Dairy applications work well with fruit and may add another healthy dimension.

To appeal to millennials’ insatiable appetite for new and exotic foods, dairy processors are getting creative with fruit ingredient selection. From acai to watermelon, all types of fruits, alone or in combination with other fruits or flavorful ingredients, are being added to such cultured dairy products as cottage cheese, cream cheese spread and yogurt, as well as refrigerated and frozen desserts and even cheese.

Some fruits are easier to formulate with than others, but nearly all are embraced by consumers. It’s no wonder. According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (D.G.A.C.) report, which the federal government will use as a guideline to develop the Dietary Guidelines for Americans later this year, Americans need to eat more fruits and vegetables.

The D.G.A.C. identified several nutrients currently not consumed in sufficient quantities for best health, including vitamins A, D, E and C, calcium, fiber, folate, magnesium and potassium. The report states the majority of the U.S. population has low intakes of key food groups — vegetables, fruits, whole grains and dairy — that are important sources of the shortfall nutrients.

The good news is according to the recently released 2015 Food and Health Survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, Washington, 82% of consumers surveyed said they are trying to eat more fruits and vegetables. What better way to do that than in conjunction with shortfall nutrient-containing dairy foods?

The IFIC survey emphasizes that taste (83%), price (68%) and healthfulness (60%) continue to be the top drivers of food-purchasing decisions, as has been the case every year over the survey’s 10-year history. With most dairy foods being tasty, affordable and healthful, dairy processors may assist Americans with increasing fruit intake by using fruit ingredients in product formulations, such as using ample real blueberries in blended yogurt, not simply blueberry flavoring.

Ingredient options abound

A number of factors must be considered before formulating fruit ingredients into dairy products, said Cindy Conroy, senior product developer with Tree Top Inc., Woodburn, Ore.

“For starters, if fruit identity is important, then choose a form of the fruit that is sliced, diced or coarse crushed,” Ms. Conroy said. “If fruit identity is not necessary, then choose fruit that has been pureed, concentrated or juiced. It’s also important to know if the fruit must deliver all the flavor or if natural or artificial flavors can be used.”

Will the fruit be the only or dominant flavor, or will it be one dimension of the product? For example, strawberry yogurt must have a more dominant strawberry flavor than strawberry banana.

Some fruits, regardless of the application or presence of other flavors, cannot deliver the characteristic flavor on its own. For example, Chobani L.L.C., Norwich, N.Y., offered a limited-edition watermelon yogurt this past summer. Fresh watermelon has a weak flavor and for many, it’s more of a sensory experience. In fact, fresh watermelon barely resembles watermelon-flavored hard candy, which is what many consumers identify as watermelon flavor.

Chobani offered a limited-edition watermelon yogurt this past summer.

To deliver a watermelon experience consumers expect, and using Greek yogurt as the delivery vehicle, Chobani relied on watermelon purée along with natural flavors. To communicate the flavor through the color of the yogurt, fruit and vegetable juice concentrate were included in the formula.

“Another important factor to consider is if the manufacturer wants to make a fruit claim,” Ms. Conroy said. This may be a content claim, such as one 8-oz smoothie contains a full serving of fruit.

It could also be a “made with real fruit” claim. For example, a Key lime pie ice cream could be made with no real Key lime. If it only contains natural or artificial flavor, then no fruit claim may be made. If it includes Key lime flavor-infused apple pieces, it could make a “made with real fruit” claim. When real Key lime is used, the marketer can claim “made with real Key lime.”

“It’s important to know how the fruit will be handled,” Ms. Conroy said. This includes before, during and after manufacturing.

For food safety reasons, seldom is fresh fruit used in the manufacture of packaged retail dairy foods; however, the use has become increasingly more common in products intended for food service distribution, such as yogurt parfaits and gelato.

“You do not want to bring raw, untreated fruit into the dairy processing facility,” said Robert Graeter, chief of quality assurance, Graeter’s Inc., Cincinnati. “The fruit ingredient must be adequately processed to ensure a 99.999% (5-log) reduction of microorganisms of public health concern, as well as other undesirable microorganisms, without adversely affecting the quality of the product or its safety for the consumer.”

Frozen fruit ingredients often are used in dairy foods when piece identity is important. They tend to be bulk-frozen, alone or with added sweeteners, or individually quick-frozen (I.Q.F.).

“With frozen desserts, I.Q.F. fruit ingredients do not work very well, as they are high in moisture and get hard and icy very fast,” Mr. Graeter said. “If you want piece identity, sugar-infused frozen fruit will remain soft and palatable.”

Liquid juices and purées are also common fruit ingredient formats, particularly for dairy products. Juices may be
single-strength or concentrated to varying strengths. Purée is fruit that is crushed, heat- or enzyme-treated to remove pectin and starch, filtered, concentrated to remove water, packaged and sometimes frozen.

Both juices and purées may be heat-processed and packaged in bulk containers that require refrigeration. Additional heat processing, including a sterilization step, enables fruit to be either canned or aseptically packaged in flexible film. Such products are stable at ambient temperature. Technical advancements allow for heat-treated fruit ingredients to be processed without fillers, sweeteners and preservatives.

Fruit ingredients come dried, too; however, they are seldom used in dairy applications. The exception is dried fruit infused with a humectant such as sugar or concentrated juice. The process of infusion basically replaces the water in fruit with the humectant. The process results in a 5% to 22% moisture fruit piece that is soft and remains that way, even in frozen applications such as ice cream and sorbet.

