Sponsored By
Steve Myers

June 6, 2011

16 Min Read
Berry Bonanza

The use of berry ingredients is as abundant as ever, owing to rich phenolic content, a growing body of research on health benefits, a wide range of berry types available and a seemingly endless number of potential applications.

What is a fruit? What is a berry? There is often much confusion on this, but the loose biological definition of a berry is fleshy fruit produced from a single ovary and having an edible outer layer, called a pericarp, formed from the ovary wall. By this, tomatoes and pomegranates are berries, but strawberries and raspberries are not. But for the most part, people consider berries to be any small, fleshy, stone-less fruit that is usually brightly colored and may contain seeds. Thus, the loosely corralled bunch of berries includes the well-known cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and grapes, as well as the lesser known elderberry, currants, chokeberries and bilberries, and the exotic açaí (Brazil), noni (Tahiti), goji (Tibet) and lingonberry (Sweden).

The appeal of berries has long been visual, as their often vibrant reds, blues and in-between hues attract consumers. Flavonoids in the berries provide the rich coloring; most often credited is the polyphenolic anthocyanins, water-soluble pigment flavonoids abundant in many berries.

In fact, one of the many uses for berries in formulation is for coloring. Celine Aubert, technical industry manager dietary supplements at Chr. Hansen, said its most commonly used coloring ingredients include grape, elderberry, chokeberry and blackcurrant. Anthony Jacobs, sales and marketing director for BerrPharma, noted elderberries, in particular, are used for coloring many products including tablets and capsules, beverages of all types, jams and candies. Likewise, cranberries add a vibrant splash of color to a variety of applications such as dairy, bakery and confectionery, according to Kristen Girard, principal food scientist at Ocean Spray ITG, who added cranberries can also help manufacturers create attractive red beverages. For example, cranberries not only add flavor, but also enhance the visual appeal of other foods such as special occasion cheeses, she said. With the ongoing popularity of products such as Wensleydale cheese with cranberries or apricot pieces, new fruit-flavored varieties of cheese are springing onto supermarket shelves.

Katherine Bond, director of business development for Cyvex Nutrition, noted color can be an important factor in consumers selection of food or supplements. CranLife, our cranberry ingredient is made from whole cranberries, so the resulting extract has a wonderful fruity aroma, and when mixed in a solution, it turns a light red or pinkish color, she explained. When Euro Black Currant or BioVin are used in a neutral solution, the color is a dark purple, which changes to a bright red in an acidic solution.

In the case of blueberries, Tom Payne, industry specialist for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (USHBC), reported the search for blue is taking place among food manufacturers and product designers, in response to focus groups and test marketing of the color blue. Children, in particular, react favorably to blue food, he said, and the color is seen as a way to add fun and interest to ice creams, cookies, toppings and even French fries. In fact, the rage for all foods blue took off with kid-friendly products, he said. Positioned as fun foods, indigo, azure and cobalt-colored fare has shown up in manufactured products directed at youthful audiences. Blue-colored products include blue ice cream, sweetened blue toppings in squeeze tubes, catsup, beverages, ice pops and confections.

The same polyphenols responsible for coloring berries so richly are also among the many compounds identified as actives in the fruits and singled out in research on various health benefits. According to Payne, blueberries have always been popular because of their natural flavor, but their popularity soared with the advent of antioxidant awareness. Consumers say blueberries taste good, and they provide health benefits (antioxidants, fiber, nutrition), he said. Americans growing appetite for a healthy and nutritious diet has aided in boosting demand for blueberries according to a report from USDAs Economic Research Service. Phytochemicals found in fruits, such as blueberries, continue to be investigated for their health benefits in the prevention of a range of diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, urinary tract infections (UTIs) and even to slow the aging process, including memory loss. Further, blueberries are low in calories and a rich source of vitamin C, potassium and fiber. 

Berries, in general are best known for their antioxidant properties and for boosting the immune system, Jacobs said, noting elderberry has been traditionally used for treatment of coughs, colds and fevers. Fewer people know about the anti-inflammatory, vasoprotective and eye health properties related to Scandinavian blueberries and blackcurrants. He further noted the interest in the oxidative stress properties and microcirculation benefits has encouraged many new studies to be undertaken and supported by national health authorities, citing the European Union Brain Food Grants as an example.

