Americans are aging. Adding antioxidant-rich ingredients may be just the ticket to improving sales and attracting loyal customers for the long haul. Experts see an increased demand for foods that will help consumers defy the aging process. Ingredients that will help improve heart health, eyesight and other maladies also will be sought after as adjuncts to prescribed medications. Graying Americans are a growing piece of the demographic pie, and foods that successfully appeal to them have nowhere to go but up in terms of sales.
And it’s not just smoke in mirrors. Research has proven that a diet with a full spectrum of antioxidants can improve health and may help avoid disease. As the media continue to report on these findings, consumers are becoming more familiar with what antioxidants are, and more importantly, what role they play in the maintenance of health.
Antioxidants themselves are too small to be seen, but they can often be recognized by the bright colors of the foods that carry them. Many varieties of antioxidant are abundant in the fruits and vegetables that are important to the baker’s repertoire. Drs. James Joseph and Daniel Nadeau, in their book The Color Code, say that “fruits and vegetables, especially the colorful ones, contain a bushel of disease-fighting compounds.” These powerful, colorful berries and plants contain polyphenols, a specific type of antioxidant that targets diseases such as macular degeneration, high blood pressure, cancer, stroke, heart disease and skin disorders.
Luckily for bakers, blueberries, blackberries and cherries are all at the top of the rich-in-antioxidants list and, on the merits of their flavor alone, have long been supremely popular with consumers. Now, informed consumers realize that the fruits are good for them, too. Adding more of these chosen ingredients to your existing formulas can help improve the health of your brand as well as the health of your customer.
Consider adding these traditional fruits in non-traditional ways. Cherry pie is a dessert staple, but offering tart cherry filling in a bagel is another possibility, or perhaps using a tart cherry bread as a sandwich base. And how about adding them to snack chips?
Vegetable Juices Inc., Bedford Park, Ill., has experimented with adding antioxidant-rich vegetables to a number of bakery products. “Puréed vegetables add lots of moisture to baked products,” says Vegetable Juice’s chef Lynne Foster. “Carrots, beets and butternut squash all add moisture so the formulas require less fat,” she continues. “Beets and chocolate go especially well together.” She has been experimenting with granola bars, cookies and cakes and has even developed fudge formulated with chili purée.
Back to Basics
Nuts have always been a staple in baking, and the California Walnut Commission has recently declared the walnut to be “The Supernut.” In a presentation to The American Chemical Society, Joe Vinson, chemistry professor, Scranton University, reported that a gram of walnuts contains nearly 70 units of polyphenols, more than any other nut. “One ounce of the nut contains more antioxidants than most people get in a day.” Vinson reminds bakers that all nuts are valuable sources of antioxidants and should be incorporated into daily meal plans, not only for the vital antioxidants they contain, but as a great source of fiber and unsaturated fats. Increasing the volume of walnuts, almonds, pistachios and Brazil nuts in formulas is a great way to increase the antioxidant levels and improve the overall health profile while giving consumers what they want.
New research from the Almond Board of California emphasizes how well almonds pair with chocolate, another ingredient loaded with both antioxidants and consumer appeal. According to the Board, “like any perfect pairing, almonds bring out the best in chocolate. They truly deliver on the attributes consumers say are most important in chocolate: delicious flavor and premium quality. They also bring a nutritious halo to any creation–an important worldwide food trend that reaches beyond the confection category.”
This “nutritious halo” also has bathed the often-overlooked peanut in a glow of newfound antioxidant power. Research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found that roasted peanuts have more antioxidants than unroasted and that the color intensity was relative to the increased antioxidant activity. Peanut butter cookies just may become the new pomegranate.
Another staple baking ingredient now has the green light from health professionals after a decade or more of being on the back burner. Eggs have come into their own as hot-button ingredients, full of antioxidants, not to mention protein and minerals. “What’s old is new again,” claims the American Egg Board, adding that eggs are a go-to food for Americans seeking a return to the basics. Egg fillings in breakfast and lunch wraps, custards, quiches and frittatas are making a comeback. With antioxidant varieties, such as lutein for eye health and sialic acid for stomach care, eggs should be top-of-mind when formulating for optimum health profiles.
NUTRICOSMETICS MAKING HEADWAY
“We are what we eat” is an age-old adage. Fortitech, Schenectady, N.Y., has taken that one step further with its “strategic nutrition” concept. The company is developing ingredient blends that target specific beauty concerns, such as aging skin or other elements of the aging process.
“Age defying nutrients,” claims a technical paper by Ram Chaudhari, Fortitech’s senior vice president and chief scientific officer, are coming to the forefront among consumers. “A class of cosmetic products called ‘cosmeceuticals’–a blend of ‘cosmetics’ and ‘pharmaceuticals’–has been developed to incorporate the potential health benefits of specific nutrients and food components,” such as antioxidants. When used, these antioxidants can protect skin against the damages of the sun, toxins in the environment, even wear and tear from every-day skin damage. The addition of antioxidant pre-blends, the company says, is the best way to incorporate antioxidants, such as Vitamins C and E, lycopene, and others, into formulations specifically designed to target the beauty market.
Though beauty may not be as much of a focus with them, the demand for foods targeting men’s health also will continue to grow. Ingredients that target heart disease, cancer and diabetes are high on the interest list of the modern man. Supplements and sports drinks commonly contain these ingredients, but the market is increasing for these nutrients in bars, breads, heat and serve items, snacks and chips. According to Fortitech, “when designing for a food or beverage, it is essential to consider five basic factors as a foundation for optimizing nutrient stability: nutrient activity, composition of the finished food, manner of addition, processing condition and procedures, and storage and other conditions prior to consumption.”
Keeping consumers healthy is a growing and profitable topic for many product developers. Delivering just a little bit extra may be key in the competition for more customers, especially those that are going to stay around a little longer. Preserving the customer base means more than consumer loyalty. In today’s market, it means helping customers live longer, to better continue buying your products.
Grains also are a source of antioxidants
It’s a no-brainer that grains are essential to the baking business, but grains also are coming into their own as a significant source of antioxidants.
Flax seed, known for its healthy omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and lignans, also is a good source of gamma-tocopherol Vitamin E, a biological antioxidant. The addition of flax seed to breads, muffins and buns can not only boost the nutritional content of your baked products, but they also add a nutty flavor and appealing crunch. Flax seeds and flax flour deliver the super nutrients that consumers are looking for.
Oats have long been known to add soluble fiber to baked products, helping to improve digestion, promote heart health and aid in disease prevention, but the phytochemicals in oats also may help improve longevity. Oats are a good source of essential vitamins such as thiamine, Vitamin E, folic acid and biotin. The beta glucans in oats also help fight bacterial infections.
All this, plus the versatility of application, make oats a natural add-in for nutrition and flavor.
Even wheat flour has received attention as delivering an antioxidant punch. Scientists studying the effects of the addition of phenolic acids in wheat flours found that the flour retained up to 80 percent of the phenolic compounds after baking. Antioxidant-rich flours may have significant application for functional foods, energy bars and meal supplements.