Nutty ways to innovate with new dairy food products.

Editor’s Note: During a recent discussion with Dairy Management Inc.’s Senior Account Manager Sharon Gerdes (aka Dairy Foods’ Dairy Detective) about innovative uses of whey proteins, she turned me onto the most amazing snack: Frito-Lay’s TrueNorth Pistachio Crisps. Not only do these cracker-like treats contain whey protein isolate - a single serving of about 15 crisps provides 5 grams of protein and a mere 140 calories - they truly exemplify an out-of-the-box approach to formulating with nuts. Have I piqued your interest regarding the product? Read more at Also, read this article and make nuts a true north for your product development efforts in 2010! 

While in the midst of a nationwide debate over health care, Americans are giving a clear indication that one tool they can use to improve their health is food, according to research from Washington, D.C-based International Food Information Council (IFIC). The 2009 IFIC Functional Foods/Foods for Health Consumer Trending Survey indicates that 89% of Americans agree that certain foods have benefits that go beyond basic nutrition and may reduce the risk of disease or other health concerns. This is a significant increase from just two years ago when 85% of survey respondents acknowledged this relationship. 

“This year’s survey findings show us that Americans are making the connection that foods can play an important role in achieving optimal health,” says Wendy Reinhardt, IFIC’s director of health and nutrition. “Consumers’ awareness of many food and health relationships has reached an all-time high.” 

According to the 2009 survey, the top 10 functional foods named by consumers, on an unaided basis and in descending order, are: fruits and vegetables; fish, fish oil and seafood; dairy, including milk and yogurt; meat and poultry; herbs/spices; fiber; tea and green tea; nuts; whole grains and other grains; and water. Nuts were a newcomer to the top 10 list in 2009.

“The ranking of nuts has increased steadily over the past decade. In fact, from 2007 to 2009, the number of respondents identifying nuts as a functional food doubled,” says Reinhardt.

With dairy at No. 3, dairy foods formulators are at an advantage, as they are starting with a base material intrinsically recognized as beneficial. When any of the other functional foods can be combined with dairy, consumer appeal should increase. This includes nuts, a natural complement to many dairy food applications.

Dairy + nuts, a natural

Peanuts and tree nuts are a staple in many cultures. They also happen to be one of the best plant sources of protein and are rich in fiber, phytonutrients and antioxidants such as vitamin E and selenium. Epidemiological studies suggest that the antioxidant levels in nuts may decrease the risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases.

Although nuts pack in the fat and calories, research indicates that just a handful a day can help keep the doctor away. Indeed, the fats found in nuts are primarily unsaturated fatty acids - both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated - and have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease and reduce low-density lipoproteins.

This benefit is well recognized and the basis of the 2003 FDA-approved health claim for seven different nuts - almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts and some pine nuts - all of which complement one or more dairy food applications. The claim reads: Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Further, studies suggest that the combination of this “good fat” with the quality protein and high fiber contents of nuts provides a sense of satiety, and therefore functions as a natural appetite suppressant by making a person feel fuller for longer (see this month’s Wellness Watch on page 82).

Innovative nutty applications

Dairy foods formulators around the world are incorporating nuts into all types of applications, sometimes in unique ways. For example, the Great American Cheese Board line from Roth Käse USA, Monroe, Wis., exemplifies the out-of-the-box development more dairy foods companies may want to explore. This upscale, yet attractively priced, grab-and-go cheese selection offers three single-servings of award-winning cheeses and complementary condiments. The Artisan Selection includes blue, gruyere and Gouda cheeses, three water crackers and a dried fruit and nut mix.

Austria’s Rambol markets Walnut Cream Cheese Torte, which is three layers of cream cheese that alternate with a nut mixture containing walnuts and cashews. The outside of the torte is adorned with eye-appealing walnut halves. 

This past fall, France’s Groupe Danone introduced Brazilians to a limited edition cashew variety of Activia. The ingredient statement reveals that the cashew nut preparation is a blend of cashews, sugar, honey and oats, as well as flavor, color and thickener.

Norway’s Tine Dairy offers Piano Duo Sjokolade and Nøttecrisp Yoghurt, which is chocolate yogurt with a nut crisp. The ingredient statement indicates that this dessert-like yogurt contains 11% of the nut crisp mixture, which is 30% hazelnuts and 2% cocoa, along with wheat germ, sweetener, flavor and stabilizer.

A recently introduced ice cream from Blue Bell Creameries, Brenham, Texas, adds a little bit of health to what certainly is an indulgent treat. 

The company’s new Mexican Praline ice cream is a rich and creamy praline-flavored ice cream with chunks of tasty and uniquely textured Mexican pralines, roasted pecan pieces and a praline swirl. “It’s a triple shot of praline with the ice cream, candies and swirl all combined into one half gallon,” says Carl Breed, director of marketing at Blue Bell. “The Mexican praline pieces have a very rich flavor that mix well with the pecans and praline sauce swirl.” 

 Mexican Praline Ice Cream was inspired by the praline candies found at many Mexican restaurants in Texas. “There are many varieties of Mexican pralines sold throughout the United States,” Breed adds. “Our version has a taste similar to the leche quemada candy you find at the checkout counters at Mexican restaurants in our area. If you have never tried the candy, you should definitely have a bowl of the ice cream. It is really a great tasting flavor.” Leche quemada is a popular Mexican candy made of caramelized sugar and milk. It has a slightly grainy texture and is traditionally topped with pecans.

“A great-tasting flavor is always your goal when creating an ice cream,” says Breed. “Many times the health benefits are an added bonus. The nutritional benefits of ice cream are overlooked quite often, too. When something tastes as good as ice cream, it’s difficult to think it could possibly be healthy. We have several flavors that include nuts that are good for you, such as our Black Walnut, Pistachio Almond and Buttered Pecan ice creams.”

In the Philippines, Arcefoods introduces Supreme Coffee Crumble Ice Cream, which contains cashews, and Supreme Almond ‘N Chips, which, as the name suggests, contains almonds. What makes these ice creams unique to the American market is that they are made with buffalo milk and packaged in decorative copper-looking tins.

The nuttiest of them all comes from Hindustan Unilever, the global giant’s India division. New Kwality Wall’s Selection Fruit ‘N’ Nut Ice Cream features a creamy cheesecake-flavored ice cream base variegated with thick hazelnut sauce, raisins, roasted almonds and fine cashew nuts.

Go nuts - get nutty in 2010!