Product developers use unique ingredients to add flavor and texture to dairy products.

Inclusions, as the term infers, are included in an item. In the dairy sector, the term refers to the flavorful, visible ingredients added to ice cream, yogurt and even cheese. Inclusions range from candies and syrupy variegates to fruits and nuts, and even herbs, spices and the occasional flower petal. Yes, Corte Diletto Ltd., a Bulgarian frozen dessert manufacturer, offers such exotic gelato flavors as grapefruit and bergamot, sesame and honey, and yogurt and rose petals.

Inclusions assist dairy processors with livening products. Simple vanilla ice cream becomes a celebratory treat by mixing in multi-colored sprinkles and a marshmallow swirl. Lemon Greek yogurt transforms to a decadent dessert when glazed granola and meringue cubes become a topping. Even a cream cheese bagel spread becomes a culinary adventure when it’s infused with maple-syrup bits and bacon pieces.

“The majority of our consumers prefer ice cream flavors that are loaded with inclusions; the more, the better,” said Eva Balazs, director of marketing and contract sales, Perry’s Ice Cream, Akron, N.Y. “The trick is finding the right ingredients that complement each other for distinct and indulgent flavor combinations. Sometimes it takes several attempts before we identify that perfect cookie, fruit or nut piece and the right fudge, caramel or fruit swirl for a new flavor. Our vendors keep us abreast of new concepts they develop and we can also ask them to formulate ingredients that fit our flavor ideas.”

Perry’s is just starting to launch a new ice cream line branded Escapes. The pint- and quart-size treats are designed to take consumers on a journey, a flavorful one, said Ms. Balazs.

The flavor may be an adventure, but the ingredients remain as local as possible, she said. Each carton prominently displays “Made in New York” around the rim of the lid and features an attractive photographic trail of the key flavor components.

Innovative inclusion combinations may be found in Movie Time, which is popcorn-flavored ice cream with salty caramel swirls and caramel truffles. Fireball is hot cinnamon ice cream with cinnamon-flavored swirls and cinnamon candies. Piece of Cake is yellow cake-flavored ice cream with chocolate frosting swirls and pound cake pieces. There are 20 flavors in total. All target adult palates.

Artisan innovations

One of the most significant trends is the use of specialty and gourmet inclusions. The add-ins provide marketers with an opportunity to better connect with today’s foodie consumer who wants to explore new tastes and textures in everyday foods.

This is best exemplified by the new Häagen-Dazs Artisan Collection, which Nestlé USA, Oakland, Calif., has started rolling out to freezers across the nation. The new line sets out to connect with the highly influential millennial demographic who is mindful of health, social and environmental issues surrounding their food. Millennials are all about seeking out foods with a local connection and experimenting with new concepts.

To produce the product line, the Häagen-Dazs brand team collaborated with notable culinary artisans from around the country to create unique flavors. To encourage trial, the line will only be available for a limited time.

“To develop the Artisan Collection, we evaluated more than a hundred high-quality, culinary products,” said Kerry Hopkins, brand manager. “After months of vetting, we identified and worked hand-in-hand with six artisans to co-create our new flavors that infuse the taste of the artisans’ original creations with the rich, premium ingredients of Häagen-Dazs ice cream.”

The Chocolate Caramelized Oat was developed with Claire Keane of Clairesquares, San Francisco. Ms. Keane has been crafting flapjacks — a traditional Irish treat of caramelized, buttery oat bars drizzled in chocolate — from her own recipe since she was 12 years old. Inspired by her Irish treats, the Häagen-Dazs brand took chocolate caramelized oat clusters and blended them in a rich caramel ice cream.

The Applewood Smoked Caramel Almond variety strikes a balance between sweet and savory with help from Cruz Caudillo of Praline Patisserie, San Diego. Mr. Caudillo worked with the Häagen-Dazs brand to create swirls of smoked applewood caramel sauce combined with roasted, salted almonds into a sweet cream ice cream.

The other four flavors in the line, each with their own culinary story, are Tres Leches Brigadeiro, Banana Rum Jam, Spiced Pecan Turtle and Ginger Molasses Cookie.

Another artisan example comes from two-time James Beard Award-winning chef and author Nancy Silverton, who is also known as “the Queen of the Los Angeles restaurant scene.” The Nancy’s Fancy gelato and sorbetto recipes were inspired by desserts served at her restaurants.

“True Italian gelato is not about an infinite variety of over-the-top, crazy flavors. It is about balance and mouthfeel, creamy, voluptuous texture and pure, honest flavor,” Ms. Silverton said. “That is what we are creating with Nancy’s Fancy. Delicious, familiar tastes created with the finest all-natural ingredients and perhaps, a distinctive twist or two.”

Churned in Southern California and made with locally sourced ingredients, the line is making its debut in such flavors as Roasted Banana with Bourbon and Pecan Praline, Coconut Stracciatella with Bittersweet Chocolate Strands and Stumptown Spiced Coffee with Cracked Cocoa Nibs.

The founding sisters of Ruby Jewel, Portland, Ore., never stop trying to put the unexpected into the ice cream sold in their scoop shops. This month, to celebrate spring ingredients, Passover and Easter, the company is rolling out interesting combinations.

