After winning $12 million in the largest ever World Series of Poker event, Paul Gold joked, “I won because of the blueberries,” explaining that they are “brain food.” Capitalizing on the health benefits of fruit also can be a winner for bakers.
When faced with the choice of selecting a traditional bakery fruit or something new and exotic, perhaps the best choice is to do both: a combination of traditional fruit that consumers know and a more unusual fruit to boost nutrition and color.
Colorful signature desserts
Pennsylvania-based Sweet Street Desserts is the largest manufacturer of frozen gourmet desserts in North America, providing proprietary items for chain restaurants, coffeehouses, universities and hotels. “All our customers are looking for color. The bakery case in a classic coffeehouse tends to include a lot of brown–it’s just the nature of bakery products,” says Sandy Solmon, C.E.O. “Our challenge is to find a way to make bakery products colorful and also shelf stable.”
The inspiration for new desserts often starts in the lab. Sweet Street boasts a team of nine R&D chefs, which allows the company to be very responsive to its upscale clientele base. “About 50 percent of our new product introductions come from customer requests,” notes Solmon. Fruit plays a large role in the bakery’s successful products. Summerberry Stack features raspberries and blueberries suspended in citrus white cake with creamy, tart key lime filling on a buttery graham base.
Another customer favorite is Orange Cream Cheesecake. “Our customers love the vibrant summery colors as much as they relish the tanginess and freshness of the fruit,” Solmon says. An orange curd is swirled through white chocolate cheesecake and layered on orange-infused cheesecake.
For a South of the Border treat, Sweet Street features a mango, pineapple and passion fruit empanada. This Mexican turnover uses a cooked sauce with lots of fruit and minimal starch. Solmon strives for unique combinations and multiple colors. The orange cheesecake is bright orange, while the mango-
passion fruit empanada is a more yellow-orange. Blueberries and blackberries provide red and purple shades.
“Remember that most fruits are 90 percent water. This makes satisfying the strong demand for colorful products that are shelf stable challenging,” she adds. “Our chefs incorporate a lot of different techniques to control water while preserving the whole fruit texture.” The company strives to avoid pasty slurries that can mask fruit flavor.
Healthful fruit combos
Besides color and flavor, fruits add healthfulness to bakery products. The Produce for Better Health Foundation encouraged Americans to improve their diets through the “5 A Day” campaign for many years. The foundation’s new campaign, Fruits & Veggies–More Matters™ launched in March.
“We’re encouraging consumers to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diet, and bakery products are great vehicles for both. There is a logo that promotes products that contain a full serving of fruit or veggies,” says Dr. Elizabeth Pivonka, the foundation’s C.E.O. It can be a bit tricky for bakery products because of the restrictions of sugar, fat and sodium, but the group recently worked with a bakery manufacturer to approve a bakery item.
The foundation encourages bakers to incorporate real fruits in any form, including fresh, canned, frozen, dried, puree and 100 percent juice, even if it is not a full serving, and to use real fruits rather than artificial fruit inclusions. Using real fruit may be good business for bakers. In a nationwide survey, 81 percent of consumers polled were less likely to buy products containing artificial blueberries. On average, consumers were willing to pay 30 percent more for products containing real blueberries.
“I’m not aware of a list that keeps track of top sellers year to year, and I’m sure it varies by retailer, etc., but I would venture a guess that all berries (blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries) are pretty high on that list. Peaches, apples, pears, plums, cherries, rhubarb, strawberries and bananas all work well in bread products too,” Pivonka notes.
Consuming a colorful variety of fruits provides a wide range of valuable nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins and potassium. Darker fruits generally have more phytonutrients, adds Pivonka. Fruits like prune puree and applesauce can be used as fat substitutes. Diets rich in fruits may reduce the risk of some types of cancer and other chronic diseases. Processed fruits retain most of their nutrients, fiber and phytonutrients, but significant amounts of vitamin C are lost due to the heat involved in processing.
A fruit by fruit breakdown
Bakers can incorporate old favorites with “newer,” trendier fruits. These combinations may turn into a customer favorite. Here is a short list of traditional choices and new, fruity options.
