It is an art to add just the right amount of chopped kale to a pasta dish or sprinkle enough toasted chia seeds on a salad to make them delicious and functional. It requires science to increase the fiber content of a breaded chicken nugget or include omega-3 fatty acids in a pasta sauce, and it’s increasingly being done to appeal to consumers—especially baby boomers—seeking nutritionally dense convenience foods.
Taste, price and healthfulness continue to be the leading drivers of food-purchasing decisions, according to results from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s Food and Health Survey, which was published in early May. Whole grains top the list of what consumers are trying to get a certain amount or as much as possible of in their daily diet. It is followed by fiber, protein and calcium.
This is good news, as the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s report, published in February, identified several nutrients that are under consumed relative to recommendations from the Institute of Medicine. The shortfall nutrients include vitamins A, C, D and E, calcium, fiber, folate, magnesium and potassium. For adolescent and premenopausal women, iron also is considered a shortfall nutrient. Of the shortfall nutrients, calcium, vitamin D, fiber and potassium are classified as nutrients of public health concern because their under consumption has been linked in the scientific literature to adverse health outcomes.
The shortfall nutrients are those needed to prevent adverse health. There’s a myriad of other nutrients associated with improved health and well-being that consumers are not getting enough of. For example, omega-3 fatty acids are associated with brain development in children and cognitive health throughout the lifecycle. Choline has similar benefits, as well as being associated with heart and liver health. Others include the antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate, proanthocyanidins, lycopene and coenzyme Q10.
Form follows function
Scientists have been able to isolate and manufacture many of these nutrients into ingredients for use in functional foods. Interestingly, according to the IFIC survey, despite all the noise about genetically modified foods and “laboratory” foods, 66% of respondents agree that “the overall healthfulness of the food or beverage is more important to me than the use of food biotechnology,” which was defined as “the use of science and technologies such as genetic engineering to enhance certain attributes of foods.”
Thus, the time may be right to use functional ingredients in prepared fresh foods sold in food service, retail and convenience channels. Examples may include everything from a heat-and-eat lasagna to a yogurt parfait.
“Functional ingredients are becoming essential within the food development cycle to provide the nutritional claims consumers are looking for,” said Vicky Fligel, business development manager with Glanbia Nutritionals Ingredient Technologies, Fitchburg, Wis. “Health-conscious consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the role of nutrition in maintaining their well-being and are willing to include nutritionally enhanced ingredients in every part of their daily diets.
“Many companies now employ culinary chefs to provide a restaurant-type experience with retail products to ensure consumers are getting the best sensory enjoyment. Functional ingredients allow chef-inspired fresh foods to capture consumers’ attention with claims such as rich in protein, calcium, antioxidants, omega-3s, fiber and more, as well as with their taste and texture.”
Amanda Wagner, food technologist, Fiberstar Inc., River Falls, Wis., said, “Culinary trends are going back to basics when formulating foods. As a result, the best opportunities for functional ingredients in chef?inspired foods are those foods where the functional ingredient innately makes sense to the consumer.”
For example, consumers understand bakery items already contain fiber, vitamins and minerals, especially if they are created from ancient grains or whole wheat flour bases. Using other functional ingredients such as flaxseeds or chia seeds, which are a source of omega-3 fatty acids and protein, or plant?based fibers are a logical addition.
Another opportunity for functional ingredients exists with foods served through such health institutions as hospitals and convalescent homes, as many patients and residents tend to be poor eaters or suffer from a lack of nutrition.
Researchers have shown that fortifying sauces with micro- and macronutrients may offer an approach to improving energy intake for hospitalized older people, according to a study published in the May 2015 issue of the Journal of Food Science. The researchers fortified tomato, gravy and white sauces with a micronutrient premix blend containing folic acid, iron, riboflavin, zinc and vitamins C, D and B6, along with magnesium and potassium, all nutrients that the target population tends to be lacking in the diet. The researchers found that the healthy older volunteer consumers who evaluated the fortified tomato sauce preferred it to the unfortified version. There were also no significant differences in acceptance between the fortified and standard option for gravy. They did find limitations in the extent of fortification with protein, potassium and magnesium, as excessive inclusion resulted in bitterness, undesired flavors or textural issues. This was particularly an issue in the white sauce.
The researchers concluded that “the development of fortified sauces is a simple approach to improving energy intake for hospitalized older people, both through the nutrient composition of the sauce itself and due to the benefits of increasing sensorial taste and lubrication in the mouth.”
Functional ingredient menu
Every functional ingredient poses a different formulation challenge and must be evaluated by application, manufacturing process, distribution and shelf life requirements.
“Stability, for instance, might be an issue with proteins, as they tend to denature when exposed to various heat treatments, changes in pH or agitation,” Ms. Fligel said. “They will also thicken, gel or precipitate over time, impacting the final shelf life of applications. On the other hand, omega-3 fortification ingredients can cause oxidation if they’re not properly processed.”
Glanbia Nutritionals offers a range of dairy proteins that may provide the benefits of protein and calcium as well as functional benefits. These include whey and milk protein concentrates and isolates in various forms, based on fat or mineral content.
“An increasingly popular ingredient with culinologists is hydrolyzed protein,” Ms. Fligel said. “These proteins are able to withstand higher-temperature processing.”
Many functional ingredients deliver more than one nutrient, and, while providing nutrition, they often serve a purpose in the applications.
“For example, for baked goods such as pancakes, waffles, cookies and gluten-free muffins, we developed an egg-replacement solution that can be labelled as ‘flaxseed meal and whey protein concentrate,’” Ms. Fligel said. “The ingredient provides both emulsification and structure while improving texture and mouthfeel. It is significantly lower in fat and cholesterol than dried whole eggs and adds the nutritional benefits of fiber, protein and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) omega-3 while improving moistness.”
