Tag Archives: Ingredients

Fruit d’Or launches Cran Naturelle and calls for standards

By Kat Schuett

Numerous studies have shown that proanthocyanidins (PACs), a phytochemical found in cranberries, prevent maladies ranging from urinary tract infections (UTIs) to stomach ulcers and even periodontal disease.

But not all cranberry supplements pack equally potent amount of PAC power. This lack of standardization over time could eat away at consumer confidence in cranberry’s efficacy. Fruit d’Or launches Cran Naturelle and calls for standards.

To ensure the quality, safety and potency, Fruit d’Or, the world’s largest supplier of organic cranberry products—including a new line of ground breaking ingredients launched at Expo West in March—has stepped forward with support from the nation’s top scientific researchers from Rutgers University and the Cranberry Institute to call for an industry-wide quality assurance program.

Raising the Bar

The lack of standardization in the cranberry supplement industry was recently brought to light in October of 2012, when a controversial study published in The Cochrane Library analyzed over 24 studies on cranberry and UTI prevention and concluded there was little, if any, benefit.

This study was a double edged sword, according to Amy Howell, Ph.D., research scientist at Rutgers University who was on the team that identified PACs as the active ingredient in cranberries. “It compares apples to oranges. Some of the studies used juice, while others used supplements, most of which were not even tested to ensure PAC bioactivity,” she says.Due to the variance in levels of PACs in cranberry products, some of the studies reviewed by Cochrane showed positive results, while some showed no benefits at all.

“The good thing is that this study brought attention to the need for standardization. Right now, it’s the Wild West out there, not only with cranberries but many functional supplements. Many companies are putting out products without even testing for potency,” Howell comments. “Cranberry PACs prevent bacterial adhesion to bladder cells, but bioavailability can be destroyed by a variety of factors from high pressure or high temperature processing to improper storage.”

After hearing about the Cochrane study, Stephen Lukawski from Fruit d’Or decided to put the company’s new line of cranberry ingredients—as well as 15 other natural cranberry supplements selling in the North America—to the test. The results from an independent accredited lab confirmed that the amount of active PACs in the 15 products bought off the shelf varied greatly—ranging from less than 1 percent to 8 percent. Fruit d’Or’s new products tested much higher, with 15 to 20 percent PACs.

Currently, however, there is no way for consumers to know which products contain active PACs. Working with Howell, Fruit d’Or is now spearheading efforts to create a solution. The proposed quality assurance program would ensure that each lot is tested annually for PAC levels. Howell suggests that all supplements should deliver at least 36 milligrams of bioactive PACs per day, the equivalent to 10-ounces of cranberry cocktail. Lukawski also wants to see all products tested for heavy metals and prohibited pesticides. Ultimately, he would like to develop a “seal of approval” that would let consumers know that the product has met certain requirements.

“It’s time to raise the bar. We are inviting industry members, particularly the quality control teams of retail manufacturers, to work together with the Cranberry Institute to create a quality standard that ensures safety, quality and efficacy,” states Lukawski. To get involved, send an email to Stephen@fruit-dor.ca

New High potency Functional Cranberry products

To ensure high PAC potency, Fruit d’Or’s new organic ingredient line, Cran Naturelle, employs a proprietary low temperature drying process.

The line includes a patented protein powder made from cranberry seed, which packs in 25 grams of protein per serving and is the first fruit-based option to offer a full amino acid profile, or “complete protein.”

The Cran Naturelle line also offers a whole cranberry powder, which provides four times more antioxidants than cranberry juice and includes the skin for added fiber. Fruit d’Or uses a minimum of 55 pounds of fresh cranberry to produce one pound of nutraceutical powder, the highest ratio in the industry according to Lukawski. The line includes a functional tea powder, with a larger particle size. This medicinal tea will make its first appearance in the marketplace this summer in TwinLab’s organic Altiva line.

