Opportunity is ripe for adding fruit to formulations. Consumers already find many fruit flavors appealing, and they view fruit as having a health halo, too. Extending the shelf life in baked foods is yet another reason to choose fruit ingredients. Options to consider include coconut complementing a chocolate cake, berries adding anthocyanins to cereal or prune purees extending shelf life in bars.

Strawberry, apple, banana, coconut and lemon are the five most common fruit flavors found on menus, according to Datassential MenuTrends, said Bryan Fitzsimmons, senior manager insights and client experience at Dawn Foods Global.

“In particular, strawberry is the most popular, appearing on nearly 25% of dessert menus,” he said. “Bakers can capitalize on these popular fruit choices by offering items such as vegan apple cider vinegar donuts, orange ginger chocolate tortes and turmeric citrus immune-boosting tarts.”

Blueberry and strawberry dessert flavors are projected to grow on menus over the next four years, according to Datassential MenuTrends.

“Additionally, citrus fruits and berries, such as limes, oranges, blueberries, and raspberries, are rising in popularity in baked foods,” Mr. Fitzsimmons said. “Some examples include berry fruit tarts and orange cranberry holiday cake. Now more than ever consumers are seeking out foods like these that deliver both great taste and functional ingredients that are going to help their overall health. Desserts are no exception.”

Bakers should consider a number of options when incorporating fruit into baked foods.

“For example, if making a vanilla cake, consider complementing those ingredients with strawberries,” Mr. Fitzsimmons said. “Another is adding coconut to chocolate cake pops. There are also fruits like lemons, which tend to be more of a standalone flavor, that can be paired with other fruits for a sweet and sour balance — like raspberries and blueberries — in dessert bars.”

Dawn Foods, Jackson, Mich., expanded its presence in the fruit ingredients market earlier this year by acquiring Jabex, which is based in Poland and makes fruit-based products for the bakery industry at two production facilities. The Jabex acquisition complements Dawn’s offerings and strengthens Dawn’s position in the artisanal channel, Mr. Fitzsimmons said.

“The acquisition of Jabex allows us to better meet market demand as well as serve customers in Central and Eastern Europe,” he said. “It also strengthens our existing commercial and distribution business in Poland, where Jabex is based, creating a potential benefit to source produce in the area that will support our overall manufacturing operations.”

Before the acquisition, Dawn already had a presence in fruit ingredients with facilities in Denver and Louisville, Ky., that manufacture the company’s wet product portfolio. Those products are distributed across the United States and to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Boosting brain health

The COVID-19 pandemic increased consumer interest in immunity, which already had an association with fruit, and research is showing how berries may improve brain health. Berries contain anthocyanins, which have been linked to cognition, according to Tree Top, Inc., Selah, Wash. A white paper from the company gives information on studies, including one linking blueberry supplementation to enhanced neuronal activation and another study linking apple juice consumption to prevention in the decline of a neurotransmitter.

“Berries — blueberries, strawberries, blackberries — with bright colors are full of anthocyanins, which positively impact the brain,” said Jeannie Swedberg, director of customer development and marketing for Tree Top. “Compounds like anthocyanins can cross the blood-brain barrier to exert their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Apples also can be beneficial to brain health because of their fiber content. Pears, raspberries and blackberries can contribute a good source of fiber, too. Fiber promotes good gut health, which in turn affects brain health. Research has shown there is bi-directional communication between our brain and gut microbiota.”

When asked to give definitions of being healthy, 64% of respondents said mental health, the top response, in a global study released this year by Euromonitor International, London. Having a healthy immune system, at 63%, was second to mental health. When asked what impacted immunity, more than 50% said consuming fresh fruit and vegetables had a high impact, which came in behind getting adequate sleep at nearly 60% and drinking water at nearly 55% but ahead of participating in exercise and physical activities at under 50% and consuming vitamins and supplements at under 35%. The percentage saying consuming fresh fruit and vegetables was 64% in the Middle East and Africa, 54% in Europe, 47% in North America and 42% in Asia Pacific.

About 60% of global consumers are looking for food and beverage products that support immune health, according to Datassential Menu Trends.