All types of dairy ingredients may be useful tools for boosting not just protein content but calcium content as well. For example, calcium-rich milk minerals may be included in ready-to-drink smoothies, yogurt parfaits, beverages and baked goods.
“They come in various particle sizes for different needs in terms of solubility, stability and mouthfeel,” Ms. Fligel said. “Our milk mineral ingredient naturally contains 21 minerals found in milk that are essential for normal human growth and metabolism.”
Culinologists also need to determine the type of content claim. Absolute numbers, such as “contains 3 grams of fiber per serving,” tend to be easier to make than “good source” or “excellent source” claims.
“We offer a non?GMO functional fiber derived from citrus pulp,” Ms. Wagner said. When used in combination with other fibers, it is possible to boost the fiber content of the food high enough to make a “good” or “excellent” source of fiber claim. While contributing fiber content, this citrus is also a performance fiber, as it can assist with moisture management, emulsification, stabilization and thickening of various foods.
“It’s an excellent water binder, which is why it is often used to control moisture migration in baked goods. This helps preserve freshness for an extended period of time, all while increasing fiber content.”
Depending on the food product, it is stated on a label declaration either as citrus fiber or citrus flour and registers as fiber on the nutritional label.
Though both fiber and omega-3 fatty acids may be added as isolated food ingredients to formulations, some ingredients are a source of the essential nutrients and others. For example, stabilized rice bran is an inherent source of essential vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber and ALA.
“Bran is about 10% by weight of the rice kernel,” said Robert Smith, senior vice-president of business development for RiceBran Technologies, Scottsdale, Ariz. “This is also where 80% of the nutrition resides. We’ve patented a process to stabilize the bran to prevent it from oxidizing, and thereby are able to provide an ingredient loaded with many nutrients lacking in today’s diet.”
It readily dissolves in water or other liquid, with some versions dissolving clear and others providing desirable opacity with or without viscosity. Applications include baked goods, pasta, pizza crust, protein and sports drinks, tortillas and snack bars.
“It’s even an approved binder for use in meats, such as hot dogs,” Mr. Smith said. “In conjunction with animal proteins, rice bran proteins can offer cost savings and a balanced amino acid profile.
“Rice bran brings protein, dietary fiber, phytosterols, antioxidants and gamma oryzanol to make fresh foods functional foods.”
Matcha is another multi-nutrient ingredient. It is also an ingredient chefs are increasingly using for sensory impact.
Matcha is finely milled green tea powder made from green tea leaves. Its traditional use is in Japanese tea ceremonies, but is fast becoming popular as an ingredient in sweet and savory foods for its healthy antioxidants, as well as its fresh and herbaceous taste, according to Rona Tison, senior vice-president of corporate relations, Ito En (North America) Inc., New York.
“Innovative matcha applications range from dips and dressings to cheesecake and chocolate chip cookies,” she said. “It’s great in all types of dairy, including milk, ice cream and even pudding.”
Bill Driessen, director of Taiyo International Inc., Minneapolis, added, “Matcha has a pleasant earthy taste and naturally bright green color. Bakers are adding it directly to breads, cupcakes and muffins.
“When we consume matcha, we are eating the entire green tea leaf,” Mr. Driessen said. “You are getting all the soluble antioxidant components found in a cup of brewed green tea, as well as the insoluble components in the leaf, like some fiber, proteins and chlorophyll.”
Mr. Driessen concluded by noting that, “It is always a good opportunity for including functional ingredients in chef-inspired fresh foods when we can up the nutritional content of the end product without negatively affecting taste or texture. Sometimes it is even possible to both improve the nutritional content of a food, while at the same time improving texture and mouthfeel.”
Cannabis: An herb with benefits
At the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show held this past May in Chicago, Chef Melissa Parks, co-author of “Herb: Mastering the Art of Cooking with Cannabis,” a collaboration with www.herb.com, discussed the fundamentals of treating the cannabis plant as an herb in cooking that may have untapped functional potential. And similar to basil and oregano, there are many flavor profiles of cannabis available to the creative culinologist, according to Ms. Parks. Here’s what she shared about the art of developing cannabis-infused foods in the emerging legal market.
Food Business News: Specialty restaurants in states where cannabis has been legalized have started putting it on the menu. What does cannabis contribute in terms of flavor and aroma?
Ms. Parks: The cannabis plant is loaded with compounds, including more than 85 psychoactive compounds collectively known as cannabinoids, as well as flavonoids and terpenes. The latter give cannabis its unique odor, while most cannabinoids have no smell.
The terpene profile can vary considerably from strain to strain, giving each strain its own unique flavor and aroma. The complexity of each strain varies much like wine varietals. That is where the excitement begins for a chef. One strain may be strong in honey while another more closely resembles peach. After identifying the inherent aromas you can then create a recipe.
How does a chef “activate” the herb to deliver it in a psychoactive form?
Ms. Parks: The actual plant is sold at dispensaries in its inactive form. In order to activate the compounds, one must heat the plant. This can happen through vaping, smoking or extraction. From this activation comes the psychoactive response commonly associated with cannabis consumption. This varies by strain and dose.
What about dosing? How does a chef ensure the consumer gets what he’s paying for in regards to function, but not too much?
Ms. Parks: Dosing is both an art and a science and it varies by food application. The highly psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is almost insoluble in water but is very soluble in non-polar solvents such as butter, oil and other fats. To get the greatest effect, the activated herb should be stabilized in a fat ingredient and then added to recipes. With each creation, you must determine the average amount being consumed to determine an acceptable dose. It is often safest to offer the cannabis in the form of an on-the-side dressing or sauce so the consumer controls the dosing.