Hero ingredients: Potent grape extracts, Sicilian citrus formulas and green tea ingredients in spotlight
16 Aug 2021 --- The term “hero ingredient” connotes a highly functional, often wellness-promoting solution or extract that has gained prominence across a broad array of enhanced F&B formulations. This year, key launches touted with a “hero” positioning include a cognitive health-promoting grape extract, Sicilian-origin citrus ingredients for skin health and standardized green tea ingredients for stress relief.
Speaking to industry’s leading ingredient suppliers, FoodIngredientsFirst examines the latest hero formulas cropping up in new launches, as the “food as medicine” trend is accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Evolution is definitely the right word – ingredients don’t achieve ‘hero’ status overnight. Often, they’ve been around for years but then hit a kind of ‘tipping point,’ when they achieve mainstream appeal,” remarks Anne Høst Stenbæk, head of marketing at Arla Foods Ingredients (AFI).
“Hero ingredients are a specific ingredient or a category of ingredients that offer and provide an associated benefit, most often health-related,” adds Andrea Bonina, managing director of Italian botanical extracts specialist Bionap.
“The appeal of ‘hero ingredients’ is that by incorporating these ingredients into products manufacturers are able to make claims desirable to its target audiences. Hero ingredients are in demand as consumers have become more proactive in managing their health.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, immune health ingredients such as elderberry, Echinacea and vitamin C have experienced strong growth as consumers choose immune-boosting foods and beverages, notes Bonina. “It’s also led to increased use of vitamins and dietary supplements.”
Boosting brain functions with grape extracts
Bionap focuses on hero ingredients derived from botanicals grown in the Sicilian region of Italy. “Not only do we evaluate new botanicals, we also continue to develop the associated health benefits of our existing botanical ingredients,” says Bonina.
“Plants are complex living organisms containing a number of beneficial components. These components may be extracted individually or as multiple components in order to maximize health benefits.”
In the cognitive wellness space, new scientific findings are supporting Bionap’s ingredient Cognigrape, derived from red grapes.
“A clinical study completed with Cognigrape demonstrated improved cognitive function related to attention, language, immediate and delayed memory,” says Bonina. “It was also able to help the mood status in healthy older individuals. A second study with Cognigrape further confirming these benefits is underway.”
Other hero ingredient platforms for Bionap include the antioxidant ingredient Red Orange Complex, a standardized powder extract. “Red orange complex has demonstrated its antioxidant activity in reducing oxidative stress and supporting skin health in six clinical studies,” Bonina highlights
Provenance-inspired citrus ingredients have been notably trending in product launches this year. Bionap illustrates that its powder extract is obtained from the juice of three pigmented (Moro, Tarocco and Sanguinello) varieties of Sicilian blood orange grown exclusively in a particular area surrounding Europe’s most active volcano, Mount Etna.
Alongside Red Orange Complex, Bionap spotlights its weight management ingredient Morosil, which is able to affect the metabolism of adipocytes and reduce fat accumulation due to the synergistic mechanism related to the pool of biophenols contained in its enriched blood orange extract.
Morosil is a standardized solid extract obtained only from the juice of a unique cultivar of Moro red oranges (Citrus sinensis (L.) Osbeck). “Moro” is the most pigmented blood orange, whose orange flesh is an intense violet-red, and at times almost black, due to a high content of anthocyanins.
Green tea ingredients for stress relief
Functional ingredients supplier Taiyo specializes in a line of standardized green tea (Camellia sinensis) ingredients, under the Sunphenon brand. With stress management high on the agenda throughout the pandemic, the company notes the appeal of its Sunphenon TH30 product, which is a source of calmness-inducing L-theanine.
“Taiyo’s Sunphenon TH30 is 100 percent natural, making it one of only a few legal L-Theanine ingredients for food and beverages in Europe,” comments Dr. Stefan Siebrecht, managing director of Taiyo.
“Natural L-theanine is considered to have a calming and healing effect, and prevent insomnia, fatigue and chronic fatigue,” he continues. “Furthermore, it can reduce stress and increase the ability to concentrate while working, studying or playing sports.”
“Besides dietary supplements, our soluble powder is perfect for use in drinks and does not impart a tea flavor.”
Taiyo’s most popular product is the all-natural ISO-certified dietary fiber Sunfiber, which is a perfect inclusion in our new range of fruit powders with added health benefits. The supplier recently teamed up with Asiros, a Danish fruit powders company, to create prebiotic high-fiber juice powders made with the low-FODMAP ingredient.
“Sunfiber is a very well tolerated, safe dietary fiber and 100 percent natural, with many nutritional benefits for digestion, the gut and microbiome,” says Dr. Siebrecht.
“Obtained from partially hydrolyzed guar gum (PHGG), its benefits have been demonstrated in over 150 studies, including those related to diabetes, heart health, gut-brain axis, inflammation, immunity and more,” he notes.
“As a technical additive, for example, it can replace maltodextrin, which is used as a drying agent and anti-caking agent. Maltodextrin tends to be avoided by people with diabetes due to its high glycaemic value, and it can also affect the balance of bacteria in the gut, leading to gut damage and increased risk of inflammatory bowel problems.”
Gummies infused with Ahiflower oil
Forest Remedies – a health and wellness brand focused on plant-based ingredients and sustainable packaging – recently launched industry’s first functional plant-based omega gummies containing Ahiflower oil.
Ahiflower oil has gained prominence in nutritional product launches over the last year as a sustainable, vegan source of the complete and balanced essential omegas the body needs.
Ahiflower is a regeneratively grown alternative to fish and flax oils. One acre of Ahiflower harvest produces as much omega-rich oil as 320,000 anchovies and does not contribute to overfishing of marine wildlife. Ahiflower is part of Nature’s Crops International’s Crop Assured 365 system, enabling full traceability.
“Gummies have historically presented a number of processing challenges as a vehicle for delivering high-PUFA oils,” says a company spokesperson. “Natural oxidation challenges can lead to perceptible rancidity and off-putting tastes.”
Whey as a mainstay hero ingredient
One of the qualifications for an ingredient’s “hero status” is versatility, notes Stenbæk at AFI.
“Whey protein definitely offers that. To give a couple of examples of its many different applications, we’ve just launched a new hydrolysate ingredient for medical nutrition, which overcomes taste challenges in products for patients with maldigestion or malabsorption.”
“Meanwhile, we’ve been highlighting the benefits of Lacprodan ISO.Clear in a completely different context,” she continues. “It’s a whey protein isolate for the fortification of functional beverages without cloudiness, graininess or off-taste. It has a protein content of 90 percent, offers high heat stability, and is clear in solution.”
A significant pandemic-related change is that more people have turned to physical exercise to improve their health, which has increased the interest in ingredients with sports nutrition benefits, notes Stenbæk.
“But to focus on a trend that was shaping everything before the pandemic, and is going to have even more long-lasting impacts, we’re also seeing growing demand for ingredients that meet the needs of aging populations. So, for example, we’re likely to see more products containing both protein and calcium to address age-related bone and muscle loss – you could call it a ‘hero combination’.”
By Benjamin Ferrer
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