Only 1 in 10 US adults consumes the daily recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta. The number is even lower for children and those experiencing financial hardship.

The CDC added that eating a sufficient amount of fruits and vegetables “can help protect against some chronic conditions that are among the leading causes of mortality in the US.” To assist, some food manufacturers are using fruit and vegetable ingredients in unlikely applications.

Efforts to incorporate fruits and vegetables in children’s foods are gaining momentum. New York-based Kidfresh, for example, has introduced frozen Easy Combo Meals. The chicken meatballs with pasta marinara feature carrots, celery and beets, while the chicken nuggets with buttered pasta feature cauliflower, sweet potatoes and carrots.

Mighty Yum, Boca Raton, Fla., produces plant-based lunch kits for children. To boost nutrient content, the company replaced the soy in its vegan meats and cheeses with vegetables such as parsnips, sweet potatoes and tomato puree.

Some products promote the inclusion of fruit and vegetable ingredients. General Mills, Minneapolis, offers Cheerios Veggie Blends, which provide one-fourth cup of fruits and vegetables per serving via fruit puree and vegetable powder. The most recent brand from Denville, NJ-based Anthony & Sons is The Avocado Bread Co., whose Avocado Seeds & Grains Bread is formulated with fresh avocados and guacamole spices.

Ingredients may be derived from whole fruits and vegetables or come from side streams such as the skins from apples used to make juice.

“You cannot add enough (fresh) fruits or vegetables to one serving of a prepared food to have enough flavor of that fruit or veggie for the most part,” said Michael Napoleon, senior research chef, Tastepoint by IFF, Philadelphia. “In foods that go through various cooking processes, (fresh) fruits and veggies tend to lose color and flavor during such processing. In fact, they will usually turn gray or brown.”

That’s why formulators use concentrated ingredients in powder and puree formats. They often aren’t meant to impact the sensory profile of the finished product but to achieve nutritional and functional purposes.

“Depending on the application, fruit and vegetable ingredients can be added with little to no detectable flavor or color, or may be added in accordance with other ingredients to enhance flavor, color or mouthfeel,” said Angela Tipton, marketing manager, Kerr by Ingredion, Salem, Ore. “They can be used in a variety of applications to address wide-ranging demands. For example, cauliflower ingredients can be used to add bulk and contribute texture.

“Blueberries provide antioxidants that can support immune benefits. Apple, pear and jicama can provide natural sweetness to address a consumer preference for sugar reduction.”

IFF offers fruit and vegetable powders made through a dehydration process that removes only water, maintaining the nutritional, color and taste profiles of the original food, according to the company.

“Based on fresh weights provided by USDA, IFF developed a serving-size equivalency chart estimating the number of grams of the ingredient needed to achieve the equivalent serving size of starting fruit or vegetable,” Napoleon said. “These ingredients are suitable for use in sauces and baked goods such as brownies, breads and snack bars.”

Fruit and vegetable ingredients also may provide functional benefits, permitting the removal of chemical-sounding additives. Prune juice concentrate or puree, for example, is used in condiments. While the prune taste and texture is undetectable, the product often is perceived as lacking substance if it is removed. Prune concentrate also may deepen caramelized flavor, eliminating the need for caramel coloring.

“A small amount added to a barbecue sauce or teriyaki sauce can help balance the smoky or salty flavors of the sauces without as much sugar as other sweeteners,” said Kate Leahy, spokesperson, Sunsweet Growers, Yuba City, Calif. “This is possible also without contributing a strong flavor that would significantly change the product since some of the sweetness in prunes comes from sorbitol, not sugar.”

Christine Campbell, category manager of fruits and vegetables, Global Organics, Cambridge, Mass., added, “(Fruit and vegetable ingredients) can act as natural thickeners, stabilizers or emulsifiers, improving the texture and consistency of food products. They can also serve as natural preservatives, helping to extend the shelf life of perishable foods without the need for artificial additives.”