Bakers recognize that real fruits and nuts are a clean label approach to create premium treats from cookies to muffins and birthday cakes. In some instances, they contribute color, flavor and texture; in others, it’s all about functionality. Real fruits and nuts provide a healthful halo by adding nutrients to baked goods, sometimes by replacing less desirables, such as saturated fat, and other times by boosting protein, fiber, vitamin and mineral content. But formulating with them comes with challenges.
“Working with true fruit and nut pieces in bakery applications can be tricky regarding moisture migration and textural issues,” said Paula Simons, manager, research and development, Pecan Deluxe.
Fruit and nut inclusions can also impact dough and batter machinability.
“Maintaining the inclusion’s integrity and managing interactions between the inclusion and its environment are key to a successful formulation,” said Jonathan Khouzam, senior research and development specialist, Fruit d’Or. “It’s critical to understand how these inclusions will impact operational factors, such as dough or batter machinability.”
Fruits and nuts pose different challenges. When they are both part of a recipe — think raspberry almond Danish — extra steps may assist with improving shelf life.
“Fruit can raise water activity and make an environment where yeasts and molds can flourish,” said Thom King, chief executive officer, Icon Foods. “While nuts are stable, they are pricey. Fruit can be unstable in both price and supply chain, as well as shelf stability.”
As an alternative to using the “real deal,” numerous suppliers offer fabricated bits and pieces that may be customized to flavor and composition specifications. They can be used alone or in tandem with real fruits and nuts.
“These bits help drive down water activity, thus extending shelf life and reducing the cost of goods sold,” Mr. King said. “Cinnamon dolce-type bits can cut down on raisins used in raisin bread while maintaining a textural sensation and explosion of flavor. We are working on more interesting fruit bits like a chili mango, maple nut nuggets, allergen-free peanut bits and more.”
For a growing number of shoppers, seeing the inclusion of real fruits and nuts seals the purchase deal. For example, 28% of consumers who responded to the 2023 Food and Health Survey from the International Food Information Council said they define a “healthy food” as one that contains fruits or vegetables.
Real fruits and nuts, in combination with whole grains, also appeal to consumers following the Mediterranean diet, the second most popular diet type among Americans, according to FitnessVolt.com, a bodybuilding website. While fruits may not be desirable to someone following the No. 1 diet in America — keto — nuts in combination with nut flours and some whole grains keep the keto dieter shopping in the baked goods department.