Lastly, the new Cran Naturelle cranberry oil is made from a patent-pending process that delivers a balance of omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids, plus tocotrienols. Used primarily in personal care, cranberry oil is now also being explored as a supplement to improve heart health, says Lukawski.

In addition to these ingredients, Fruit d’Or also worked with Tab-Lab to create an all-natural chewing gum that uses a combination of cranberry powder and probiotics to improve oral health. This patented tri-layer gum is available for private label and will be debuted at Supply Side in New York. Fruit d’Or will soon be working with Laval University in Montreal to conduct clinical trials on this product.

“Studies show that 4 out of 10 people worldwide cannot swallow pills,” points out Lukawski. “Our goal is to innovate new delivery systems that provide increased bioavailability and absorption.”

Through innovation and standardization, Fruit d’Or is pushing the entire cranberry category to higher levels to meet consumer and manufacturer needs and expectations.

‘Holy Crap’ chia cereal spurs fast growth for Canadian company

By Chelsea Kerrington

Canadian company HapiFoods Group Inc. continues to ride high on the success of its popular – and distinctively named – organic chia-based cereal that often causes those who taste it to literally exclaim, “Holy Crap!”

Skinny B, Holy Crap, Wild Chia and Hapi are the four products of British Columbia-based HapiFoods Group, founded by Corin and Brian Mullins.
When the couple had retired to British Columbia in 2008 and decided to enter the food sector, they didn’t imagine they would be running very soon a multimillion-dollar firm with a wildly successful product and international expansion.

After testing 21 different recipes, they sold 10 bags of a unique blend of all-organic black chia seed, buckwheat, hemp hearts, cranberries, raisins apple and cinnamon in 2009 at the Sechelt Farmer’s Market, calling it “Hapi Food.”

But after hearing customers tasting it and saying, “Holy crap, this is good,” they decided to re-name it Holy Crap, triggering a 1,000 per cent rise in sales.

Reactions to Holy Crap often mirror its moniker. Maybe they’re impressed by the fact that chia absorbs nine times its size in liquid, or that a mere two tablespoons of Holy Crap cereal is enough to stay satiated for hours.

While the eye-catching product names may grab consumers’ attention, it’s the health benefits of these cereals that have attracted a loyal and quickly growing clientele.

The line offers a natural source of complete protein and is vegan and free of wheat, gluten, nuts, GMOs, salt, artificial sugar and lactose. Due to chia’s unique and powerful makeup of protein, oil, antioxidants (including omegas 3, 6 and 9) and fibre, these cereals provide long-lasting energy, help reduce cravings and aid digestion.

“We really studied many ingredients and did good research before deciding on the best blends,” says Brian Mullins. There is more omega-3 and 6 in a serving of Holy Crap cereal or Skinny B cereal than in a serving of wild Atlantic salmon; one serving has more fibre than a bran muffin and 50 per cent more protein than two tablespoons of flax seed.

Chia seeds also have more omega-3 than any other natural source and are loaded with antioxidants, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals. They provide stamina, endurance and reduce cravings, because chia seeds absorb so much water and have high soluble fibre levels that help release natural, unrefined carbohydrate energy slowly into the bloodstream.

Preparation of Holy Crap is simple, which fits perfectly with today’s demand for nutritious, delicious and convenient foods. The cereal can be hydrated with coconut, hemp, soy or almond milk, as well as water, yogurt or other options.

After about five minutes, the expanded cereal can be enjoyed warm or cold for a filling boost of energy. “Holy Crap is a great raw food that does not have acrylamide, a substance present in so many baked and fried goods these days,” says Brian.

Acrylamide is a chemical that appears in plant-based foods rich in carbohydrates and low in protein, when processed or cooked at high temperatures. It is known to cause cancer in experimental animals and was first confirmed to be found in processed food, mainly French fries, cookies and breakfast cereals, by the Swedish National Food Authority in 2002.

