The ABCs of Superfruits in Product Development
“This elite group of fruit possesses exceptional nutrient richness and antioxidant quality,” Connie Banning, a food industry professional specializing in product development, told attendees of the 93rd Annual NAFFS Convention during a presentation on superfruits.
Crediting the wild blueberry industry for pioneering the world of superfruits in the mid-1990s, Banning said they were the first to promote antioxidants and oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) of fruit.
“The term – superfruit – was coined in 2004 when Superfoods RX author Steven Pratt highlighted the antioxidant levels and anti-aging properties of blueberries in his bestseller,” said Banning.
In 2002 the pomegranate was relatively obscure. “Now it’s touted for its functional properties and is being seen in supplements, hair and skin care products,” said Banning. It’s also appearing on cocktail menus and debuting in specialty sauces, noted Banning. And to gain acceptance, you’ll find it being blended with more traditional flavors, such as blueberry.
Certain flavor characteristics of the pomegranate were embellished, according to Banning. It moved from bitter and metallic to red berry flavor.
“So how does one go about predicting the next big flavor?” asked Banning. This is certainly not an easy task. “You need to understand what influences our taste perception,” said Banning. “And have knowledge of the change that happens as ingredients transition from their original form to a stand-alone flavor.”
How food looks, feels and sounds impact taste perception, noted Banning. The factors that affect how we taste are varied and numerous:
Physical: Gender, age and genetics result in physical differences
Medical: Smoking, drugs and illness dampen sense of taste and smell
Culture: What is spicy in one region may not be in another
Experience: What happened when you first tasted this ingredient
Environment: Competing smells and sights around you (i.e. cut grass)
Expectations: What is your frame of reference when tasting the item
A superfruit gaining popularity for its touted health benefits is seabuckthorn. It has a tart, citrus-like taste profile. It’s being promoted as a powerful free radical scavenger and its health benefits are said to include: anti-inflammatory properties, improved cardiovascular health, improved brain/nervous system function, natural energy boost and improved complexion.
New product introductions of superfruits in the past five years have skyrocketed globally. The top flavor pairings for Seabuckthorn are orange, apple, peach and mango.
Most new superfruits introduced are considered exotic but are becoming more mainstream. Mangosteen, a.k.a. the “Queen of Fruits” or “Food of the Gods”, is native to southeast Asia where it was used to treat ulcers, infections, fatigue and low energy. Its taste profile is sweet, tangy, slightly acidic and crisp. It is touted for its antioxidant content and anti-flammatory properties. You can find mangosteen in fine dining and casual restaurants and in a variety of beverages. Mangosteen is often paired with pomegranate, mango, acai and pear.
Passion fruit, Banning said, is found in all types of dining establishments from fine dining to family, fast-casual and casual. It is native to Brazil and has a sweet, tart, guava-like taste profile. Passion fruit is a good source of antioxidants, is an excellent source of vitamin C, A and potassium and a vital source of fiber. New product introductions have grown steadily over the past five years. Passion fruit is often paired with mango, orange, peach, pineapple and strawberry. This superfruit is more familiar to consumers.
Acai berry – the Brazilian Miracle Berry – is purple, about the size of a marble. It has seven times the antioxidants of cultivated blueberries and boosts metabolism, increases energy and is healthy for skin. The taste profile is a berry flavor with a subtle chocolate aftertaste. The fruit is slightly acidic. It’s noted for its uniquely potent antioxidants; is loaded with Vitamins A, E and B6, dietary fiber, omega fatty acids and phytosterols and is high in protein. The sales of acai berry have grown dramatically in the past five years, making it a more familiar superfruit.
The blackberry is a bramble fruit native to Asia, Europe, North and South America, noted Banning. It has been used in Europe for more than 2,000 years for eating and medicinal purposes. Its taste profile is sweet and similar to raspberry. It’s a good source of antioxidants and an excellent source of Vitamin, C, E, K and fiber. It is served in all types of dining facilities and found in juices, teas, carbonated soft drinks, flavored water, jellies, fruit spreads, yogurts and frozen desserts. Its top flavor pairings in the past five years are with raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, pomegranate and apple.
Banning then touched on a market snapshot of emerging superfruits. “The Maqui berry is a Chilean wineberry native to the Patagonia region of Argentina and Chile,” said Banning. This dark, purple berry is said to have eight times the antioxidants of blueberries, she noted. It also has the highest level of antioxidant rating of any fruit on the ORAC scale – three times the rating of Acai.
The baobab is from a tree originating in South Africa referred to as the “tree of life” or “monkey bread tree.” It is called the “tree of life” because it is capable of providing shelter, food and water for the animal and human inhabitants of the African savannah regions. The cork-like bark is used for cloth and rope. The leaves are used for condiments and medicines. The large greenish/brown fruit, called “monkey bread”, is rich in Vitamin C. The flesh melts in your mouth with a pleasant taste and a mild acidic aftertaste.
Borojo comes from a tropical rainforest tree 10 to 15 feet in height found in Columbia, Ecuador and Panama. It’s about the size of a grapefruit, has brown pulp and many seeds. The chocolate-colored flesh has an acidic fruit flavor. It is packed with powerful antioxidant polyphenols and researchers believe that the key polyphenol found is novel, noted Banning.
“When using superfruits in product development, there are many questions that need to be researched and answered,” said Banning.
At what level is consumer awareness?
Will this be a simple line extension or a nutritional product?
o A successful consumer health product requires a precisely balanced combination of ingredients and formulae supported by science, marketing and regulatory backup.
Can you deliver product efficacy?
What is the delivery form (whole fruit, fruit juice concentrated powder, supplements)?
Are your claims substantiated?
What are the cost limitations to access the fruit?
Product development guidelines should always include gaining consumer buy-in. “You need to increase your product believability through association of food awareness and the top health benefits,” said Banning. “Combining green tea and all its inherent benefits with pomegranate, acai, or blueberry solidifies the “good for you” positioning.”
Banning also encourages playing the “name game.” Descriptors like Maine Blueberries, Amazon Acai, Goji Grape and Pom Berry create interest, she said.
And don’t forget to double up! “Where one fruit is good, two or three is even better,” said Banning. Think cherry berry smoothie, mixed melon medley or mango guava tropical shake.
Banning reviewed other items to consider in your product development guidelines:
Form and availability
o Fruits are notoriously difficult to process; consider freeze-dried, gummy, crystallized options to avoid moisture and color migration.
o Understand if processing decreases or increases the levels of phytonutrients – a good part of the antioxidant power of acai comes from anthocyanins
o Anthocyanins are sensitive to heat.
o Some fruits are high in amount of fat, prone to rancidity and require low temperature storage and absence of oxygen
o Availability year round (i.e.blueberry) supports awareness
o Tread lightly when using superfruit – lacks standard definition
o Antioxidant content claims should be verified by a third party.
There’s lots of room to grow because the demand is there and increasing, Banning said. “Looking to the future, the marketing of superfruits will move toward identifying the composition of the ingredient, its mode of action and conducting clinical studies for specific health claims,” said Banning.