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Antioxidant-Rich Berries for Formulation

Phytonutrient-packed berries are allowing formulators to deliver a potent product punch

March 27, 2008

14 Min Read
Antioxidant-Rich Berries for Formulation


Nutritionists and moms agree—it’s important that we eat more fruits. Fortunately, there are even more fresh, frozen and freeze-dried options, in a variety of delivery forms, to help consumers meet their daily intake.

And perhaps no fruits are as appealing to consumers as berries. As spring brings blueberries, strawberries and blackberries to store shelves, consumers snap them up for snacking and cooking. “Berries were one of the first sources of food for our ancient ancestors and very important in the diet,” said Mitchell May, president, Synergy Production Laboratories. “Whole wild and organic berries deliver the full spectrum of nutrition and are literally bursting with flavor.”

But these original “super” fruits offer much more than great taste; antioxidant flavonoids and phytonutrients are packed into their compact bodies. “Most berries have additional qualities that go beyond their antioxidant values,” said Leslie Gallo, marketing manager, Artemis International. “We should be looking more at the overall composition of phytonutrients and their respective health benefits.”

Berries contain numerous healthy micronutrients, such as vitamins C and E, calcium and folic acid, as well as dietary fiber. In addition, they deliver a broad range of phenolic compounds, including anthocyanidins, flavanols (proanthocyanidins), flavonols (quercetin), plus ellagic acid and essential fatty acids (EFAs). Together, they make for a powerful antioxidant cocktail that boosts the body’s resistance to inflammation and mutagenic responses.

“Oxidative stress and systemic inflammation are at the root of numerous chronic health issues,” noted Blake Ebersole, technical director, Verdure Sciences. “Hence the potential importance of antioxidants from fruits and why we see fruit compounds being able to address a number of health issues.”

Individually and in concert, berries have been researched for their impact on human health. In heart health, studies have shown the phenolics from cranberry, raspberry, bilberry and black currant may help increase antioxidant capacity and prevent oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.1,2 Long-term consumption of blueberries appears to help reduce lipid hyperperoxide concentration,3 while highbush blueberry cultivars have very high antioxidant capacity, attributed to its total phenolic and anthocyanin concentrations.4

In fact, research into the health effects of blueberries is picking up. “Blueberries have been in the spotlight for their association with healthy eating for some time, but their election to the realm of ‘superfoods’ has focused even more attention on them as a vibrant market trend,” said Jeannette Ferrary, on behalf of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. “The color blue signals the presence of anthocyanins, a substance that may prevent heart disease and other healthy nutrients that may improve memory.”

In the area of brain health, blueberries have been shown to prevent age-related declines in temporal processing speed,5 protect the brain from stroke-induced damage6 and protect the hippocampus from induced brain injury.7 The anthocyanins in blueberry have further been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier to enhance memory,8 while also working to inhibit inflammation in the central nervous system.9

Berries may also work individually and synergistically to prevent carcinogenesis. Cranberry compounds have been shown to inhibit carcinogenesis in breast10 and prostate11 cell cancer lines. Bilberry and chokeberry extracts were found to work in vitro to prevent colon carcinogenesis,12 while raspberry and blueberry extracts inhibited mutagenesis in breast and cervical cancer lines.13 Pterostilbene, a phenolic compound present in blueberry skin, can inhibit the formation of precancerous cells in the colon,14 while blueberries’ anthocyanin fraction can dose-dependently induce tumor cell death.15

Intriguing Exotics

In an increasingly global market, it is not surprising that consumers are showing increased interest in exotic berries in addition to the familiar ones. “The exotic nature of these fruits makes them appealing to consumers,” said Jeff Wuagneux, president and CEO, RFI. “It’s as if they are a new discovery, a sort of ‘cutting edge’ nutrition. In addition, some of these fruits do have unique phytochemicals not found in our familiar, everyday fruits, which may make them ‘supercharged’.”

The nutrient-dense nutritional profiles and unique tastes of exotic berries are being delivered in innovative ways, and in blends with more familiar ingredients. “These exotic berries share several characteristics,” noted Paul M. Gross, Ph.D. “They are recognized as novel, exceptional antioxidant sources and have active research interest for potential anti-disease properties.”

One of the first “hot” exotic berries was acai (Euterpe badiocarpa), a dark purple berry that grows on palm trees in the Amazon rainforest of northern Brazil. The fruit is harvested by hand and quickly processed to avoid degradation of the nutrients; it is high in vitamin E, calcium, copper, potassium, magnesium and niacin. It also has rich phenolic content, and delivers a taste likened to a combination of chocolate and dark berries.

