Prepared foods manufacturers try their best to meet consumers’ growing demand for healthier products, and one of the easiest approaches — as well as cleanest and simplest — to improving the image of carbohydrate-laden baked goods is to add some fruits and nuts.
These are real and often identifiable ingredients that contribute an array of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fiber, essential fatty acids and, in some cases, even protein — the food world’s booming buzz word. They also deliver on color, flavor and texture, and allow for experimentation.
“Bakers are wise to take a broad view of flavors and product concepts that are becoming popular, and figure out how they can complement mainstream baked goods,” says Rob Corliss, founder of All Things Epicurean and research chef for the Almond Board of California. “Such insights can help determine what fits your brand, growth initiatives and target audience.”
Of course, fruits and nuts are also functional ingredients that cater to the snacking segment and add value to these on-the-go mini meals. This is particularly true for bars, biscuits and crackers, which are both portable and durable. They also present opportunities to “snackify” familiar goods such as bagels, muffins and scones.
“In the baking industry, formulators can develop new products, such as protein bars, designed to fit a nutritional goal,” says Tom Leahy, spokesperson for Sunsweet Ingredients, which works with plums. “They can also reformulate traditional products to be healthier, such as bagels with more fiber.”
Fruit ingredients may be purchased fresh, but for efficiency, quality and safety, commissaries typically use aseptic, canned, dried or frozen forms.
“Real fruit has traditionally presented a significant technical challenge,” says Wayne Lutomski, vice-president of international for Welch’s Global Ingredients Group. “The key is to mitigate moisture transfer. It’s not the absolute moisture content of an ingredient. Rather, the crucial parameter is water activity, which is a measure of the ability of water to migrate from the fruit ingredient into the surrounding food matrix. It’s really important to ensure the water activity of any fruit ingredients you use has been tailored specifically for the application.”
“We are able to provide added value and supply-chain security for our partners by developing and manufacturing nutritional custom blends,” says Andrew Wheeler, director of marketing for FutureCeuticals. “We’ve had great success in delivering blends that are able to boast claims such as ‘contains two servings of fruits’ or ‘contains one serving of fruit and one serving of vegetables.’"
“When fresh is expected, your best choice is individually quick frozen (IQF) fruit,” Smith says. “To minimize bursting, bleeding and watering the batter too much, it is best to prepare the batter to specification and then add the necessary IQF fruits in the last mixing stage. This decreases staining the batter and helps secure a full, fresh piece of fruit.”
Depending on the application, fruit ingredients can also serve as a partial or full substitute for ingredients that some consumers are trying to reduce in their diet — namely fat, salt, and sugar.
“Prune puree can be used for fat reduction in cookies and pastries and as a sweetener in bars,” Leahy says. “Interestingly, in many products that use puree for fat reduction, added sugars and sodium are also reduced.”
Kristen Doran, technical services and innovation manager for iTi Tropicals, agreed that some fruits have the ability to mimic fat in baked goods. This can lower the fat content while also boosting nutritional value by contributing fiber and vitamins. She says there’s growing interest in exploring the use of tropical fruits in baked goods, thus melding the exotic with the familiar.
“We supply coconut cream that can be used in place of traditional dairy milk in baked goods such as cake or quick bread,” Doran says. “Coconut cream provides a great mouthfeel and fat content, which helps maintain product stability while also allowing a dairy-free formulation.
“Passion fruit and figs are fruits to watch, and they pair really well together,” she adds. “Figs can provide the body needed in the form of a paste and act as a humectant, while passion fruit provides a sweet and tart tropical flavor.”
“Using fruits and nuts in baked goods is a perfect opportunity to capitalize on consumer demand for products that deliver both taste and nutrition.” says Brigham Sikora, R&D director for Kerry Ingredients. “We’re continuing to see innovation, and speed to market is important. But you need to get it right because consumers have never demanded more.”
The versatility of nut ingredients can help reinvent classic baked goods with modern flavors, as well as enable development of new concepts — often a melding of an ethnic favorite with a local concept. Candied fruits and nuts like pecans can also give a sweet crunch to cookies, muffins and scones.
“We are known for our artisanal candy production,” Smith says. “With our tasty nut meats cooked and coated with sugar, we can add flavors on top of the pralined candy shell. This includes spice blends, such as Moroccan, curry and chili. We can combine nut meats with dehydrated fruit powders to bring a new combination of flavors in a one-bite experience.”
Coatings function as moisture barriers and keep nuts crunchy. Praline coating is quite popular, but chocolate, lipids and sugar syrups do the job, too.
Most nuts come in an array of shapes and sizes, making it easy to add them to all types of baked goods, with multiple forms often used in the same finished item. That’s because each form has a unique function, delivering different degrees of flavor and nutrition. They can be added into the batter or dough, or as a topping for finishing purposes. Crusts also benefit from nut ingredients.
“The beauty of so many forms is the versatility that translates to numerous applications for manufacturers,” Corliss says. Nuts can be used as whole, sliced, slivers, chopped, diced and as flour or meal. There are also viscous formats, including nut milks, butters and pastes.
“Flours and meals provide soft texture and elegant flavor notes to baked goods. They are great for gluten-free and paleo baking,” Corliss says. “The identifiable pieces contribute visual appeal and texture cues, and they can also be used as toppings or inclusions. Nut butters and pastes can be used as a filling or binding agent.”
Nut milks, on the other hand, can replace other fluids typically used in a formulation, bringing unique flavor profiles to the product. Depending on the nut milk being used, it can also influence the color and texture of the baked good.
Nuts can be paired with distinctive and new flavor combinations that today’s consumers’ crave. Corliss cites data from Innova Market Insight: “Global new product introduction data show that there has been an increase of products made with almonds and coconut flavors, particularly in products such as snack bars, cookies and other confections,” he says. “There has also been a rise in almond and green tea flavor combinations — an inspiration from the growing Asian culinary landscape.”