“Citrus fruits, for example, are known to strengthen immune systems, promote healthy skin and lower risk of kidney stones,” Mr. Fitzsimmons said. “Berries can also carry similar health benefits. For example, blueberries are high in antioxidants, which can help protect you from cancer and heart disease as well as boost your immune system.”

Gut health, bone health and a low-glycemic index are all possible formulation benefits when working with prunes.

“Grain-based foods are already healthy, but pairing prunes can make products even healthier, especially for gut and bone health,” said Kate Leahy, a spokesperson for Sunsweet Ingredients, Yuba City, Calif. “While prunes have long been tied to gut health, more research is also finding that prunes have a positive impact on bone health. Prunes have vitamins and minerals that likely work together to protect bone health, including vitamin K, magnesium, potassium, boron, copper, polyphenols and fiber. Multiple studies suggest prunes may help prevent bone loss. Regarding gut health, prunes are a natural source of fiber, with 3 grams per serving and only 100 calories.”

Prunes have a lower glycemic index than is the case with many other fruit options because some of prunes’ sweetness comes from sorbitol, which does not have the same impact on blood glucose levels as sugar, Ms. Leahy said.

“For this reason, using prunes as part of a sweetening strategy can help lower total sugars in a formulation,” she said. “Prune puree can help lower fat by replacing some of it without loss of texture. Reducing fat and replacing some of it with prune also allows for a lower overall calorie count.”

Ms. Swedberg said adding fruit to grain-based applications may allow a reduction in added sugar or other sweeteners. The natural sweetness of some fruits could replace some of the added sugar or other sweeteners.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 recommends two cup equivalents of fruit for every 2,000 calories consumed. About 80% of the US population is below the recommended intake level for fruit, according to the DGA.

FutureCeuticals, Momence, Ill., offers TruServ whole food powders that deliver the US Department of Agriculture recommended serving or piece claim of a fruit or vegetable in a serving size.

“TruServ whole food fruit and vegetable powders and pieces are versatile ingredients that work in a range of grain-based foods, including breakfast cereal, oatmeal, pasta, crackers and chips,” said Gary Augustine, vice president of marketing for Van Drunen Farms and FutureCeuticals. “No matter the grain-based creation, we can work with our customers to bring serving claims to life in their product.

“The TruServ program offers a wide variety of customizable fruit and vegetable ingredients that can help meet a customer’s sensory goals or other targets. Some of the featured fruit ingredients include apples, cranberries and blueberries. We offer a powder fruit blend that delivers a half serving of fruit and one-eighth of an apple, seven cranberries, and two blueberries in only 3.5 grams. All TruServ ingredients are shelf-stable and ideal for grain-based food applications.”

The right form of fruit

The type of grain-based foods influences the desired form of fruit ingredients. Low-moisture forms of fruit are recommended in grain-based cereal or ready-to-eat grain-based applications, Ms. Swedberg said. In bakery applications that have a wet matrix, purees or higher moisture dried fruit could be used.

Prune ingredients come in several forms.

“Like many dried fruits, prunes have been used with grain-based foods for centuries, whether in porridges in Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus or in baking,” Ms. Leahy said. “Prunes go well with a range of grains because their mild and tangy sweet flavor pairs well with the nuttiness of a lot of traditional grains, from buckwheat and rye to oats and wheat. When made into purees or pastes, prunes can be used as binders in grain-based bars. They also are high in polyphenols and can help suppress rancidity.”

She added, “In baking, prune purees can disrupt gluten networks while binding moisture, ensuring that products like cakes stay tender and moist in place of extra oil and butter. This also enables them to increase the shelf life of freshly baked goods by a few days.

“For bars, prunes in different forms — purees, powders or concentrates — can act as binders, helping bars keep their shape. A small amount of prune puree can also be used to give whole grain cookies chewy texture, preventing them from becoming dry and brittle.”

Flavor, health and function are all reasons to add fruit to ingredient labels.

“Well, fruit on any label is a plus,” Ms. Swedberg said. “Consumers look at fruit as a positive ingredient on labels. They understand what it is and that fruit in general is good for them. It’s viewed as simple, wholesome, natural and clean. You may also want to put, ‘made with real fruit’ on a label, which is attractive to consumers.”