Adding fun and health to hot cereals – Formulation & Ingredient Challenges – Brief Article
Laura A. Brandt
Kids want fun while adults and parents want nutrition in hot cereals. Fruits infused with flavor and sweeteners, humectants and novelty inclusions offer product developers ingredients that help satisfy all consumers.
Sales of hot cereals are rising. With growth of more than 23% during 1995-2000, sales are expected to reach almost $1.1 billion in 2005 (up from $919 million in 2000) according to the report “The U.S. Breakfast Market: Cereals,” published by Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com, New York.
Although adults expect instant oatmeal to be quick and nutritious, children want something fun to eat. Keeping both sides happy is the job of the product developer.
When it comes to instant hot cereal add-ins, food formulators rely heavily on the ingenuity and technical know-how of suppliers. Ingredients such as grains, fruit pieces, flavorings, vitamins and minerals play an important role in the creation of hot cereals. For kids, add a liberal dose of “fun” shapes/ingredients, and you have a steaming hot winner.
Generally, food processors can choose from various dried fruit-based pieces such as bits, powders, and whole fruits. For hot cereal applications, infused fruit is popular because it results in pieces with more body. The fruit is typically infused with a combination of sweeteners and acids, and sometimes humectants (additional water-binding agents such as glycerin and sorbitol) and flavors, then air or freeze-dried.
“A general infusion blend could include fructose and corn syrup with malic acid, or citric acid, while others use straight sucrose or sucrose/corn sweetener blends,” says Jeff Tucker, general manager at Oceana Foods, a division of Cherry Central Inc., Traverse City, Mich. “Some use fruit concentrates such as apple and/or white grape juice instead, for ‘all fruit’ products.”
Water activity and moisture content are targeted through drying. Most soft and semi-moist fruits are about 12-18% moisture with about 0.58 water activity. Freeze-dried fruits with 2-3% moisture are more crunchy and powdery in texture.
Moist infusion (osmotic concentration) involves soaking the fruit in a solution of high sugar content that results in diffusion of moisture out of the fruit and also infusion of the sugar into the fruit until the desired sugar content is reached, generally about 40-55[degrees] Brix, explains Tucker.
Some use dehydrated fruit pieces from the actual fruit, such as cherries, others call on the variety of flavored fruit pieces such as cherry-flavored apple pieces.
Real dried berries are more common in cold cereals, and are gaining ground in hot cereals. For example, Fantastic Foods Inc., Petaluma, Calif., offers several instant hot cereals in a cup featuring dried berries. The Wheat N’ Berries variety includes dried and sliced blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. While not very common in dry hot cereal mixes, cranberries are well-suited to this application. Fantastic Foods’ Cranberry Orange Oatmeal contains dried sliced cranberries and orange peel bits.
“Cranberries can be sliced to various dimensions for use in hot cereals, down to 1/8 inch. We can modify their texture to suit customer’s needs,” says Reza Ghaedian, Ph.D., director of technical services and product development, Decas Cranberry Products Inc., Carver, Mass. Cranberries are infused as described above through osmosis dehydration.
Flavored cranberries are another possibility in cereals. “We have made tasty orange-flavored cranberries as well as peach-flavored and blueberry-flavored cranberries,” says Ghaedian.
Spice Hunter’s[R] Apple Cinnamon flavored 3-Grain[TM] Hot Cereal with oats, barley, and wheat contains unsulfured apple dices and apple powder. It has been challenging to select a specific apple powder that works well in the plant without clumping and sticking to the equipment, says Daniela Massey, R&D coordinator for The Spice Hunter Inc., San Luis Obispo, Calif.
“We worked with our suppliers and switched to an apple variety with a much lower sugar content which has greatly streamlined our processing,” says Massey. “Although the apple powder is slightly more tart than before, it works well in this hot cereal.” While Spice Hunter prefers to use uncoated fruit bits to maintain a more natural image, some manufacturers use fruit pieces that are coated with oil or a powder such as starch to keep them free-flowing.
The “Fun” Factor
Cereal companies strive to make breakfast time fun by adding novelty inclusions into hot cereals.
Quaker Oats has pioneered its “reveal” technology, in which the coating of tiny theme-related pieces either melts or dissolves away with the addition of hot water to expose a second item underneath.
“Our current variety of kids’ products has been developed around what we call ‘Fun in the Bowl,”‘ says Lynne Jones, a product developer in the R&D group at Quaker Oats, Barrington, Ill. “These products have to meet children’s nutritional needs, and an extra ‘fun’ criterion.”
The first product in the trilogy of Fun in the Bowl hot cereals is Quaker[R] Instant Oatmeal Dinosaur Eggs[TM]. When boiling water is added to the dried cereal, the dinosaurs “hatch” from tiny egg-shaped inclusions to reveal tiny baby stegosaurs and triceratops. The fat-based outer coating of the dinosaur egg pieces melts with the addition of hot water to uncover a dinosaur-shaped pressed tablet inside.
“We chose tablets because we were able to get different shapes and the surface detail that we wanted on the front and back,” says Jones.
With Sea Adventures[TM], the second product, the oatmeal fizzes upon the addition of hot water and turns the oatmeal ocean-blue to reveal sharks, ships and divers.
Treasure Hunt[TM] Instant Oatmeal in “appley cinnamon” flavor is the latest fun-based instant oatmeal product which rolled out this past August. Children can find tiny tableted gold keys and mini treasure chests and uncover tableted hidden treasures as the chests dissolve and release red rubies, green emeralds and bright yellow coins.
Hot cereal sales are projected to have a rosy future, according to marketing experts.
Over the years, a few things have changed in the product development arena says Jones, a 28-year veteran of Quaker Oats.
“We are including outside suppliers more and more in the product development process. Today, we are working faster than ever. We expect hot cereals to continue their trend of providing consumers of all ages with innovative and nutritious ingredients.”
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