Bakers, like other prepared foods manufacturers, try their best to meet consumers’ growing demand for healthier products. 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, often identifiable, food 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. So get zany! Experiment with fun combinations. Try pistachios in banana bread or macadamias with coconut in a muffin. Imagine blood orange cheesecake with a praline cashew crust.

“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,” said 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.”

For example, food trucks continue to grow in popularity, with some of the most sought-after concepts being Asian and barbecue platforms. Bakers can team up with these businesses and offer options such as the popular Taiwanese pineapple bun, so named for its appearance, not its flavor. This fluffy, doughy bun has a crispy, vanilla cookie exterior and is filled with everything from fruits to nuts to red bean paste. Most are often topped with slivered almonds for added decoration and flavor.

Another popular treat is the coconut cream bun, which has a light, creamy center and a dusting of coconut flakes on top. It’s the perfect marriage of bread and cake.

When it comes to baked goods for barbecue trucks, think smoky and spicy. Bakers can use brownies as a base and then add smoked nuts and spicy fruit pieces. The traditional cornbread side can take on a new twist when corn flour is combined with nut flour. The addition of diced fruit, maybe infused with some heat, adds another dimension of flavor as well as an enticing invitation to try.

Packing it into snacks

Bakers cannot afford to ignore the snack foods segment and how fruits and nuts add value to these on-the-go mini meals. This is particularly true for bars, biscuits and crackers, which are both portable and durable. Fruits and nuts also present opportunities to “snackify” familiar baked goods, such as bagels, muffins and scones.

According to a September 2014 study on flavor trends in bars, conducted by Sterling-Rice Group, almonds were the most desired ingredient in the “ideal” nutrition/snack bar. Oats, granola, peanut butter, coconut and dark chocolate also ranked high among desired ingredients. The top fruit flavors selected for consumers’ ideal bar were strawberry and coconut (tied at 13%), followed by raisin (9%), cranberry (8%) and blueberry (7%).

“In the baking industry, formulators can develop new products, such as protein bars, designed to fit a nutrition goal,” said Tom Leahy, spokesperson for Sunsweet Ingredients. “They can also reformulate traditional products to be healthier, such as bagels with more fiber.

“In Korea, we provide prune products to a company that markets a bar made primarily from walnuts and prunes, with a touch of honey and cranberry for a little added sweetness and acidity,” he said.

Fruity innovations

Real fruit ingredients come in many different formats, ranging from those with no piece identity, such as concentrates, juices, pastes and purees, to products that more closely resemble the original whole fruit. This includes dices and slices. Fruit ingredients can be purchased fresh, but for efficiency, quality and safety, bakers typically used aseptic, canned, dried or frozen forms.

“Real fruit has traditionally presented a significant technical challenge in the bakery category,” said Wayne Lutomski, vice-president of international, 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.”

Kami Smith, director of culinary showcasing, Pecan Deluxe Candy Co., said, “Working with fruits in all types of baking needs can bring either very ‘fruitful’ results or a watery, bleeding mess that ruins the look and flavor profile of the baked item. That’s why in many applications, dried fruit is your friend.”

In cake and muffin batter, dried fruits will hydrate with the ingredient water or added moisture while remaining in suspension during baking. They will plump to a desirable post-bake texture. Rarely do dried fruits bleed into the batter, according to Ms. Smith. With cookie doughs and bars, dried fruits provide superior texture and maintain consistency throughout shelf life.

“Vacuum-dried fruits have a more concentrated flavor and deliver full fruit flavor to baked goods,” said Brigham Sikora, R&D director, Kerry Americas Region. “Maintaining the correct water content requires consideration. Real fruit can add water, and dried fruit can reduce it, so it’s important to find the right balance.”

Indeed, dried fruits reduce water activity, which holds down potential microbial issues in the final product, according to Megan Culp, sales manager, Parker Products. “Dehydrated berries incorporated into our grain-based inclusion with a final application of muffins have been highly popular,” she said. “Dehydrated cranberry is used in a granola cluster that’s a topper for many bakery applications.”

FutureCeuticals specializes in organic freeze-, spray- and drum-dried fruits. The company manufactures these materials in whole or piece formats or as powders.

“We are able to provide added value and supply-chain security for our partners by developing and manufacturing nutritional custom blends,” said Andrew Wheeler, director of marketing, 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.’ ”

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