Enky's Energy Pizza features whey, honey, tomato and beet powders with guarana, caffeine and natural enzymes.

Consumer demand for healthier products has product developers experimenting with a variety of ingredients to develop prepared foods that deliver more than basic nutrition, in other words “functional foods.”

Functional foods are defined as products that may provide benefits beyond basic nutrition and consist of a variety of food components that potentially may reduce disease and promote health.

“Even though we have known about the link between health and micronutrients for more than 100 years, many consumers are not meeting dietary intake recommendations,” said Caroline Brons, director of marketing, DSM Nutritional Products, Parsippany, NJ “Prepared foods manufacturers can play a significant role in bridging this nutrient gap.”

Chip Milam, a physician and co-founder of Los Angeles-based Doc’s Nutrilicious Inc., a manufacturer of nutrient-enriched frozen pizzas, said most foods are functional in some way but “functional foods” are those that afford some health benefits beyond basic nutrition and are an efficient way to sustain health. He believes the time is right to give foods a boost of functional ingredients.

“The opportunities are tied to following the research,” he said. “The Linus Pauling Institute had a study evaluating more than 400 compounds and their effect on the immune system. Of those, only two, resveratrol found in red grapes and pterostilbene found in blueberries, demonstrated significant results.

“They also found that these compounds had a synergistic effect with vitamin D and would raise the levels of certain peptides known for being involved in immune function. It’s blending these elements into prepared foods and educating the consumer about such foods that will move us to a new level of wellness.”

The time is right

All types of prepared foods developers, at retail and increasingly in food service, recognize the opportunity and are actively trying to incorporate more functional ingredients into their offerings. In some instances, it’s by using whole foods that contain known functional components. Other times it is by including isolated functional food ingredients. The latter is most common with packaged foods, where consumers may read the ingredient statement and nutritional information, while the former usually takes place in food service.

Unilever Food Solutions, the food service division of Unilever, which has global headquarters in The Netherlands, recently conducted an international study to learn from restaurant guests what they wanted to see included in their meals to make them healthier and what the best opportunities were for doing this.

“Interestingly, we found that guests were unsatisfied with current healthy-menu choices and identified several small changes that could help them choose healthier meals,” said Ria van der Maas, senior nutrition and health manager for Unilever Food Solutions. “Specifically they wanted to see more fresh ingredients used, plenty of vegetables in their dishes, and meals prepared with healthy oils.

“Guests indicated that lunchtime and weekdays were the times they were more likely to want access to extra nutritional ingredients and healthier meals. This signifies a definite global consumer trend in the desire to see extra nutritional ingredients added at mealtimes in the food service industry and highlights potential opportunities to do so.”

Product developers must think outside the box of traditional ingredients used in the manufacture of everyday foods in order to add value in terms of functional nutrition, according to a panel of experts at the National Restaurant Association’s annual tradeshow this past May titled.

“Innovation is doing something you haven’t seen before or doing something that hasn’t been done that way before,” said Greg Dollarhyde, chief executive officer of the Veggie Grill, Santa Monica, Calif. The chain of fast-casual restaurants offers a 100% plant-based menu.

Jane Grote Abell, owner and chairman of the board of Donatos Pizza, Columbus, Ohio, added, “Our five-year strategic plan is to make sure we are doing things to make our products healthier for consumers. I want my kids to eat our pizza and feel healthy about it.”

That is the goal of Oh Yes! Pizza from Doc’s Nutrilicious. The new company has launched a frozen pizza line infused with fruits and vegetables in the crust and sauce. The company was launched by husband and wife physicians who tried to expand the list of foods their young daughter would eat, a list that did not include anything green and leafy. They had an idea to get dehydrated fresh fruits and vegetables and blend them into her food.

“I think a significant opportunity can be found in the addition of highly functional ingredients to prepared foods in our grocery stores,” said Mr. Milam. “Consumers are seeking convenience with pizza, sandwiches and salads that have been made for them. Prepared foods departments provide ready-to-eat meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When superfoods and super ingredients are added in, it is helpful to communicate the value of these nutrient-rich additives to consumers.”

Oh Yes! Pizza infuses fruits and vegetables in the crust and sauce of its products.


Oh Yes! Pizza frozen pies are certified organic and contain artichoke, broccoli, butternut squash, carrot, cauliflower, green pepper, guava, kale, papaya and red beet. Further, each pizza is fortified with quinoa for a boost of essential amino acids. Oh Yes! Pizza comes in four varieties, with and without gluten and with and without dairy cheese.

At Pizza Expo 2014 this past March, Enky Energy Products Corp., Miami, Fla., exhibited its approach to adding functional ingredients to pizza. The company developed what it calls an energized pizza crust. The gluten-free red-colored dough combines whey, honey, tomato and beet powders with guarana, caffeine and natural enzymes.

“When baked after topping with usual pizza fare, the red crust texture is similar to regular pizza, with a unique Italian herb and tomato taste,” said Stephanie Maier, ceo. “This pre-mix powder can be used in any dough recipe for protein and energy. This includes breads, rolls, muffins, flatbread and more.”

The Hip ‘n Fit Energy pizza blend provides consumers sustained energy. “It’s not like an energy drink that gives you a fast energy boost and then makes you crash,” Ms. Maier said. “It’s designed to provide sustained energy while the pizza is digested.”