Reported health benefits include greater energy and stamina, improved digestion and circulation, greater mental activity and improved sleep. Studies support its antioxidant activity, through both phenolics and as-of-yet unidentified phytochemicals,16 as well as anti-inflammatory activity and support of the immune system.17

Goji (Lycium barbarum), also known as wolfberry, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for at least 2,000 years. Gross noted it has high concentrations of basic nutrients including magnesium, potassium, amino acids and protein. “In addition, as a rarity among plants, goji skin and pulp contain dense pigmentation both of phenolic acids and carotenoids, giving it high dietary antioxidant value,” he added. “Its beta-carotene and zeaxanthin content in particular is exceptional.”

Wolfberry is extremely high in antioxidants and is said to provide enhanced immune system function, better eyesight and improved circulation. Further, studies support its role in protecting the brain from neuronal damage and apoptosis.18,19 It may also support heart health, with animal studies showing goji extract can reduce induced cardiotoxicity,20 and goji seed oil exerting anti-atherosclerosis effects.21

A newer entrant to the exotic scene is seaberry (Hippophae rhamnoides L.), also known as sea buckthorn. Native to Asia and northern Europe, seaberry consists of thorny vines and yellow or orange-red berries, which offer a fairly sour taste. Its phytochemical diversity spans high vitamin C and E contents, carotenoid and phenolic pigments, as well as high pulp and seed levels of EFAs and sterols.

In the past year, studies on seaberry have included how seaberry affects inflammation, cancer and cardiovascular disease, burns and skin wounds, and its antimicrobial effects and antioxidant properties. Gross noted, “All the research [on seaberry] uses preliminary animal models or in vitro preparations. There have been no expert-reviewed clinical trials of seaberry published to date in Western literature.”

However, research results have been positive. In vitro research shows seaberry extract exhibits strong antioxidant activity with the ability to scavenge peroxyl radicals,22 and may induce apoptosis in human liver cancer cells.23

Out of India comes amla (Phyllanthus emblica), also known as Indian gooseberry. The amla tree produces light greenish yellow fruits with a sour, astringent taste; the berries are used in traditional Ayurvedic formulas such as Triphala and Chyawanprash. “Amla is one of nature’s richest sources of vitamin C, and its superior antioxidant activity is enhanced by gallotannins with additional benefits for digestion and support for healthy aging and immune function,” said Ken Seguine, national sales manager, Avesta. “In the Indian Ayurvedic tradition, amla is used as a rasayana, a dietary supplement or practice promoting rejuvenation, mental and physical health, as well as providing a defense against aging and challenging environmental factors.”

Recent studies suggest amla can protect against induced hepatic damage by enhancing the levels of enzymatic and non-enzymatic antioxidants;24 it may also reduce oxidative stress associated with aging.25 Studies also suggest amla may help support healthy cholesterol levels, and prevent against cholesterol oxidation.26,27

Formulation Innovation

Whether as a capsule, functional bar, super-loaded sorbet or juice drink, marketers are combining berries—both old favorites and new options—to maximize health benefits. “All over the world, marketers and consumers are looking for organic, non-synthetic, U.S.-processed, nutrient-rich whole food ingredients,” May said.

Because berries have such a long history as a food product, most traditional options like blueberries have easily transitioned into functional food and beverage products such as juices, smoothies, nutrition bars and baked goods. However, the exotics have not had an easy time. “Many of the commonly called superfruit berries are not necessarily ‘table fruits’, in part due to shelf life issues or their astringent taste in the fresh raw form,” Gallo said. “Therefore these berries are often processed, i.e., frozen, concentrated, spray-dried, freeze-dried and standardized.” She noted the exotic berries are being used in a broader range of applications now than previously, with inclusion in beverages, frozen treats, supplements, cosmetics and even oral health products.

Whether using traditional or exotic berries, new delivery systems are being developed. “Beverages have become a very popular delivery system,” said Kay Kapteyn, product manager, FutureCeuticals Inc. “However, convenience is also high on the list, and stick pack products provide one answer to consumer needs. Traditional capsule form supplements are also maintaining their popularity. Though capsule delivery systems might not be the cutting edge of technology, the blends contained in the capsules continue to push the frontiers of science in terms of nutraceutical research.”