Bond confirmed there is a lot of scientific support, including human clinical studies, on the health benefits of anthocyanins, which are found in the dark pigment of the grapes Cyvex uses to make its BioVin ingredient. Additionally, Cyvex has conducted a human clinical study on BioVin that demonstrated the bioavailability and antioxidant potential for this ingredient, he reported. On other ingredients in the companys berry line, he noted Euro Black Currant improves vision health, while there are many scientific studies illustrating the benefits of cranberries, especially in womens health. 

Cranberry research may be the most well-known of the berry-benefits science.  Girard stated the North American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) is supported by more than 65 years research. It received official recognition for its benefits for urinary tract health in 2004, when the French governments food safety authority, AFSSA, officially approved the health claim that North American cranberries help reduce the adhesion of certain E. coli bacteria to the urinary tract walls, she said.

Girard explained cranberries contain novel forms of proanthocyanadins (PACs), called A-type PACs, which inhibit the binding of certain bacteria that can lead to UTIs. She noted while most of the early clinical research on the cranberry relates to the prevention of recurrent UTIs, a recent trial published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition  found participants who consumed double-strength Cranberry Juice Cocktail from Ocean Spray® experienced a significant reduction in arterial stiffness, an indicator of cardiovascular disease (CVD). These findings are in line with previous research, which has shown that polyphenol-containing foods, such as cranberry, can support vascular health, she said.

Berries are not all about anthocyanins and PACs. Probably not thought by most people as a berry, pomegranates are among the most interesting berries around, according to Blake Ebersole, technical director, Verdure Sciences.  While many berries including pomegranate are known for their anthocyanins, pomegranate offers a substantial amount of tannins such as punicalagins which are associated with the pomegranate's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, he explained. POMELLA® brand pomegranate extract has been found to increase plasma antioxidant status as much as 32 percent (J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Nov 15;54(23):8956-61), and various studies have been conducted on its effects on prostate cancer, sports recovery, brain protection, blood flow, blood pressure and diabetes.


Aubert reminded formulators the use of berry extracts in products targeting a specific health condition requires strict attention to the type of active molecules a given extract is standardized to and what actives are featured in research on that condition. Most of our customers buy our NutriPhy® Blackcurrant for its richness in anthocyanins, whereas they buy our NutriPhy® Cranberry for its richness in proanthocyanidins, she reported, noting scientific and clinical papers have shown the efficiency of blackcurrant anthocyanins to maintain healthy vision and cranberry proanthocyanidins (Macrocarpon vaccinum) to prevent uropathogenic phenotypes of P-fimbriated E. coli from adhering to the urinary tract.

With most of the attention on the antioxidant potential of berries, Aubert highlighted the confusion of antioxidants and how to measure their activity. ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) is a method of measuring antioxidant capacity in test tubes, but other methods would have to be employed to gauge antioxidant capacity in the body. Ultimately, research specific to health condition and a given berry ingredient would be the more definitive tool to show an antioxidant benefit.

Aubert also suggested, To demonstrate a berry extract has a proven health effect, you need to work with an extremely characterized extract whose production process is reproducible and raw material quality consistent. The key words here for 'health' would be more represented by traceability, safety and characterization of all our ingredients. She said this is the approach Chr. Hansen took with its new NutriPhy® Lingonberry extract, and results of its research on oxidative stress in vivo (in the body) have been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal (J Agric Food Chem. 2011 Apr 13;59(7):3330-9.)

Another emerging active found in berries is pterostilbene, a phytoalexin naturally produced by plants in the face of pathogens. Jeremey Bartos, Ph.D., ingredient product manager at Chromadex, said pterostilbene is not exclusive to berries, but it is part of the plants defense system and can be found anywhere throughout the plant such as the leaves, roots and heartwood. 

Pterostilbene has numerous potential health properties, including heart health, blood sugar control, anti-aging, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. Bartos said Chromadex decided to focus on pterostilbene because of a cholesterol patent it is licensing from USDA through the University of Mississippi. The patent is based on results showing that pterostilbene functions as a PPAR-alpha activator, which decreases the bodys synthesis of triglycerides and VLDL (very low density lipoprotein) and helps to regulate cholesterol levels," he explained.  In conjunction with the University of Mississippi, we are running the first human clinical study on pterostilbene, a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled intervention study focusing on [pterostilbenes] cholesterol and blood-pressure lowering effects.