And as interest in the Holy Crap cereal continued to grow, in April 2010, HapiFoods appeared on the hit Canadian reality TV show Dragon’s Den. Brian and Corin negotiated with one of the “dragons,” franchise giant Jim Treliving, while waiting for their episode to air. Meanwhile, several IGA and Whole Foods locations began to stock the cereals.

The episode aired in November, and sparked a surge of interest. Within hours of their much-hyped appearance, Brian and Corin received 28 kilos’ worth of orders. The company grew from shipping daily $1,000 in product to more than $10,000 per day, less than a week after the show aired.

Although a deal with Treliving was not finalized, HapiFoods remains the show’s biggest success story. Within 30 days, HapiFoods grew from a “mom and pop” farmer’s market-based company to a financially-backed organization, still family-owned, shipping to 21 countries. The exposure blew the company’s estimated $600,000 in annual sales out of the water, bringing in $5 million in just over a year.

HapiFoods runs now out of a new organic, nut, wheat and dairy-free factory that recently added a warehouse and doubled in size to keep up with production. The firm has instituted profit sharing, a comprehensive health care plan and ongoing training programs in all aspects of the business for its 15 employees. The cereals are currently available in 1,500 Canadian stores and showing at U.S. retailers. A HapiFoods Japanese website is up and running and they are exploring licensing and distribution in the UK and other Asian countries.

Last month, HapiFoods was the Gold Sponsor at the Canadian Health Food Association CHFA West in Vancouver with guest speaker and author Liza Oz, and this May at the National Canadian Celiac Association Conference in Kelowna, B.C. and at Canada’s Next Top Model in Toronto. The company will exhibit in booth # 4931 at the Summer Fancy Food Show in Washington, D.C., in June.

Catchy names, a great product and team, taking advantage of word-of-mouth and other networking and promotion opportunities, as well as contact with celebrities and a strong base of well-informed health-oriented consumers who are thrilled with the product and concept, are among the key reasons for the company’s rapid success, says Brian.

And this success has allowed HapiFoods to give back to the community. The firm donates to several local civic organizations and plans to set up a community fund for the chia producers in Mexico. Holy Crap, lots of stamina indeed!

Corin and Brian Mullins, owners of HapiFoods Group with acclaimed speaker, producer and author Lisa Oz

Corin and Brian Mullins, owners of HapiFoods Group with acclaimed speaker, producer and author Lisa Oz

Agave promises a durable, sustainable fibre

By Adriana Michael

 

Blue Agave (Weber Tequilana) is not only known for its use in the production of the natural sweetener agave syrup and tequila, Mexico’s national alcoholic beverage. It is also a crop with potential for other economically and environmentally sustainable applications, including textile, fibres, animal feed, paper and biofuel.

This cactus-like plant, a member of the Amaryllidaceae group, thrives in the semi-arid regions of the Jalisco state. The hard structural fibres in the leaves have served for woven applications like rope

and twine since Aztec times.

“There are plenty of consumer goods with agave fibre already in the market at small artisan scale that represent an important source of income to the communities in Jalisco: accessories for apparel and home fashions such as hats, belts, handbags, mattress fillers, carpets, placemats, and baskets,” says Gunnar Hellmund of Sol y Agave de Arandas, a Mexican research and pioneer firm in the recycling industry.

With a “cradle to cradle” concept, Sol y Agave takes the “bagazo,” the waste of the tequila processing plants, as valuable material to develop other products. Last year, research at Sol y Agave showed remarkable advances in the development of textile fibres from Blue Agave. “We are almost ready to offer a better yarn suitable for the apparel industry, at competitive prices,” says Hellmund. Agave fibres are coarse and rigid. The idea is to spin them along with cotton, to achieve a soft fabric with around 10-15 per cent agave.

“Although cotton is a natural fibre that results directly from the plant’s own ability to process it without intermediate or external processing steps, current intense farming practices do not make it really sustainable,” says Hellmund.