Powder forms tend to be more popular in formulation, as they are more stable and offer greater shelf life. Freeze-drying is employed by many ingredient suppliers to ensure the retention of antioxidant and nutrient content, as well as the flavor and color of the fruits. “Time, oxygen, moisture, heat and light are all enemies of plant nutrients,” Kapteyn added. “As opposed to other forms of drying, freeze-drying allows the fruit to maintain its color, flavor and phytonutrient profile.”

The question of using individual ingredients or blends is also on the table. Wuagneux said there is room in the market for both. “We are seeing requests for individual fruits in various forms such as whole dried berries, juice, powdered fruit, as well as standardized extracts,” he said. “But we also have requests for custom formulas that include multiple fruits, both superfruits and the more traditional fruits, combined in one nice formula.”

Steve Siegel, vice president, Ecuadorian Rainforest, said the majority of the company’s customers are looking for individual ingredients vs. blends. “They want to have in-depth knowledge about a specific ingredient before blending,” he said. “It is imperative to be knowledgeable about the properties and health benefits of each individual ingredient. So we receive requests asking for information about ingredient properties and suggestions on what ingredients blend well together.”

Many ingredients do blend well together, apparently, as the number of both custom and pre-formulated blends is growing. “The trend is moving toward blended ingredients for the ability to maximize the health benefits from the blended phytonutrient profiles,” Gallo said. “Each different berry exhibits its own unique attributes, and by blending we can achieve the desired synergistic effect.” Artemis developed several targeted blends including the BerrySelect™ high antioxidant blend, and the BerryDefense™ immune support blend.

Synergy recently launched its Synergized Berry Powder, which includes 12 different berries, all freeze-dried, with some as whole berries and others as juice powders. “A complete blend is really the way to go,” May said. “All the constituents offer synergy and the full spectrum of nutrition. No single berry has ‘the’ compound for health; each one has a contribution to make.”

Kapteyn added FutureCeuticals works with its customers to create specialty custom blends. “Blends can make a product unique, which allows the manufacturer to differentiate themselves from similar products that might only include an individual ingredient,” she said. “Blends also provide a product with a variety of flavors and nutritional benefits.”

The flavor issue is one of the sensory issues formulators must address. Traditional berries tend to be relatively easy to formulate with, as consumers are familiar with their taste profile. For example, Ferrary pointed to consumers’ long history with blueberries: “Whatever the trend or form of products, the one constant that makes a product successful is flavor. On the ingredient level and in finished products, blueberries have maintained a high level of appeal among consumers. They are viewed as real food, not an esoteric substance people have to learn about in order to like.”

On the other hand, berries with overly sour or unique tastes might need other flavor sources in formulation to ease or mask the tough taste profile. For instance, a?ai is often paired with banana or mango to temper its strong, acquired taste.

In addition to flavor, color is a consideration. While the anthocyanins in berries are powerful antioxidants with other health benefits, they’re also at their core plant pigments, supplying deep blues and purples to the fruit. “Some of the main functional phytonutrients in darkly pigmented berries are the anthocyanins, which provide the brilliant red-purple colors, depending on the pH,” Gallo noted. “While we focus on the nutraceutical properties of our berry ingredients, an added benefit is that they are natural colorants, which can also provide a challenge depending on the application.”

Fortunately, most suppliers can provide assistance in formulation, whether delivery systems, stabilization of actives or claims support. Wuagneux said RFI, for example, can provide turnkey formulations, as well as “research and scientific back-up for ingredients and ingredient levels, applications work (e.g., flavoring the systems), blending, packaging and even marketing and regulatory assistance.”

Having a close partner to work with could be the key to delivering berry tasty products with health-promoting qualities to consumers around the globe.

Looking for more information on berries and superfruits? Paul M. Gross, Ph.D., will address this topic on April 28 at SupplySide East. For more details or to register, click here.

Full list of references on the next page.


1. Chu YF, Liu RH. "Cranberries inhibit LDL oxidation and induce LDL receptor expression in hepatocytes." Life Sci. June 24, 2005. Epub ahead of print.

2. Viljanen K et al. "Inhibition of protein and lipid oxidation in liposomes by berry phenolics." J Agric Food Chem. 2004;52(24):7419-24/

3. McAnulty SR et al. “Effect of daily fruit ingestion on angiotensin converting enzyme activity, blood pressure and oxidative stress in chronic smokers.” Free Rad Res. 2005;39:1241-48.