Working with Berries

Produce has always carried the risk of spoilage over time, and the actives in berries are particularly susceptible to degradation by oxidation. Jacobs said weather conditions are the biggest challenge, as in the case of large quantities of fruit ripening simultaneously or hail stones damaging crops.  Thus, getting berries from the field to the finished product, be it a supplement or functional food, is a major challenge.

We have developed a supply chain with contracted growers to provide a specific and high-anthocyanin yielding elderberry, known as the Haschberg variety, Jacobs explained. This have been in place for over 20 years  through a cooperative in Styria, Austria, which coordinates more than 800 elderberry farmers; this co-operative organizes the crops every year, and assures a constant quality and a smooth chain from crop to shock freezing.

Also acknowledging this issue, Bond pointed out most of Cyvexs berry ingredients, including its grapes, currants and lingonberries, are grown and manufactured in Europe, so the manufacturing facilities are relatively close to the location where the ingredient is sourced; this cuts down on transportation time. When we receive the berries, they are in extract form, which is far more stable than a freshly picked berry, she said.

Cranberries have some built-in defenses that help preserve the berries and actives during harvesting. Cranberries are extremely resilient with their waxy outer coating and can withstand the rigors of harvesting, Girard explained. Once harvested, the fruit is immediately trucked to a nearby receiving station where several cleaning steps take place prior to the fruit going into the freezer.  The desired actives in the cranberries are not compromised during this process.

In formulating and processing products with blueberries, fresh berries are the best, according to Payne, who noted fresh berries promptly frozen or processed in multiple formatsfresh, frozen and dried; as purée, concentrate and juice; from whole fruit to powderretain flavor and freshness while preserving beneficial nutrients.

Aubert agreed berries need to be processed quickly after harvest and turned into a stable form where actives won't be oxidized. A sign of the state of quality control (QC) and GMPs (good manufacturing practices) in the natural products industry, she emphasized the importance of raw material specifications in ensuring a berry ingredient or extract maintains optimal actives. We evaluate berries, and we determine exactly their active profile, she said. Then, we need to find a form that guarantees the profile will be respected: it can be juice concentrate, frozen pomace, dry pomace, etc. She emphasized the importance of a companys experience and expertise in identifying the appropriate delivery format and in defining specifications growers must meet in order to become a berry supplier.

Quickness (of harvesting) and strictness (to specs) are critical, but making a potent and stable extract is still no easy feat. It can be difficult to preserve the pomegranate tannins and ensure they are shelf stable, Ebersole noted. Substantial work has been done to extract and preserve pomegranate tannins, resulting in a number of patents covering POMELLA extract, a standardized pomegranate extract Verdure Sciences has been working on for a number of years. He further explained while tannins can be difficult to formulate with due to stability and taste issues, POMELLA has been successfully formulated in a number of applications due to its high shelf stability and ease of use.

For BerryPharm retaining more berry actives is achieved through the use of it proprietary ultra-filtration process, according to Jacobs, who reported this mechanical process keeps the original aroma and taste profile while concentrating the desired polyphenols and minerals and vitamins at the expense of the fructose.

Given their rich pigments, healthy potential and fruit status, berries are desirable in a number of applications from supplements to functional foods and beverages, and even cosmeceuticals.

Bond assured Cyvex berry ingredients can be used in a variety of delivery methods, from beverages, dots to bars. Our Euro Black Currant is used in cosmetic applications, as well as in supplements for vision health; BioVin Advanced is a main ingredient in the WineTime bar; and several of our berry ingredients are used in powder mixes and tablets.

Ocean Sprays sweetened dried cranberries are extremely versatile, according to Girard, who said they can be incorporated into a wide range of products, from ice cream and trail mixes to beverages and cereals. Cranberry suppliers, such as Ocean Spray® ITG, are fuelling the buoyant fruit trend by offering an increasingly versatile range of cranberry ingredients, including sweetened dried cranberries, BerryFusions® Fruits, cranberry purée, concentrate and cranberry powder, she said. Fruit-juice blends are becoming popular with manufacturers as an easy and lower-risk way to diversify, with less new product development investment required. Cranberry concentrate is at home in this market, as it not only contributes a unique, tart taste, but also serves to enhance the flavor of other fruits due to its high-acid profile.

