The label “superfruit” has been used to describe any fruit with high nutrient levels. Superfruits come in every color of the rainbow, but those with red, blue or purple hues from the presence of anthocyanins generally boast superior antioxidant power. Familiar cool-toned fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, cherries and strawberries make healthful and colorful additions to dairy products.
Anthocyanins and ORAC values
Anthocyanins are universal plant colorants present in fruits, vegetables and flowers. Although the term “superfruit” is relatively new, many anthocyanin-rich leaves, berries and seeds have been components of traditional herbal medicine for centuries. They have been used to treat hypertension, diarrhea, kidney stones, vision problems and even the common cold.
ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) is a measure of the ability of plant extracts to quench oxygen free radicals in a test tube. But ORAC values can vary depending on the form of the product tested (whole berry, concentrated juice or powder). Since antioxidant capacity alone doesn’t explain the precise effects of these compounds on human health, clinical trials should be the basis for specific health claims for products containing superfruits.
One superfruit with nutritional benefits that have been extensively studied is the blueberry.
“Investigators are currently focusing on the following areas to better understand the role that blueberries may play in promoting good health — cardiovascular health, insulin response, brain health, cancer research and the gut microbiome,” said Leslie Wada, Ph.D., RD, research administrator for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. “Although no studies have been conducted with human subjects regarding breast cancer, animal studies have shown a reduction in both tumor size and growth when blueberries were added to animal diets.”
A recent scientific review (https://tinyurl.com/ybtz25rr) explored the potential of blueberries as a novel treatment for cancer, and found that blueberries might prevent carcinogenesis, inhibit the proliferation of neoplastic cells and reduce the risks of recurrence in patients in remission.
Blueberries are a familiar superfruit and work well alone or in combination with other berries. Forms available for use in dairy applications include whole, dried, freeze-dried, canned, juice and puree. Research (https://tinyurl.com/yddo4thj) has shown that non-thermal processing can preserve the phytochemical, physiochemical and organoleptic properties of fruit.
The Chilean maqui berry is a less familiar superfruit that dairy producers might want to explore. This purple berry has been consumed by the Mapuche Indians of Chile for centuries. Maquis contain high levels of specific anthocyanins called delphinidins, which demonstrate potent anti-inflammatory activity. A 2017 study (https://tinyurl.com/y9v7oeld) confirmed the role of maqui berries as mediators of inflammation-associated disorders.
“The primary health benefit of the maqui berry is its antioxidant capacity,” said Boris Hirmas, founder and chairman of The Isofrut Co., Miami. “Maqui berry powder has a very high ORAC value of 38,000. The best way to preserve the nutritional value of the maqui berry, or any superfruit, is through freeze drying.”
Hirmas explained that freeze-dried fruit powders can be stored at room temperature for an extended period of time and are easy to use in wholesale or foodservice operations. Portion-controlled packets of freeze-dried maqui berries would be ideal for cross-marketing with retail dairy drinks. Maqui berry powder could also be added to cereal or fruit inclusions in a yogurt flip.
While scientists are still documenting the many health benefits of purple-hued superfruits, their long history in traditional medicine indicates a bright future as inclusions in dairy products. A high ORAC value points to superfruits that deserve further exploration.