4. Ehlenfeldt MK, Prior RL. “Oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) and phenolic and anthocyanin concentrations in fruit and leaf tissues of highbush blueberry.” J Agric Food Chem. 2001;49:2222-27.

5. de Revera C et al. "The effects of antioxidants in the senescent auditory cortex." Neurobiol Aging. June 9, 2005. Epub ahead of print.

6. Wang Y et al. "Dietary supplementation with blueberries, spinach or spirulina reduces ischemic brain damage." Exp Neurol. 2005;193(1):75-84.

7. Galli RL et al. "Blueberry supplemented diet reverses age-related decline in hippocampal HSP70 neuroprotection." Neurobiol Aging. April 30, 2005. Epub ahead of print.

8. Andres-Lacueva C et al. “Anthocyanins in aged blueberry-fed rats are found centrally and may enhance memory.” Nutr Neurosci. 2005;8:111-20.

9. Lau FC, Bielinski DF, Joseph JA. “Inhibitory effects of blueberry extract on the production of inflammatory mediators in lipopolysaccharide-activated BV2 microglia.” J Neuro Res. 2007;85:1010-17.

10. Ferguson PJ et al. "A flavonoid fraction from cranberry extract inhibits proliferation of human tumor cell lines." J Nutr. 2004;134(6):1529-35.

11. Seeram NP et al. "Total cranberry extract versus its phytochemical constituents: antiproliferative and synergistic effects against human tumor cell lines." J Agric Food Chem. 2004;52(9):2512-7.

12. Zhao C et al. "Effects of commercial anthocyanin-rich extracts on colonic cancer and nontumorigenic colonic cell growth." J Agric Food Chem. 2004;52(20):6122-8.

13. Wedge DE et al. "Anticarcinogenic activity of strawberry, blueberry and raspberry extracts to breast and cervical cancer cells." J Med Food. 2001;4(1):49-51.

14. Suh N et al. “Pterostilbene, an active constituent of blueberries, suppresses aberrant crypt foci formation in the azoxymethane-induced colon carcinogenesis model in rats.” Clin Cancer Res. 2007;13:350-55.

15. Srivastava A et al. “Effect of anthocyanin fractions from selected cultivars of Georgia-grown blueberries on apoptosis and phase II enzymes.” J Agric Food Chem. 2007;55:3180-85.

16. Schauss AG et al. “Phytochemical and nutrient composition of the freeze-dried amazonian palm berry, Euterpe oleraceae mart. (açaí).” J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Nov 1;54(22):8598-603.

17. Schauss AG et al.. “Antioxidant capacity and other bioactivities of the freeze-dried Amazonian palm berry, Euterpe oleraceae mart. (açaí).” J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Nov 1;54(22):8604-10.

18. Yu MS. "Characterization of the effects of anti-aging medicine Fructus lycii on beta-amyloid peptide neurotoxicity." Int J Mol Med. 2007;20(2):261-8.

19. Del Pozo-Insfran D. "Açai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) polyphenolics in their glycoside and aglycone forms induce apoptosis of HL-60 leukemia cells." J Agric Food Chem. 2006;54(4):1222-9.

20. Xin YF et al. “Protective effect of Lycium barbarum on doxorubicin-induced cardiotoxicity.” Phytother Res. 2007 Jul 11; Epub ahead of print.

21. Chang RC. "Use of Anti-aging Herbal Medicine, Lycium barbarum, Against Aging-associated Diseases. What Do We Know So Far?" Cell Mol Neurobiol. 2007: [Epub ahead of print].

22. Chawla R et al. “Radioprotective and antioxidant activity of fractionated extracts of berries of Hippophae rhamnoides.” J Med Food. 2007 Mar;10(1):101-9.

23. Teng BS et al. “In vitro anti-tumor activity of isorhamnetin isolated from Hippophae rhamnoides L. against BEL-7402 cells.” Pharmacol Res. 2006 Sep;54(3):186-94.

24. J Ethnopharmacol. 2007;113(3):503-9.

25. J Agric Food Chem. 2007;55(19):7744-52.

26. Jacob A et al. “Effect of the Indian gooseberry (amla) on serum cholesterol levels in men aged 35 to 55 years.” Eur J Clin Nutr. 1988;42(11):939-44.

27. Augusti KT et al. “A comparative study on the beneficial effects of garlic (Allium sativum Linn), amla (Embilica officinalis Gaertn) and onion (Allum cepa Linn) on the hyperlipidemia induced by butter fat and beef fat in rats.” Indian J Exp Biol. 2001;39:760-66.

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