when it comes to formulation, sourcing, manufacturing, and regulatory concerns.

Go With the Flow
Functional beverages have seen a big jump in use of premixes. Today’s beverage premix systems use ingredient combinations to address wellness, immunity, sports, energy, or even specific conditions, such as focus or beauty. Ingredients used include vitamins and minerals, protein (such as amino acids, branch chain amino acids, peptides, or collagen), cannabinoids, carotenoids, alkaloids, nootropics, adaptogens, and botanicals.

The physical and chemical attributes of ingredients and how they interact during mixing, processing, and storage is critical when developing premixes. Important factors include: gauging time and labor, using in-house ingredients for economies of scale, and selecting for visual appeal, palatability, and stability.

Mapping interaction with other ingredients and comparing forms such as oil, triturated (comminuted), or powdered in the context of the formulation with the equipment and manufacturing process of the product are vital for identifying optimum addition points for a commercially viable product.

Protein in the Mix
Rising consumer demand for higher protein content ushered in premixes with bioactive peptides from whey, and collagen for muscle growth, skin health, enhanced immune response, weight management, and healthy aging.

Such premixes can help makers of sports nutrition and beauty-from-within products deliver the right combination of bioactive, bioavailable protein components, especially with full complements of amino acids as needed. They can be precisely and easily blended with beverage formulations and balance perfectly with other ingredients and under different conditions—high acid, carbonation, botanically infused—to avoid compromising mouthfeel or flavor.

Amino acids and nucleotides are emerging as the top preferred ingredients in premixes for high-end applications such as infant and clinical nutrition products. They also are now being used in sports nutrition beverages to prevent lactate buildup related to muscle soreness and fatigue. Supplementation with essential amino acids, particularly beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB), a metabolite of leucine, is used to enhance muscle protein synthesis in healthy and frail elderly consumers.

Botanical Bioactives 
Curcumin (from turmeric), a top-trending bioactive, is prized for its anti-inflammatory properties benefiting joint health and mitigating exercise-related inflammation and muscle soreness. Yet, it can stain manufacturing equipment (and skin and teeth), and it deters dispersion and forms unappealing yellow sediment.

These issues may be countered in order to include it in a premixed blend. A combination of beadlet and granulation technologies will enhance flow properties, prevent caking, and reduce dust and adherence to machinery, while allowing immediate dispersion in liquids. They also allow curcumin to be combined with other lipid-soluble compounds and to be suitable for inclusion in teas, lemonades, cold-pressed juices, and coffee in accurate dosages for consistent flavor and appearance.

Reduce, Reuse, Upcycle
Formerly discarded animal and plant byproducts with naturally high concentrations of antioxidant polyphenols, proteins, or fiber are being transformed into viable food-grade ingredients. They’ve been adding marketability as well as nutraceutical benefit to eco-friendly baked goods, cereals, snacks, meat, fish, and dairy products. Premixes with compounds extracted from by-products of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, cereals, and seafood offer health benefits and bioavailability.

Premixes of omega-3 oil, chitosan, and bioactive peptides from seafood processing have been used to enhance fish jerky products, while premixes with natural betaine from beetroot and mangifera from mango pulp add potent color, flavor, and nutrition to yogurts and dairy beverages. Such upcycling aligns with growing consumer interest in sustainable foods and reducing food waste.

Tea derivatives also have become popular, but adding them to beverages requires precision to ensure desirable flavor and measurable health benefits. Premixes offer functional food and beverage manufacturers some of the best-known tea bioactives—caffeine, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), and L-theanine—intact and in precise dosages for the appeal of traditional medicines in beverages without compromised taste or appearance.

Consumer demand for fortified and functional foods that provide convenient and flavorful nutrition, along with manufacturers’ quest for stable, customized blends from trusted suppliers, are the key drivers of a renewed growth trend in premixes. For food and beverage manufacturers, premixes are a cost-effective way to enhance the premium quality of their portfolio while ensuring consistency in a product’s nutraceutical profile as well as its organoleptic aspects.

Kantha Shelke, PhD, CFS, is a senior lecturer at Johns Hopkins University and principal of Corvus Blue LLC, a Chicago-based food science and research firm specializing in industry competitive intelligence, expert witness services, and new product/technology development and commercialization of foods and food ingredients for health and wellness. Contact her at kantha@corvusblue.net.

Plant-Based Premixes
Naturally occurring micronutrients in plant-based ingredients can help fill gaps for comparably healthy and nutritious plant-based alternatives to animal-based products.

Pork, beef, chicken, and seafood are naturally rich in adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and are excellent sources of purine nucleotides. Premixes with baker’s yeasts—replete with RNA—and yeast extracts (containing purine and pyrimidine nucleotides) provide that similar set of components to help meat and fish alternatives match the nutrient profile of their animal counterparts.

Nut and seed milk analogs typically take advantage of premixed and balanced vitamin and mineral blends to match or surpass the nutrition of their dairy counterparts. In addition to calcium and vitamin D3 (derived from baker’s yeast treated with ultraviolet light to help with absorption), the blend should include a hydrocolloid such as gellan gum for even suspension of the calcium in the beverage. They also might contain vitamin B12 (typically from mushrooms, algae, seaweed or nutritional yeast). Calcium carbonate is not very soluble in pure water (15mg/L at 25°C) but in superfine particle size, it can be dispersible at the right level to manage texture and blunt the stronger taste of plant-based materials for neutral taste and a creamy, dairy-like mouthfeel.

A premix’s shelf life is challenging because its components are reactive and degrade in potency over time. Vitamin premixes usually have a 6- to 12-month shelf life, while mineral premixes are stable for 12-24 months. Combining the two to reduce inventory will reduce the shelf life to as little as three months. Opt for more than one premix for a longer shelf life and greater efficacy.

Nutrition bars—besides being portable, ready-to-eat, and portion-sized—are expected to pack in every nutrient sought for health. Using dried fruits, nuts, fiber, protein, botanicals, vitamins, minerals, and omega fats in an overzealous formulation will result in a cloying taste and aftertaste. Stage premixes with arrays of microencapsulated vitamins and minerals, soy and dairy protein, encapsulated omega-3, and medium-chain triglycerides to deliver the nutritional punch in keto-friendly protein snacks that will not go rancid.

Food-to-Food Fortification 
An emerging premix strategy involves boosting formulations with essential and desirable micronutrients through food-based fortificants. An example: Improving the level of bioavailable iron, zinc, and provitamin A by using from starchy staple foods and fruits and vegetables with high mineral, ascorbate, and beta-carotene content. This can provide small, yet noticeable improvements in micronutrient profile, with significantly better bioavailability.