• Apples are a traditional favorite, and one of Sweet Street’s most popular fruits. “We’re always working to find ways to make an apple product that tastes fresh,” Sweet Street’s Solmon says. Recent research indicates that nutrients in apples protect communications among human cells and can inhibit cell damage that might foster heart disease and age-related cancers. Apples pair well with cranberries, raisins and raspberries and are available in a wide variety of forms including bulk dried, chilled and frozen.
• Bananas reign as the most popular tropical fruit for baking, according to Veronique Beittel, trade marketing manager, Chiquita Brands International, Cincinnati. “For bakery applications, the most common form is puree, but powder and flakes also are convenient for bakery operations. Bananas also are available in aseptic and frozen forms,” she says. Bananas are one of the foods lowest in allergens. When asked to describe the most popular combo using bananas, Beittel didn’t hesitate. “It’s definitely banana and chocolate, always a winning duo.”
• Blueberries are rapidly increasing in popularity, in part because consumers link blueberries to heart health, anti-aging, cancer prevention and improved eyesight and memory. Many new products include a healthful helping of blueberries. Blueberries pair well with acai, wolfberries, camu camu, guava, elderberry, pomegranate, guarana, gojiberries, cranberries, mangos, kiwis and others. Blueberries are synergistic with these tropical fruits in unique bakery creations consumers find appealing. In a sense their inclusion validates a product that contains exotic ingredients by making it less scary. Because blueberries are homey and familiar, they help make these unfamiliar ingredients less intimidating–they give the products curb appeal.
Blueberries add intriguing effects like blue swirls and patterns and are essential in almost anything red, white and blue. While enhancing the visual appeal of products, blueberries portray an all-natural, healthful image. Formulating with blueberries also is attractive because of their year-round availability and the ease with which they can be incorporated into existing formulas and systems.
• Cranberries, with their tart flavor, blend well with several sweet fruits, such as lemon, apple, apricots, blueberries and oranges.
• Raisin juice can extend the shelf life of breads and works as a natural preservative. It can help maintain moisture and is a natural binder in cereal bars. Raisins contain more than 3 percent protein and 5 percent fiber. Raisins and nuts provide a classic, healthful addition to breads and muffins. For variety, try walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts or macadamias.
• Tropical fruits are often rich in antioxidants, and antioxidants are in high demand with consumers. However, exposure to light, heat and inappropriate drying can diminish antioxidant activity, so bakers need to be cautious about making antioxidant claims. Tropical fruits also add color and unique flavor profiles to a bakery lineup. “Other popular fruits for baking include papaya, mango and pineapple, which benefit from the Latin influence,” notes Beittel. A few of the more unusual tropicals are listed below.
–Acai berry: Some say the acai berry tastes like chocolate-flavored blueberries. This black berry from Brazil is considered one of the richest sources of antioxidants.
–Passion fruit: The name alone inspires excitement. The pulp is usually strained and sold as a juice. This tart juice combines well with a variety of berries.
–Pomegranate: Originally from the regions of Iran and Afghanistan, this fruit is now grown commercially in California.
–Star fruit: A single slice of this succulent crunchy fruit makes a stunning centerpiece for a fruit tart.
–Tamarind: This brown fleshy fruit is an integral ingredient of Worcestershire sauce and adds an interesting zing to chutneys.
Sweet and savory twist
While most bakers think of fruits in sweet combinations, they also can be used to create some interesting savory products. Blueberries make mouth-awakening biscotti. They make exciting pairings with caramelized garlic, thyme, wasabi, salted pistachio, or ají chili peppers. Cranberries combined with pomegranate make a zesty pepper jelly.
Chutneys are considered condiments to meats, but also can create a new twist in a cheese puff. Mostly of Indian origin, chutneys also can have a New England flair. Consider cranberry-mango chutney as a Danish filling, or experiment with raisin and apricot chutney as a bagel topper. The possibilities are endless.
Appealing fruit combinations can win new customers and help your bakery line command top dollar. Using quality fruit with vibrant fruit colors pays off.