Pistachio Matzo Brittle is vanilla bean ice cream with chunks of pistachio and chocolate covered matzo brittle. Brown Sugar Sour Cream with Rhubarb Jam is just that. Butter and brown sugar are caramelized and added to ice cream base, which is then swirled with tangy sour cream and house-made rhubarb jam.

Temperature considerations

Without a doubt, ice cream formulators have some latitude when it comes to adding inclusions to a product as it is a frozen, static system. But like any other frozen food, there is the potential for freeze-thaw abuse, so inclusion quality and safety must be addressed.

This is accomplished by using ingredients that have been properly heat treated, including all types of nuts. If fresh fruits are used, they must be properly sanitized and handled. With candies, baked pieces and other chunks of decadence, make sure product is properly handled and stored to prevent contaminants in the environment from settling and starting a family. And because many inclusions are complex systems, often containing known allergens, segregation to prevent cross contamination is paramount.

Quality considerations for frozen inclusions include moisture migration, ice crystal development and freezing point. Variegates must remain pliable and fruit pieces soft. Cake and cookie chunks cannot become soggy, and nuts must keep their crunch. Inclusion suppliers typically provide time-tested ingredients that work in these systems. It’s when you are creating your own concoctions that texture must be carefully considered.

Inclusions for refrigerated applications include all these considerations and more. The fresh products are living systems, and product breakdown is inevitable. The goal is to delay onset as long as possible. Dual compartment and dome packages allows for more varied inclusions, as this type of package keeps incompatible ingredients separate from each other.

Inclusions may be designed with specific moisture contents and textures, as well with layers of flavor in a single bit or piece.

“We’ve developed mix-in inclusions that can serve as a means of differentiating dairy products with color, flavor and texture,” said Ron Heddleson, senior director of research and development, QualiTech Co., Chaska, Minn. “We recently commercialized some new concepts, including savory and sweet-savory inclusions such as kosher bacon, cheddar cheese and sweet chili Thai.”

There are even non-allergenic inclusions that provide crunchy nut-like textures.

In the dairy case

Despite the quality and safety hurdles, formulators increasingly are getting more creative with inclusions for refrigerated dairy products, most notably yogurt. For example, at the end of 2014, Publix Corp., Lakeland, Fla., introduced Premium, a dual-compartment indulgent yogurt line. With whole milk yogurt on one side and decadent inclusions in the other, yogurt is disguised as dessert.

Varieties include Apple Cobbler with Crumble Crust, Key Lime Pie with Graham Cookie Pieces, Pineapple Mojito with Sea Salt Toasted-Coconut Granola and White Chocolate Raspberry with Raspberry Chocolate Cups. There are 10 flavors in total.

Chobani L.L.C., Norwich, N.Y., offers premium inclusions with Greek yogurt in the Chobani Flip Creations line. Two recent additions are Chocolate Haze Craze with hazelnuts and chocolate chips and Salted Caramel Crunch with salted pretzel pieces and chocolate praline pecans.

Zen Monkey L.L.C., Van Nuys, Calif., soon will introduce a namesake product that combines apple juice-infused rolled oats, diced fruit and Greek yogurt in a pre-mixed, ready-to-eat cup. The product uses diced or whole fruit, not fruit prep, and comes in five varieties: Apple Cinnamon, Blueberry, Peach, Pineapple Coconut and Strawberry.

Chobani also uses grains as an inclusion in its Chobani Greek Yogurt Oats. The new Ancient Grain Blend variant packs in steel-cut oats, quinoa, chia, buckwheat and amaranth.

Chia is becoming a popular inclusion in refrigerated dairy as it not only provides a unique texture, but it functions as a natural stabilizer. It’s also loaded with extra nutrition, as chia is a source of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid.

Los Angeles-based good culture is launching a namesake line of sweet and savory organic cottage cheese. The initial rollout includes five varieties. In addition to classic cottage cheese, the line includes Blueberry Açaí Chia, Kalamata Olive, Strawberry Chia and Sundried Tomato, with the inclusion pre-mixed into the cottage cheese.

Better-for-you opportunities

Though the original intent to add inclusions to dairy products was likely purely for fun and flavor enjoyment, inclusions are also an easy way to add nutritional value, as exemplified with chia.

“Inclusion selection can be important in further enhancing the health and wellness credentials of dairy products,” Mr. Heddleson said. “Inclusions can provide whole grain and fruit content, as well as delivery of more concentrated levels of protein or other nutrients of interest such as calcium or vitamin D.”

For example, many tree nuts and peanuts not only add flavor, texture and eye appeal, they are loaded with nutrients that interest today’s health- and wellness-seeking consumer. In addition to choosing a specific nut for its inherent flavor profile, nuts can be treated in a variety of ways to bring unexpected flavors to the formulation. For example, roasting enhances a nut’s intrinsic taste, generating a characteristically stronger flavor that becomes a part of the finished product’s sensory profile. Coating or encrusting nuts allows for the addition of flavors not typically associated with nuts, for example, tangy citrus and spicy pepper.

“Our new spray dry flavor can readily be used in a glaze or seasoning on nuts intended as an inclusion,” said Judson McLester, executive chef and manager of ingredient sales, McIlhenny Co., Avery Island, La. “It delivers the signature taste of aged Tabasco-brand Original Red sauce in a convenient dry format. It’s flavor followed by heat.”

Inclusions allow dairy processors to be creative without having to start from scratch. The dairy base seldom needs to change, yet the end product may be anything imaginable.