“Some key attributes to look for when formulating for a dairy system are pH, brix and form of the fruit,” Ms. Conroy said. “The pH of the fruit system can change the color of the dairy system and create off colors and flavors. For example a red fruit system with a low pH can change a cottage cheese system to have a blue hue and a salty flavor.”

The pH of both the fruit and the dairy product are important considerations, especially with anthocyanin-rich fruits like those encountered in the berry family. The fruits tend to be pink in acidic solutions (pH less than 7), purple in neutral solutions (pH around 7) and greenish-yellow in alkaline solutions (pH greater than 7). To deliver the expected hue in an application, color is often added.

"The pH of the fruit system can change the color of the dairy system and create off colors and flavors" - Cindy Conroy, senior product developer with Tree Top Inc.

“The pH of the fruit can also impact the dairy proteins, which is a very important consideration in Greek yogurt with its high protein content,” Ms. Conroy said. “Low-pH fruit systems can cause undesirable protein coagulation, which leads to syneresis. This can be overcome through proper fruit stabilization.”

This is particularly true with citrus ingredients, Mr. Graeter said.

“The acid in fruits such as key lime, lemon and orange will denature the proteins, even in frozen desserts,” he said. “So with citrus, we tend to use a combination of highly aromatic essential oils along with some juice or fruit pulp.”

Such refrigerated dairy product systems as yogurt typically use sweetened and stabilized fruit ingredients, but the sweeteners and stabilizers vary by the manufacturer’s labeling requirements, Ms. Conroy said.

“They can be clean label, organic and even kosher,” she said. “No-sugar-added is increasingly requested. We can use artificial sweeteners, or natural no-calorie sweeteners such as stevia or monk fruit.”

Most formulators rely on other ingredients to boost color and flavor. Depending on the flavor, it may or may not need to be declared on the label. For example, fruit essence, which is the highly aromatic liquid recovered during the fruit juice or purée concentration process, contains volatile flavor components. When fruit essence is used with the same fruit-type ingredient, it does not require label declaration.

Differentiating with fruit and flavor

Some fruit flavors may add another dimension to a product formulation.

“Naturally flavorful and healthful fruits are increasingly bridging the gap between (the) consumers’ desire for indulgent flavors and their growing health-and-wellness aspirations,” said Lauren Williams, marketing manager-beverage flavors, Sensient Flavors L.L.C., Hoffman Estates, Ill. “However, today’s savvy consumers are looking for more interesting options beyond ordinary fruits and veggies; they are now drawn to specific varietals and the flavor nuances they offer.”

Cherries are an example.

“For decades, cherries played a role in super-sweet drinks or filling the middle of a tasty pastry,” Ms. Williams said. “Today, cherries are getting extra attention due to the fact that they’re bursting with health benefits.”

Not all cherries taste the same. Varietals range in flavor from sweet to tangy to mouth-puckering sour. Sensient offers a range of natural cherry flavors, each with its own true-to-type cherry flavor nuances to enhance the flavor of the real cherry ingredients.

“Our cherry flavor portfolio was developed to address increasing consumer desire for pure and natural fruit varietals as a means of diversifying diets and embracing positive nutrition,” Ms. Williams said.

The portfolio includes Attika, which has a sweet and tangy flavor with high almond and floral notes. Duke has a sweet and mild flavor profile with a blend of sour and soft almond notes. Maraschino also has almond flavor, but it’s minimalized by the very sweet aromatic and floral notes that result from processing.

The almond flavor comes from benzaldehyde, a chemical present in almonds and some cherry varietals. It’s not as pronounced in black cherry, which has a sweet, light floral flavor profile. Morello is sour and acidic, while wild cherry has a soft floral flavor with sweet, fruity notes.

Not all berries are created equal, either. Graeter’s built its name in the ice cream category by honing in on one specific berry, the black raspberry.

Compared to other berries, from a health perspective, black raspberries reign in terms of overall level of phenolic compounds.

“Black raspberries are not to be confused with blackberries,” said Cat McKenzie, marketing director, Oregon Raspberry & Blackberry Commission, Corvallis. Known as “blackcaps” by growers, black raspberries are native to North America. They are harvested in July, only for about one month, making them a highly prized berry.

“The fruit is blue-black, round and small, and there’s a whitish bloom on the exterior of the berry,” Ms. McKenzie said. “They have a distinct, moderately tart flavor and small seeds.”

This makes them complementary to smooth and creamy ice cream.

Compared to other berries, from a health perspective, black raspberries reign in terms of overall level of phenolic compounds. This includes the antioxidants ellagic acid, gallic acid and rutin. Black raspberries also contain concentrated levels of anthocyanins, another class of antioxidants and the compounds responsible for the rich, dark color.

A carefully selected and processed purée of the powerhouse fruit has made Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip Graeter’s best-selling ice cream flavor, said George Denman, vice-president of sales and marketing.

“This is our signature flavor and all-time best seller and we will never compromise on quality,” he said. “Even when the price of black raspberries reached unprecedented levels, we never reduced the fruit content.”

Graeter’s works with all of its fruit grower and processor suppliers to source only black raspberries and other fruits that meet the company’s specifications.

“That’s what makes us different in the marketplace,” Mr. Denman said. “We recently rolled out a hand-crafted gelato line and now offer our world-famous black raspberries without the chocolate chips to provide consumers the purest expression of this dynamic flavor.”

Formulating with quality fruit ingredients allows dairy foods marketers to create a point of distinction in the marketplace. It’s all about picking the right fruit.