Developing an agave fibre that could save at least 10 per cent of the cotton required for a fabric while adding increased performance would be a true contribution to sustainability. Agave fibres are resistant and even though they absorb water, they release it faster than cotton and wool. “We will launch a cotton/agave fibre below the price of cotton with great performance and truly sustainable,” says Hellmund. The fibre is being tested by top yarn producers in Mexico and Spain.

Hellmund has found interest from large industries for this and other agave fibre applications at industrial level. Iidea, the pioneer producer of agave syrup, is among them. “We are excited for new developments and applications beyond tequila and natural sweeteners, that will allow our industry to minimize or reuse this waste in a sustainable way,” says Fabrizio Cetto of Iidea.

Another application for the agave fibre is its combination with polyethylene. Plastic bags are also an industrial product coming from Arandas, where Sol y Agave is located. “We are developing a pellet that will accelerate the degradability of the plastic bag.” They are working on the binding agent.  “If we can reduce the use of polyethylene at least by 15 to 20 per cent and work for its faster degradability, we are making progress,” he says. The current cost of polyethylene is $1.18 U.S. per master batch, while one with the new pellets with agave fibre will be below $0.50. Sol y Agave has also developed prototypes of chairs, tables and other products made of polypropylene with agave fibre.

Sol y Agave envisions that other types of agave plants may be introduced in other arid areas not suitable for agriculture, not only in Mexico but in Africa and elsewhere. This way, they would not interfere with the tequila production that has obtained Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) as an exclusive product from Mexico, derived only from Blue Agave (Weber Tequilana).

Enjoying pancakes with organic-certified agave syrup or a Margarita while sitting on a chair made with agave fibre, wearing clothes and accessories from the same type of plant that will not impact other crops that feed the world or the valuable land still available for farming?  Not bad for a plant that lives up to 70 years, needs little water and external inputs. Agave continues helping the world re-think how to develop more responsibly.

South-South trade vital for expansion at Andean Valley

By Clara Paz

Fifteen years ago, Andean Valley and other Bolivian leading quinoa exporters were selling the little golden grain only as commodity to a handful of traders based mainly in Europe and North America.  The highly nutritious and gluten-free seed had caught the attention of a small but steady group of loyal consumers, mainly vegetarians, those with food intolerances and some adventurous food lovers.

Demand for this versatile grain grew steadily as people learned of quinoa’s health benefits – packed with 10 essential amino acids, minerals and even vitamin B16. More ethnic, natural and health food stores started to pop up in the artsy neighbourhoods of Berlin, Amsterdam, London, Tel Aviv, San Francisco and Montreal. But for Bolivian entrepreneur Javier Fernandez, managing director at Andean Valley, this traditional North-South trade between wealthy and developing countries, was too rigid without much room for additional cooperation and diversification.

“In 2007 I realised that strictly exporting containers of quinoa as commodity was not the only path I wanted to follow”, says Fernandez.  Instead of finding several buyers in a few markets to offer the same commodity with price as the main selling tool, Fernandez changed the strategy: serve a few customers in key markets with a range of quality quinoa products.  He kept clients like David Schorr of Quinoa Corp who introduced quinoa to the United States as a direct grower in Colorado and is still a main direct importer. “Schorr understood that a guaranteed fair price was the only way to alleviate the farmers’ uncertainty, especially considering the harsh weather conditions and poor infrastructure prevalent in the Andean highlands,” says Fernandez.

Trade between developing countries, also known as South-South trade, has not been common in Latin America in spite of agreements negotiated in the region. It has usually been easier and cheaper to fly to the United States or Europe than to any neighbouring country. Still, Fernandez opted to explore Brazil, a country where he found a great partner with knowledge of logistics and warehousing.  Soon Andean Valley became the main supplier of quinoa in bulk and to the main retail channels, including giant Pao de Açucar. He began to introduce value-added products like gluten-free pizza dough, hamburgers, soups, breakfast cereals and desserts. “Today Andean Valley offers 38 products with quinoa as main ingredient, all prepared and packed in Bolivia”, says Fernandez. He relies on other Bolivian groups such as Coronilla and El Ceibo to supply Andean Valley with additional products under private label.

