More than ever, consumers are conscious of what goes into the foods they eat, and fruit and nut inclusions are a great way to add the flavor, nutritional and other value-adds they’re looking for.

One of the main beneficiaries of this trend has been tart cherries, which are increasingly recognized as a “superfruit,” with scientific evidence supporting their health benefits and additional research currently underway, said Heather Weber, interim executive director of the Dewitt, Mich.-based Cherry Industry Administrative Board.

When consumers — and in particular millennials, foodies and the health-conscious — see “superfruit,” they’re much more likely to purchase it.

“More and more foods and beverages ‘made with tart cherries,’ including dried tart cherries, are hitting store shelves as consumers increasingly value the flavor and nutrition benefits,” Weber said. “Heightened interest in sour has connection to health and wellness, with 80% of sour's top growing claims related to a functional benefit.”

Studies have linked tart cherries with benefits for conditions including arthritis and gout, exercise recovery, sleep, heart health and gut health.

And with consumers increasingly seeking sour, less sweet flavors, tart cherries provide the ideal sour-sweet flavor profile for both savory and sweet product applications, Weber said. Because tart cherries contain less natural sugar than many other fruits, they’ve become a favorite ingredient for keto desserts and snacks.

Even desserts are moving to a more savory side, she said, and tart cherries can help strike the right complexity and balance.

Dried tart cherries make great additions to baked goods, dairy products and savory items because of their unique sour flavor, a halo of potential health benefits, an attractive pop of bright red color and an added texture to a wide variety of product applications, Weber said. They also offer a satisfying chewy texture when dried, and they don’t bleed in bakery applications.

Rising demand for plant-based foods is another reason inclusions like cherries are becoming more attractive.

“Snack and product innovators have the opportunity to incorporate increasing amounts and varieties of vegetables and fruits in baked goods and snacks,” Weber said.

Other applications include handheld pies, cookies, bars, chocolate bites, salsa, jerky and sausages.