Tart cherry cookies
When incorporated into baked foods, tart cherries provide anthocyanins that help reduce inflammation.

KANSAS CITY — Suntava purple corn, launched as an ingredient in 2007, first was touted as a way to replace synthetic dyes in food coloring, said Bill Petrich, chief executive officer and founder of Suntava.

Since then, Suntava’s anthocyanin levels, which account for the purple color, increasingly have been recognized for their health benefits, too. Anthocyanins in general may allow companies to promote food products for their antioxidant properties.

“When we started the company, I didn’t even want to say the word (anthocyanin),” Mr. Petrich said. “Nobody really knew what it was. It’s certainly more prevalent now than it was in days gone by. The properties of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant are something that most consumers understand.”

Anthocyanins typically are found in berries, including raspberries and blueberries, where they provide the red, deep purple or deep blue color, he said.

Mr. Petrich pointed to a study in the Jan. 15, 2013, issue of the journal Circulation as testament to the health benefits of anthocyanins.

Researchers followed 93,600 women from the ages of 25 to 42 in the Nurses’ Health Study II who were healthy at a 1989 baseline. In 18 years of follow-up, the researchers documented 405 cases of myocardial infarction (heart attack). For every 15-mg increase in intake of anthocyanins, the relative risk of myocardial infarction decreased by 17%.

The study involved researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and the Norwich Medical School in the United Kingdom. The U.S. National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.K. Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council supported the study.

Mr. Petrich said the study found a significant reduction in heart attacks when 2 mg to 35 mg of anthocyanins were consumed per day.

“Typically speaking, you’re going to get about 15 to 25 mg of anthocyanin per oz in an application (with Suntava),” he said. “When you look at that study, and they’re saying 2 to 35 mg per day, Suntava purple corn can deliver 15 to 25 mg in a 1-oz serving. That’s pretty significant.”

How well the anthocyanins in Suntava purple corn withstand heat and other processing conditions in baked foods depends on how harsh the environment is, he said.

“The heat and time affect just about any bioactive ingredient, and we’re not immune to that,” Mr. Petrich said. “However, some of the harshest applications that I’ve seen our product go through, we’re still delivering that 15 to 25 mg per serving per oz, but I’ve seen maybe a 30% to 40% reduction in anthocyanins through some of the more harsh applications.”

Purple corn products
Anthocyanins, which have antioxidant properties, give purple corn its color.

Healthy Food Ingredients, L.L.C., Fargo, N.D., bought Suntava last year. The ancient grains in the H.F.I. portfolio pair well with Suntava in applications, Mr. Petrich said.

Suntava may deliver 15 mg of anthocyanins in banana bread, which compares to the amount of anthocyanins in a quarter cup of raspberries, he said. Suntava in four 8-inch to 10-inch pancakes may deliver 150 mg of anthocyanins. Suntava may provide a unique visual profile to such items as sourdourgh bread and muffins, he said. Suntava’s application rate in crackers may range from 10% to 80%. Texture profiles and color profiles will increase as the level of Suntava increases. Extruded snacks, cereal and bars are other potential applications.

Cherries are another way to incorporate anthocyanins and their antioxidant properties into grain-based foods.

Anthocyanins are antioxidant compounds that contribute to the ruby-red color and distinguishing taste of Montmorency tart cherries, said Jeff Manning, chief marketing officer of the Cherry Marketing Institute, DeWitt, Mich. Researchers credit anthocyanins for the scientifically proven health benefits of the cherries as well. The anthocyanins in tart cherries help reduce inflammation.

“While we don’t have any survey or reports specific to consumer awareness of anthocyanins, we have seen a trend in consumer awareness of antioxidants as a mainstream nutrient term,” Mr. Manning said. “Now, consumers are becoming increasingly educated on more specific terminology such as anthocyanins or phytonutrients.”

Demand for Montmorency tart cherries has increased in the United States, growing to 257 million lbs sold in 2015 from 206 million lbs in 2003, he said. Besides inflammation, studies have 
explored health benefits with Montmorency tart cherries related to sleep, recovery after exercise and heart health.

Montmorency tart cherries may impart functional properties into such grain-based foods as cereal, oatmeal, bread and muffins and into such savory applications as quinoa, rice pilaf or spelt, Mr. Manning said. The cherries in baked foods have been shown to help bind dry ingredients, increase moisture, add volume and create texture.

“They add a sweet-tart flavor, blend beautifully with nuts, grains and other fruits, and are recognized as a leading super fruit,” Mr. Manning said. “They also pair well with everything from savory flavor profiles to sweet dishes to balancing heat, all while adding distinct flavor, color and texture.”