Blueberries are similarly popular additions to numerous product types, including many food items. Payne said plump, moist berries are easy additions in mini-pastries and cupcakes, while dehydrated blueberries are used in upscale cookies and bagels. In addition, high-tech blueberry powders work well in rice cakes and bar cookies. Among the full range of baked good applications, blueberries are used in fillings for pastries and pies; as toppings (fresh or frozen goods); and in baking mixes (cookies, muffins, pancakes, etc.).

Fruit is notoriously difficult to work with in bakery applications, Girard said, noting the rigors of processingfrom thawing to kneading and bakingoften mean manufacturers are forced to sacrifice fruit inclusions. Common issues such as loss of piece identity, color bleed and moisture migration impact the shelf appeal of baked goods.  She said sweet, dried cranberries help overcome these difficulties and allow manufacturers to meet consumer demand for better for you products. They can be incorporated directly into batters and doughs, without the need for pre-soaking and do not absorb moisture over time. Further advantages include retained piece identity, absence of color-bleed and stable pricing and supply.

 Another innovative way to incorporate berries and fruits that would otherwise be difficult to include in a baked or other processed food is to use dried cranberries infused with juice from other fruits. Ocean Spray® ITGs BerryFusions® Fruits offer effective alternatives for a variety of fruits such as cherry, pomegranate, blueberry, mango, orange, raspberry and strawberry in a robust, process-tolerant form, Girard noted. The finished product delivers taste, texture and the added value of the health benefits of the cranberry, she said.  These dried fruit pieces deliver taste, texture and distinctive points of color, without the processing challenges commonly associated with fruit.

Bartos said Chromadexs pTeroPure brand of pterostilbene is a good candidate for functional foods and beverages and has recently self-affirmed as GRAS, one of the requirements to sell into the food and beverage markets.  pTeroPure is also heat stable, making it a good ingredient for baked foods such as protein bars, crackers, cereal and the like, he noted, adding as a white powder and with little or no flavor, it is easily masked by other ingredients and can be mixed into products such as yogurt, cheese and ice cream easily.

Chr. Hansens NutriPhy® range, which includes lingonberry, cranberry and bilberry, is dedicated to dietary supplements and functional foods, according to Aubert, who explained when it comes to the berry actives, supplements can be a more favorable format, due to the lack of heat and light exposurewhich threaten stabilityin the typical supplement manufacturing process. Conversely, for foods and beverages, the processing parameters such as heat treatment and light exposure after packaging is challenging to the stability of the berry actives. The stability of berry actives like anthocyanins differs a lot if in dry or liquid application, she added. The presence of water accelerates the degradation of anthocyanins. Other ingredients like metal ions pose even greater challenges particularly with anthocyanins.

Jacobs further noted cool, dry storage is a must to protect the sensitive anthocyanins from sunlight degradation. He also explained anthocyanins can alter chemically in terms of color due to changes in pH, thus an acid environment is needed for stability.  When used in supplements or beverages, the stability should always be tested in the final blend with other added ingredients, he advised.

Berries are clearly a favorite flavor and ingredient in many finished products, from supplements to foods and even cosmetics. There are many different ways to process berries, from extraction to freeze-drying whole berries. Whatever the form or process, it is important to the quality of the formulation that the potential and desired actives in berriesantioxidant flavonoids and other polyphenolic compoundsare safeguarded in a swift, but thoroughly controlled supply and processing chain. While research is ongoing, and the exact antioxidant properties of berries are still under scientific investigation, their taste, color and general health benefits are attracting consumers looking for a wide range of products that feature berries. Learning the characteristics of a berry, its research history and its many possible ingredient formats, coupled with heeding any known formulation challenges per a given application type will be key to the successful inclusion of berries into a finished supplement, food, beverage or cosmeceutical.

About the Author(s)

Steve Myers

Senior Editor

Steve Myers is a graduate of the English program at Arizona State University. He first entered the natural products industry and Virgo Publishing in 1997, right out of college, but escaped the searing Arizona heat by relocating to the East Coast. He left Informa Markets in 2022, after a formidable career focused on financial, regulatory and quality control issues, in addition to writing stories ranging research results to manufacturing. In his final years with the company, he spearheaded the editorial direction of Natural Products Insider.

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