The industry push for clean labels shows no signs of slowing down. Indeed, its rapid acceleration is fueled
by consumer demand for foods formulated with simple, more natural ingredients whenever possible. Yet at the same time, consumers
want foods with a fresh appearance. This poses a challenge for formulators using apple bits, pieces and inclusions when enzymatic
browning is triggered with the first cut. Tree Top, Inc. presents a clean label solution, with apple products that eliminate sulfites
in favor of natural preservation methods. Get better color and all the flavor simply and naturally with Tree Top.
While a rose by any other name might smell
as sweet, an apple with another color — namely
brown — isn’t as lucky. Some consumers find
discolored apples unacceptable and this can cause
them to reject a product that contains brown apple
bits or pieces.
Enzymatic browning is a chemical reaction triggered
when an apple’s cells are ruptured by biting, bruising
or cutting into the apple. Polyphenol oxidase (PPO)
reacts with phenolic compounds and oxygen and
turns the apple’s flesh brown. This not only makes
the apple unattractive to consumers’ eyes, but also
shortens shelf life and reduces its health properties.
Not only do food scientists have to be concerned
with enzymatic browning, but there is also non-
enzymatic browning that can lead to quality
deterioration. Non-enzymatic browning is a chemical
reaction involving amino acids and reducing sugars
that leads to a whole range of colored compounds.
For years the industry has impeded apple browning
with sulfites, which are used for color preservation,
shelf life extension and antimicrobial benefits.
Sulfites work well because they combat both
enzymatic and non-enzymatic browning. This
two-pronged attribute has made it difficult to find
a clean label alternative that achieves the same
effectiveness. Acidulants, typically used with salts
and ascorbic acid, have been used to attempt to
reduce browning. Acidulants reduce the pH and the
polyphenol oxidase activity, however, they are not
nearly as effective a protection against browning
as other compounds.
What’s Out...What’s In
Clean label demands are growing as consumers
express increased desire for foods that are “free-
from” an ever-expanding list of ingredients with a
push towards foods that are more natural. Mintel data
tracking lists “no additives” as the top claim globally
for new product introductions from 2009 to the present
day. In addition to sulfites in particular and additives
as a general category, consumers also want products
free-from excess sugar (particularly HFCS), fat, calories,
sodium, preservatives, MSG, GMOs and ingredients that
could potentially trigger an allergic response.
Consumers say they prefer
ingredients that are locally
grown and minimally processed;
easy to recognize and pronounce;
and familiar because they have
them at home.
Forty-eight percent of consumers say they are looking
at labels to determine fruit and vegetable content,
and consumers overall want to see food claims
that supply both nutrition and a good or excellent
source of vitamins. The preferable ingredient list is
short and has descriptors that would include “clear,”
“transparent,” “pure” and “simple.”
See fig. 1
The difficulty is to remain clean, simple and
transparent without overstating any claims, in order
to avoid triggering consumer backlash. And of
course, high standards for product quality, safety and
appearance must be maintained. This created the
need to develop a sulfite-free alternative for dried
fruit, and apples in particular.
While exotic fruits might make headlines, all
exotic fruits and berries total just five percent and
three percent of domestic consumption for fruits,
respectively, in whatever form. Apples are the
second most common fruit consumed by Americans,
according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service
(ERS). (Orange products have a secure first place spot
primarily due to orange juice consumption at 2.8
gallons per person for 2012.)1
Apples often are selected as the primary fruit inclusion
in products ranging from cereals to baked goods, bars
and snacks like trail mixes. According to Kevin Holland,
Ph.D., Product Developer at Tree Top, it is important
to match the fruit ingredient to the application.
“Typically, a developer will use an apple piece with the
same water activity as the application, but it may be
different depending on the processing. Preservatives
not only retain fresh apple color, they also make it
possible to create an apple inclusion that can be shelf
stable at a higher water activity.”
See fig. 2
"The end result of course, depends on the finished
application and manufacturers need to consider the
final product application, processing steps and final
desired water activity levels."
Holland continued, "If a formulator is going to
include the apples in a baked product, we can adjust
the apple pieces for a higher moisture level than
in a cereal, for example. Snack bars have a wide
range of moisture levels, from the more dry, grain-
focused bars to something like an all-fruit bar, which
would have a much higher level of moisture. We
can generally tailor the ingredient to meet the end
What are Sulfites?
For years the food industry has relied on sulfites to
help preserve dried fruit, among other applications.
Sulfites are salts that exist in nature and occur
naturally in some foods. Man has employed some
form of sulfite as a preservative or antimicrobial
for centuries, with the earliest physical records from
15th century Germany, although historians suggest
Greek and Roman civilizations might have utilized
a form of sulfites.
Today sulfites are found in wine and are approved as
regulated food additives used to preserve foods and
beverages, prolong shelf life and prevent the growth
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
requires companies to declare the presence of
sulfites on food labels when used as an ingredient
in the food and also if used as a processing aid or
when present in an ingredient used in the food,
such as dried fruit pieces within a snack bar. Some
companies will declare whether a product was
produced within a facility that contains sulfites
used on other processing lines. Companies must
declare sulfite presence on product labels when the
concentration is greater than or equal to 10 parts per
million (ppm) total.
The Right Sulfite Alternative
Tree Top started investigating potential options
for a clean label preservative agent for dried apples.