Andean Valley has developed a simple but effective business model that will be launched in Colombia this coming February; Costa Rica will follow. Living abroad for several years before returning to Colombia, Sebastian Zamora and Vanesa Parra became aware of the strong connection between health and food. “There is a great potential in Colombia for high quality organic foods, especially gluten-free”, says Parra of Andean Valley Colombia, which is updating its corporate image with a new communication campaign and website. Demand for quinoa is booming and Fernandez is confident that this noble food will open a new era of south-south trade in the organic market.

Certifications and dedicated facility bolster Sindan Organic

By Amanda Doughty

Last year, Bolivian entrepreneur Teodosio Huayllani Marca embarked in a new venture, Sindan Organic, with the purpose of offering a diversified portfolio of superfoods of the highest quality such as quinoa, amaranth, sesame, cañahua and chia, to please the most discerning customers. Based on his 25 years of experience in a family business as leading producer, processor and trader of organic quinoa, Huayllani was aware of the growing demand for better quality control and safety standards required by food processors in the international market.

He sought a new challenge: In December 2011, Sindan was the first Bolivian firm to obtain the British Retail Consortium Certification (BRC v.5 Norm) for the processing and marketing of organic quinoa. This certification now allows Sindan direct access to strategic markets like baby food and gluten-free food processors, which are extremely demanding in terms of quality and safety. Sindan also obtained two additional certifications at the end of last year. ISO 22000:2005 confirms the company fulfills the requirements for a food safety management system, from reception and dried or wet cleaning and desaponization, to metal detection, and packaging and shipping of organic certified quinoa. ISO 9001:2008 certifies a proven efficient quality management system in the processing, marketing and exports of quinoa, amaranth and sesame. Huayllani and his team have commissioned the Association of Organic Producers Capura, a cooperative of organic and Fair Trade-certified Royal Quinoa farmers, to supply Sindan. The company also meets the requirements under the Norm NA NB 0038 for distribution and safe consumption of its products in the Bolivian market.

“It has been an amazing year and we feel satisfied with our accomplishments,” said Huayllani on the company’s first anniversary. “We have a competitive advantage and will continue to implement the latest methods and technology as market demands change.” Sindan’s strategy diversifying its product offering, adding other seeds like sesame and chia, and working with farmers in different regions of Bolivia will guarantee more business and development opportunities in the community. Currently, the company works with over 500 people including direct and indirect employees, and the families that produce organic and FAIRTRADE certified crops. As Sindan continues to expand their offerings, their strict standards for hygiene, safety and quality will apply to all new products. Sindan expects to reach in the next few months a processing capacity of 3,000 tonnes annually. At the moment, products are exported to the U.S., France, the Netherlands and Israel. Plans for 2012 include expanding into the domestic Bolivian market as well, launching retail packages of quinoa grain, flakes and flour, as well as grain and derivatives of cañahua, under their own label. Ensuring food security, sovereignty of their country, and Bolivian development remain a priority for Sindan. By making significant investments in their own country, Sindan has not only made outstanding returns but has also enhanced local sustainability and social responsibility. As the organic market evolves and the link from farmer to consumer grows shorter, companies such as Sindan will continue to thrive by offering specialized products of the utmost standards in product quality and sustainable company practices.

Natural sweeteners continue to rise

By Warren Beaumont

Consumer demand for all-natural sweeteners keeps growing. The category is up 8 percent according to the SPINS scan. Agave, which is 1.4 times sweeter than sugar, has been a driving force in the overall growth of the sweetener industry. Agave-based sweeteners sold nearly $17.8 million in the past year, an increase of 46%.

The U.S. company Madhava Natural pioneered the natural sweetener market starting in 1973  with its pure honey produced on a farm just outside of Boulder, Colorado. The company has been at the forefront of the natural sweetener industry, offering other sustainable alternatives like organic agave nectar to the highly processed sugars. Madhava’s newest introduction, organic coconut sugar, promises to be another popular option for people looking for nutritious and delicious all-natural sweetener alternatives.

