Whether replacing traditional ingredients, cleaning up a label or eliminating genetically modified organisms, emerging ingredients -- and a few ancient products we haven't seen in food for quite some time -- are satisfying the need for healthier foods and beverages.
Food processors are testing and commercializing items featuring plant-based proteins such as microalgae, ancient grains, turmeric, new non-sugar sweeteners, various seeds and functional probiotics.
Sweet potatoes, recently labeled a superfood by its marketers, are making inroads into breads, cereals, bars and snacks. Sweet potato ingredients are versatile and gaining popularity for their nutritional density and alignment with the paleo trend, says Nathan Holleman, vice president of marketing and sales at Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients (CIFI), Nashville, N.C. "Sweet potato ingredients can provide outstanding clean label and sensory properties. Our team has been successful creating applications with sensory appeal as well as compelling nutritional profiles."
CIFI offers sweet potato products such as juice and dehydrated ingredients (flour and granules), sourced and processed in North Carolina. CIFI says its ingredients boast a clean label as well as a healthy profile for applications such as nutrition bars (using dehydrated sweet potato crumbles), artificial sweetener replacements, condiments, sauces and desserts.
CIFI's dehydrated sweet potato flour in particular shows promise as a component in gluten-free muffins and other quick breads, but can be used in just about any food segment to add fiber and other vitamins and minerals.
Kashi, La Jolla, Calif., recently unveiled its first sweet potato-containing cereal, Sweet Potato Sunshine, an organic, non-genetically modified (GMO) sprouted grains delivering the orange tuber in the form of flakes, sprinkled with cinnamon and molasses.
Another brightly colored trend setter, turmeric is one of the top nine natural and organic food trends for 2015, according to the Sterling-Rice Group, Boulder, Colo. Primarily used in curry powder and a key flavor choice in Chinese foods, Indian curry dishes and good old bright-yellow mustard, turmeric is being called "a miracle spice" by some doctors.
Sterling Rice Group says turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin (the natural phenol that lends that bright yellow color) are notable for their cognitive health maintenance and anti-inflammatory properties, healing abilities and support of joints and muscles.
Until recently, it was challenging to find many tasty products featuring turmeric, but today, it's used in beverages, rice products, soups and convenience staples. A few examples include Numi Organic Tea and Healthee Organic Turmeric Brown Rice.
In April, Kraft Foods announced it would replacing artificial colors or preservatives in its Original Macaroni & Cheese Boxed Dinner in the U.S., and switched to using turmeric, along with annatto and paprika, because they're derived from natural sources.
It's also in new products from New Attitude Beverage Corp., Redondo Beach, Calif., which markets Blue Monkey Coconut Collection coconut waters and juice drinks. This year, Blue Monkey is offering three flavors of gluten-free, toasted coconut chips that are high in fiber. The chips contain ginger, espresso, chocolate, wasabi, bacon, mango, sriracha, cinnamon, matcha and turmeric. Original, ginger and wasabi flavors are packed in 1.4-oz. standup pouches available nationally in select markets.
Combining turmeric and the digestive benefits of probiotics, Temple Turmeric, a New York City-based marketer of turmeric-based beverages that support a positive inflammation response, is now rolling out two seasonal beverages that contain probiotics, its first probiotic offerings. New Holiday Spiced Lassi and Pure Fire Cider both contain turmeric as well as one billion colony-forming units of the patented spore-forming probiotic BC30 from Ganeden Inc., Mayfield Heights, Ohio (more on BC30 later).
Temple Turmeric uses a proprietary varietal of the spice – non-GMO Hawaiian Oana turmeric — as the beverages' base ingredient. Like the rest of the company's drinks, these beverages are processed and packaged using high-pressure processing to preserve nutrition and ingredient efficacy (for more on Temple Turmeric, see this month's Rollout section).