Protein power

The addition of proteins like the whey and quinoa used in the Hip ‘n Fit Energy pizza is becoming more common in the retail and food service categories. There is also growing interest specifically with plant proteins, Mr. Dollarhyde said.

Typically plant proteins are lower in essential amino acids than animal proteins, but many contain phytonutrients that may help protect against chronic disease and promote overall health. For example, legumes contain multiple health-promoting substances including saponins, which may help lower cholesterol levels, improve immune function and help protect against cancer. Another example is nuts, which are known for their high concentrations of minerals, including magnesium, calcium and potassium.

“One of the more unique directions we are taking with our dishes is to increase the use of plant protein and to decrease the reliance on meat as a center of the plate focus,” said Sarah Pike, ceo and founder, Buen Sabor, Newburyport, Mass. The company manufactures Latin American-inspired frozen entrees. Ms. Pike and her team leverage the ingredients used in traditional recipes but infuse the entrees with new flavors and culinary techniques in order to offer something innovative and perceived as better for you.

“We have some fantastic ingredient partners for beef, turkey, chicken and chorizo,” Ms. Pike said. “However, using these ingredients with a goal of flavor is our focus. For example, in our Beef Piccadillo Empanadas, we have reduced the amount of meat we use and increased the use of heart-healthy lentils. We utilize the meat for the flavor, but amp up texture and health benefits with the lentils.”

Functional ingredients

Plant proteins tend to be a source of dietary fiber, a nutrient of concern in the American diet. Boosting the fiber content of foods through the use of certain whole grains or isolated fibers is becoming more common in order to help Americans bridge the fiber gap.

“Fiber has been strongly linked to bakery, cereals and snacks, but there is a lot of opportunity to use fiber ingredients in prepared meals,” said Brent Rogers, director of technical services for corn milling at Cargill, Minneapolis. “One example is the use of defatted wheat germ to imitate the look of spices in breadings and batters, all while adding fiber and flavor. Defatted wheat germ can also be used to enrobe the dough component of a filled food or as the crust of a meat. Wheat or corn bran can be used in this manner and can be visually striking and flavorful if toasted.”

Spices and seasonings, such as cinnamon, ginger and rosemary, add nutritional benefits while minimizing notes of a functional ingredient.

Isolated fiber ingredients, which tend to be invisible fibers, often bring additional benefits to foods beyond simply boosting fiber content.

“Our chicory root fiber can be used in a variety of applications for several functional purposes,” said Scott Turowski, technical sales manager, Sensus America Inc., Lawrenceville, NJ. “It can directly replace sugar and fat in many applications and has even been shown to prevent oil uptake when used in the batter of fried foods, all while increasing the dietary fiber content of the finished product.”

Chicory root fiber comes in several forms that range from zero to 65% the sweetness of sugar and typically contains more than 90% dietary fiber.

“We offer a galactomannan-based soluble dietary fiber made from hydrolyzed guar gum,” said Bill Driessen, technical sales manager for the Americas, for Taiyo International Inc., Minneapolis. “It is a versatile powder that can be easily added into the various components of prepared meals, including pasta, sauce and even batters and breadings.”

Another example is soluble oat fiber, which may be used to increase the fiber and protein content of pasta used in an entrée, according to Marlena Hidlay, associate marketing manager at DSM Nutritional Products.

There has been an increase in the use of beta-carotene in prepared foods, according to Ms. Hidlay.

“Beta-carotene, an antioxidant and precursor for vitamin A, is recognized by consumers for its health benefits such as immunity, skin health and eye health,” she said. “Formulators also appreciate the red, yellow or orange color it imparts.”

Consumer awareness of the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, in particular eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is also growing and this presents an opportunity for fortification.

“Fish oil is loaded with EPA and DHA, but it also is a challenging ingredient to work with because of flavor and stability issues,” said Jeff Casper, oils and shortenings product development director at Cargill. “Because we believed that a sensory-neutral source of EPA and DHA could increase the value of prepared foods, we worked to develop a technology that ensures a neutral flavor, ambient storage and low-cost-per-serving at typical use levels in a recipe.

“Our new omega-3 oil should be used in lower-temperature products where high heat is not encountered,” Mr. Casper said. “So products that are sautéed, broiled or grilled may not be the best application. Sauces, fillings and starchy foods are excellent applications. If working with a multicomponent prepared item such as a pizza, filled dough or filled pasta, our omega-3 ingredient could be used in the filling, sauce or in the dough component.”

When setting out to formulate with functional ingredients, it is important to remember that taste is most important. “Many functional ingredients can have a foreign or unknown taste, not necessarily a bad taste,” said Meredith Bishop, principal development scientist with Spicetec Flavors & Seasonings. Omaha, Neb. “You can add familiar flavors to your product to help minimize the notes of the functional ingredient. Spices and seasonings can do that, and many have added nutritional benefits themselves.”

As technology evolves, functional ingredients will improve in palatability and be more easily incorporated in finished products, according to Amanda Schmid, product developer-grocery, US Foods, Rosemont Ill. “The increase in health-conscious consumers will drive the demand for more and more functional food development.”