Coconut sugar has been used for thousands of years as a traditional sweetener in South East Asia where the coconut tree is plentiful and sustainable. And it’s gaining popularity in Europe and the USA, where it went up 250 percent over the past 12 months, according to SPINS scanner data in the Natural Retail Channel.

“Consumers today are savvy about the foods they eat, which continues to drive growth,” said Victoria Hartman, executive vice president of sales and marketing. “They want to enjoy pure, natural, unrefined foods that offer real nutrients and not just empty calories or chemicals. Madhava is committed to meeting that need with a variety of sweeteners that are both delicious and nutritious.”

Quinoa processes evolve

By Clara Paz

Quinoa’s rising popularity has meant a better income for subsistence farmers who grow the grain in the Andean highlands. It also has brought new challenges for producers, processors and traders who are aware that unless environmentally sustainable, the boom will not last long. As reported in previous O.W.N. editions, the Bolivian organic Royal Quinoa suppliers have been working on feasible ways to improve the quinoa sector and mitigate any negative environmental impact.

On the other hand, members of the Bolivian Chamber of Royal Quinoa and other Organic Products Exporters (CABOLQUI) have been busy over the past 18 months, preparing to obtain ISO certification. Four leading exporters––Andean Valley, Irupana Andean Organic Food, Quinoabol and Sindan Organic––have been ISO certified by Canadian firm Alliance ARC. “This experience has enabled the companies to recognize the value that a quality management system can provide to significantly improve their processes,” stated CABOLQUI general manager Paola Mejia.

These firms will be at BioFach, Nuremberg, this coming February 15–18th, along with recognized gluten-free pasta manufacturer Coronilla and trading firm Quinoa Foods. The Bolivian pavilion will offer tribute to the 2013 International Year of Bolivian Royal Quinoa.

Better technology, procedures and a commitment to obtaining excellent quality Bolivian Royal quinoa, already considered of the highest quality in the international market, will improve the competitiveness of organic food processing companies in the Andean country.

WWF Scorecard shows sustainable palm oil sourcing is possible

By Warren Beaumont

Despite the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) association leading the push to increase the amount of certified sustainable palm oil being produced and used globally, the World Wild Fund For Nature (WWF) says that while companies are buying more certified sustainable palm oil than ever before, urgent action is still needed to avoid the irreversible loss of tropical forests and species such as Sumatran tigers. “Palm oil itself is not the issue – the problem is how and where it is produced. The solution is certified sustainable palm oil; it’s never been easier for companies to be responsible about the palm oil they use,” said Dr. Gilly Llewellyn, WWF-Australia’s director of Conservation.

In late November, WWF released the Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard 2011, which measures over 130 major retailers and consumer goods manufacturers by looking at their commitment to, and use of, palm oil certified to the internationally recognised standards of the RSPO.

Some companies have fallen behind on their existing commitments to use only 100 per cent certified sustainable palm oil, while others haven’t even started.“This is an urgent problem. The clearing of tropical forests for oil palm production can be very damaging to wildlife, communities and the environment. Deforestation takes away precious habitat and makes a major contribution to carbon pollution caused by human activity.”

In this year’s WWF Scorecard 87 of the 132 companies (66 per cent) have committed to sourcing 100 per cent RSPO-certified palm oil by 2015 or earlier, an encouraging sign that could spur further market development. Unilever Australia’s chief executive Sebastian Lazell said that on a global scale, Unilever recognised the need to support sustainable palm oil producers.“In 2008 we made a global commitment to source all of our palm oil sustainability by 2015. So far, our entire Australian and New Zealand operations and two thirds of our global requirements are covered by GreenPalm certificates and segregated sustainable palm oil. Unilever has purchased more than half of all the GreenPalm Certificates traded and we remain the biggest buyer and supporter of certified sustainable palm oil,” Mr Lazell said.