In addition to clean label, it would need to meet
application requirements for low water activity
and provide good shelf life properties.
The Tree Top solution is a proprietary blend of sea
salt, lemon juice and molasses (SLM) that meets all
of the criteria.
This blend provides the antimicrobial
properties customers need, will not affect the flavor
of the finished product and helps retain proper color.
The mechanism of action has not been explored
yet, but there are several ways anti-browning
compounds can inhibit browning including:
- Reducing oxygen
- Reducing phenolic compound activity
- Interrupting the reaction
- Inhibiting the enzyme
Apples treated with this proprietary blend are dried
to a moisture level of less than 3.5 percent.
The process provides apple
ingredients with a one-year shelf
life when stored at 70 F, or two
years when refrigerated—
providing sufficient shelf life
for many applications.
The lower the water activity of the application, the
longer the apples will retain their natural appearance
because shelf life hinges on water activity. Temperature
also plays a key role in controlling the reaction. As
with most reactions, the higher the temperature,
the faster the reaction will proceed.
These particular sulfite-alternative apples are best
suited for low moisture applications, such as cereals,
trail mixes, as a crunchy topping for yogurt, a snack
bar topper or even as a stand-alone snack. For
baking applications a simple rehydration process
encourages the inclusion of dried apple ingredients.
In addition to an increased interest in fruits as they
relate to healthy eating, Innova predicted texture
as a trend to watch for 2015. It also notes a "huge
increase in fruit-based snacks and fruit ingredients" in the market with fruit-based snack introductions
overtaking simply fruit-flavored snacks in Europe
"Apples are a great way to add sweet crunchiness to
a cereal or snack,” says Holland. “In addition to flavor,
apples provide a great complementary texture for
the oats, wheat or other grains used as the cereal
base for that mixture of flavors and mouthfeel
Sulfites, which are salt-based ingredients, add to
the sodium level in dried fruit. This new sulfite-
alternative blend from Tree Top helps reduce the
ingredients’ sodium level, cutting in half the resulting
amount of sodium per fruit serving. Sulfited apples
contain 52 mg sodium per fruit serving. However, the
Tree Top alternative supplies a low 27 mg of sodium
per fruit serving — a level lower than many other
sulfite alternative preservatives. Sodium reduction
helps create products that fit one of the “free-from”
requirements for clean labels.
See fig. 3
The types of sulfites allowed as food ingredients
with GRAS status include sulfur dioxide (SO2),
sodium bisulfite (NaHSO3), potassium bisulfite
(KHSO3), sodium metabisulfite (Na2S2O5),
potassium metabisulfite (K2S2O5) and sodium
sulfite (Na2SO3). When naturally occurring
sulfites in a food — which is rare — are
combined with sulfite added to a food,
this contributes to the analytical result
and must be declared on the food label
according to FDA.
This declaration is due to the fact a segment
of the population reacts in an allergic manner
to sulfites within food. Sulfites are listed as
one of the top 10 food allergens. FDA stepped
in to regulate sulfite usage in 1986 after
several patrons, primarily steroid dependent
asthmatics, died after eating salad bar
contents that had been treated with sulfites.
Sulfite-induced asthmatic reactions are well-
documented and of particular concern to at
least five percent of the population diagnosed
with asthma. An individual can develop
sensitivity to sulfites at any age.
Despite the fact that restaurants are no longer
adding sulfite to salad bar ingredients, they
are used in certain foods and beverages
as preservatives, such as potatoes, shrimp
and even in some pharmaceuticals. Sulfites
have been used in wine making for centuries
and red wine contains a greater amount
of sulfite than white wine. However, although
some consumers fond of red wine attribute
their resulting headaches to sulfite content,
the average sulfite content for wine ranges
between 20 to 350 ppm, while raisins and
dried apricots can contain between 500
to 2,000 ppm.
The End Result
The apples treated with the new Tree Top SLM
preservative provide two years of shelf life under
refrigerated conditions and up to a year under dry
storage at 70 F. Sorbitol content and humectancy
"In terms of appearance, whereas sulfite treated
apples tend to turn a bit yellow, adding to an aged
appearance, the dried apple ingredients, using this
new sulfite-free alternative, appear whiter, fresher
and cleaner than those that use sulfites," says Holland.
Tree Top staff has tested the preservative on different
apple varieties, and it performs well on the most
popular types used for dried apple ingredients/
inclusions. In addition to snack and baked products,
Holland says these dried apple bits would fit well
into a crunchy yogurt topping as an add-in.
Whatever the final product, with the new Tree
Top SLM dried apples, the label attribution would
read, “apples, sea salt, lemon juice concentrate and
molasses,” compared to options which would include
words like “potassium metabisulfite” or “erythorbic
acid,” or “calcium chloride.”
It isn’t even a question of 'which would you rather see
on your label?' " says Holland. "The question is which
label will make your customers the most comfortable
and the most likely to purchase your product?"
USDA, Economic Research Service, “Loss-Adjusted Food
Availability Data,” Most commonly consumed fruits among U.S.
consumers, 2012. Accessed March 13, 2015.
Our R&D departments welcome any customization challenge and
we love working with our clients to create something brand new.
We’re ready to provide innovative ideas, prototypes, packaging
alternatives, and the world’s juiciest, tastiest and most delicious
fruit products — naturally. Contact Tree Top at (800) 367-6571
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