September 15, 2009
By Caroline Scott-Thomas
A Wisconsin-based company claims it has developed a method to significantly reduce cranberry acidity without using chemicals or additives, which could lead to low- and no-sugar cranberry products.
Cranberries can cause problems for food manufacturers due to their high acidity, which can interfere with the leavening process in bakery products or leave very tart and bitter flavors. Where cranberries are used, the tartness usually needs to be offset by large amounts of sugar.
Jonathan Smith, president of Alpine Foods and developer of the acidity-reducing technology, told FoodNavigator-USA.com that he has developed a way to tackle this problem, using temperature, pressure, vacuum and quick freeze technology. This process, claims Smith, retains most of the juice, while eliminating much of the acidity.
“I use the cell wall as its own molecular sieve,” explained Smith, who has three patents pending on the technology.
Berry Bits is the first product to use this method, moving away from the company’s established realm of instant quick freeze berries.
Alpine Foods said the low-acid refrigerated or frozen sliced berries can be incorporated into a wide range of food applications, including yogurts, bakery, sauces, ice cream, meats and cheese.
Smith said: “The most promising areas are yogurts and dairy applications like ice creams because you get the flavor without the bite.”
Berry Bits, which can be eaten without extra sweetening, contain about five percent added sugar, which – together with the sugars that occur naturally in cranberries – brings the total up to about 14 percent.
Sweet and savory
However, they do not have to be sweetened at all for some applications. Smith said: “We made use of a jalapeno infusion for a Mexican cranberry pie and to be incorporated into a meat product. We are also getting into the savory as well as the sweet. We can infuse with garlic, or with barbecue sauce…The appeal that I see is that most people are using the sweetened dried cranberries that are about 75 percent sugar. Ours are about 14 percent.”
As for their potential uses in sweet products, Smith said it could be possible to ditch the sugar entirely.
“We could take it out completely,” he said. “We are helping a company make a sugar-free one right now, which is really neat.”
The company currently has production capacity of about 12m pounds a year, although Smith said that if he sold that much, he could quickly expand production.
And there may well be other applications for the technology, including tart cherries and blueberries, although he said that this may be “ten to 20 years down the road”.