Leading companies, large and small, show the way

WWF’s Dr Llewellyn said leading companies of all sizes in the Scorecard demonstrate that it is possible to source certified sustainable palm oil. French cosmetic company L’Oreal and UK confectionery giant Cadbury scored nine out of a possible nine points, while global manufacturing brands Unilever, Nestlé and H J Heinz and retailer IKEA all scored eight out of nine. However, even those companies which scored highly have room for improvement and a long way to go before they are using only 100 per cent certified sustainable palm oil.

Only 17 of the 43 retailers and 15 of the 89 manufacturers assessed scored at three or below, showing that still too many companies are taking little or no responsibility for the negative impact of their palm oil use on forests, species and people. Most worrying is an overall lack of transparency about the amount of palm oil that companies use, which WWF believes is a major disincentive to growers of sustainable palm oil to move ahead with further certification.

“There is no excuse for companies to delay action on such an urgent issue. 2015 is just around the corner and all companies need to move faster. Only then can we ensure that the momentum gained by the RSPO is not lost and avoid the negative impacts of irresponsible oil palm plantations on forests, wildlife and communities,” said Dr Llewellyn. The supply of certified sustainable palm has grown dramatically since WWF released its first Scorecard in 2009, and now stands at 5 million tonnes (10 per cent of global palm oil production). Encouraging as this is, only about half of all the sustainable palm oil produced is being sold. This mirrors the situation in 2009, which is why WWF is renewing its call to companies to take their responsibilities far more seriously and urgently.

Palm oil is a highly versatile vegetable oil derived from very productive oil palm trees grown only in the tropics. Consumption of the oil is increasing globally and is set to grow from 50 million tonnes a year now to at least 77 million tonnes in 2050.

Maqui Berry the queen of the South

By Chelsea Kerrington

Hailed as the ultimate “superfruit,” the maqui berry (Aristotelia Chilensis) is quickly gaining popularity among the specialty food and organic sectors. Native to Chile and southern Argentina, this antioxidant-rich berry is relatively new to the scene, although the indigenous Mapuche people are thought to have been consuming it for years as well as utilizing its healing and astringent properties. The small purplish-black berries grow to several millimeters in diameter in temperate rainforest environments, and are becoming increasingly harvested for commercial use.

The maqui berry is known for its sweet taste in addition to an extremely high level of antioxidants said to rival that of its more mainstream counterpart, the acai berry. Published ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) levels of antioxidants are under debate, with some maqui berry proponents touting levels at three times the antioxidant value of acai. Acai advocates, on the other hand, are challenging this claim and pointing out that the acai berry holds omega-3 properties, whereas the maqui berry does not.

Official numbers aside, it’s clear that the maqui berry holds impressive antioxidant values. High anthocyanin levels, which give the berries their deep purple pigment, are reported to fight cancer and inflammation. Other benefits of this powerful berry are said to include the oxidation prevention of cholesterol in the bloodstream, thus boosting cardiovascular health, as well as antibacterial properties which may help reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

To get the best of super berry fruits, US based Juve Maqui Juice offers a blend of pure maqui and acai berries with blueberries, pomegranate and raspberries, presented in a 750ml dark glass bottle. Advantage Health Matters has introduced freeze dried and cold milled maqui berries, a new addition to its wide selection of superfoods, presented in a convenient and attractive re-sealable pouch.  The maqui berry is gradually conquering new venues through many reliable brands,  and more consumers are discovering the very real benefits of the small but powerful Queen berry of the South.

