Yogurt has often been touted as a superfood. Adding a superfruit, one with superior antioxidant properties, can bestow additional star power. New research indicates that whole fruits — those that include the peel — may offer the greatest antioxidant capacity.

Beyond yogurt, healthy fruits can boost the nutritional appeal of dairy smoothies, gourmet cheeses, cottage cheese, ice cream and kefir.

Measuring antioxidant capability

Superfruits have been distinguished by their antioxidant properties. Typically, this has been measured by either TP (total phenolic) content or ORAC (oxygen radical absorption capacity) activity. New research indicates that a better measure is the ability of fruits to activate the AREs (antioxidant response elements.) Antioxidant response elements enhance the signaling pathway, which controls the expression of genes whose protein products are involved in the detoxication and elimination of reactive oxidants and electrophilic agents in the body. In other words, AREs are a group of enzymes that wander around the body and turn on the body’s defense system.

“At this time, it is not clear whether the ability to scavenge free radicals or the ability to activate ARE-dependent endogenous antioxidant responses is more relevant to human health,” said Nicholas Gillitt, director of the Dole Nutrition Institute. “We suggest that it is more appropriate to measure the ability to activate the ARE. Our research revealed that ARE activity was significantly higher in peels than in flesh (P < 0.02). TP content and ORAC activity also ranked higher in peels than in flesh,” he said.

Some of the fruits and their peels that ranked high in ARE activity include red pear (peel), pineapple, lemon, green pear (peel), red delicious apple (peel), plum (peel), watermelon (peel), blueberry and strawberry.

Nutritious fruits abound

Many fruits have superior nutritional power thanks to their vitamin and mineral content, as well as their phytonutrient content. The list includes pomegranate, acai berries, apples, bananas, cherries, kiwi, most citrus fruits, strawberries, papaya, raspberries, pineapple and mango.

Cranberry juice consumption may play a role in protecting against cardiovascular disease.

“Cranberry juice is a rich source of phytonutrients, including proanthocyanidins, anthocyanins and phenolic acids,” explained Dr. Ana Rodriguez-Mateos of the Division of Cardiology, Pulmonology and Vascular Medicine at the University Duesseldorf, Germany.

Cranberries also exhibit antimicrobial activities and anti-cancer properties. From soft cheese logs rolled in dried cranberries and hard cheeses blended with dried cranberries to recipes that feature brie baked with whole cranberry sauce on top, cranberries are the sweet and tart superfruit that pairs so well with dairy.

Blueberries have been reported to benefit women’s health and aging issues, as well as bone, brain, eye, liver and skin health. One recent study showed that those who ate a blueberry preparation saw an average 5.1% decrease in systolic blood pressure and a 6.3% decrease in diastolic pressure.

“Levels of nitric oxide, known to be involved in relaxing and widening blood vessels, increased significantly in the blueberry eaters,” said Sarah A. Johnson of the College of Human Sciences, Florida State University.

Incorporate blueberries to retain nutritional properties by using fillings with substantial amounts of blueberry, so the fruit is visible. Integrate the skins of blueberry into the mix, since much of the anthocyanin content and blue color is located in the skins.

Tips for fruit application

Healthy fruits can be incorporated into dairy in a variety of ways: as whole fruit, fruit preps, purees or freeze-dried powders. Fruit processing can affect nutritional value. One new method of preparing fruits involves an infra-red drying process.

“Our process is low-temperature and short-duration. It retains more color, flavor and nutrition than any other process because it uses tuned infra-red light to target the water molecule. We have a broad product line and can process many types of fruits using this technology,” said Dan Goral, director of sales and marketing for PowderPure. These fruit powders can be added to yogurts and cheeses.

Superfruits can be expensive and difficult to source. Adding fruit flavors to fruit preps will boost cost effectiveness.

“We have seen a rise in requests for fruit flavors like apricot, peach, blackberry, blueberry and citrus, all of which could potentially include peel notes. Popular flavors that often replace part of the fruit content in fruit preps include strawberry, apple/spiced apple/sour apple, raspberry/black raspberry and cherry/black cherry,” said Wallace Mahanes, Weber Flavors.

Combining whole fruit and a fruit flavor works well in ice cream and frozen dessert lines, as well as in cultured beverages like kefir.

It’s not surprising that whole fruits add nutrition and value to dairy products. In this era of natural and unprocessed, whole fruit and real dairy make a “dynamic duo.”