What makes a high quality agave syrup

By Adriana Michael

Demand for natural sweeteners to replace refined white sugar and high-fructose corn syrup is on the rise. Alternatives like agave syrup have taken front stage.  There are more than 200 types of agave plants. Agave syrup and another sweetener called inulin are only made from the sap of the Weber blue agave plant native from Mexico. A different process with the same variety of agave is followed to obtain tequila, Mexico’s national alcoholic drink. The blue agave syrup is a versatile product with optimal sensory properties compared to other sweeteners. It contains the same calories as white sugar, but since it is 1.3 times sweeter, less is required. Also, agave syrup has a low glycemic index, usually between 25 and 50. The lower the number, the slower it is converted to glucose, and the less impact it has upon insulin levels and subsequent fat storage.

Food manufacturers and distributors willing to offer consumers a high quality natural sweetener without the health risks related to conventional sugar expect a product with similar or better taste when preparing foods. How could a buyer recognize a high quality agave? Which properties does it need to show?

Increased demand for agave syrup for the export market has been exponential, especially in the last three years, says Leon Cardenas laboratory manager at the processing plant at Bio Agaves de la Costa. ”This has triggered growing industrial production, seeking to meet market needs.

“The original companies that took part in the development of agave syrup established a standard to define the desirable parameters of this product expressed in the norm NOM-FF-110-SCFI-2008”, says Cardenas. Pure agave nectar contains nothing more than fructose with a proportionally smaller amount of glucose. Other sugars such as sucrose (table sugar), maltose, dextrose, mannitol, maltodextrose, molassess and starch should not be present in the finished agave nectar.

There are at least six tips a buyer should consider when sourcing for a good 100% Blue Agave Syrup:

1. Low glycemic index (GI = 17) Low-glycemic foods can be very useful in the treatment of cardiovascular disease and for a healthier diet and nutrition. Agave is an alternative product in those regimes where glucose tolerance is compromised. If consumed in moderation this syrup is an alternative natural sweetener. An index below 55 is defined as low glycemic, and considered diabetic friendly. Anyone with diabetes should still seek medical supervision.

2. Low level of glucose, called dextrose in the food industry. A good agave should never exceed 15% on solid basis. There are companies that have developed even lower levels (below 3%). In verifying this information it is important to request that the vendor provide a chromatographic analysis, which identifies the levels of sugars.

3. Sensory characteristics Enhancer: agave intensifies the flavours of other foods such as fruits and nectar; Exceptional flavour: the main sensory characteristic of agave syrup is its unique sweet flavour with smooth notes specific to the plant; Mild odour: Agave has a very mild scent that does not interfere when mixed with other ingredients; Crystal color: agave provides a wide range in color from almost colorless to a dark brown, all visually appealing and with remarkable brightness. Filtering determines the blue agave nectars flavour and color.

4. Presence of prebiotic substances

In addition to obtaining fructose in the processing of pure agave syrup there are traces of fructooligosaccharides commonly known as FOS detected. These are beneficial to health as they have a proven prebiotic function.

5. Commitment to avoid the presence of toxic substances in organic syrups.

The organic seal of certification guarantees that the final product has no pesticide residue applied to the agave plant during cultivation. All 100% Agave Weber receives a certificate of authenticity.

6. Product Reliability

A 100% Agave Blue (tequilana Weber) must meet the requirement of at least 74 Brix, says the NOM-FF-10-SCFI-2008.

Agave syrup does not need preservatives, stabilizers or any other additional substance.  If a brand offers agave with other flavours or dyes they must be natural, approved by the Ministry of Health and clearly identified on the product label. Raw Agave Nectar is produced at a low temperature, less than 118 degrees Fahrenheit.

Another important aspect to consider when sourcing a good agave is the commitment of the supplier to sustainable production and business practices. These could include: number of hectares planted with agave and under what farming system; safety provided in the workplace and monitoring of the production process (HACCP microbiological tests) and social responsibility. Fair trade practices and community involvement are all important issues that add value to a brand and assure consumers that they are buying a good product with added value.

“To increase confidence for a purchasing decision, a visit to the plantations and processing plants for agave syrup is essential and enlightening”, says Cardenas. “It not only allows a buyer to learn more about the product, but also creates a better bond and long lasting relationships with the supplier”.