Ancient ingredients are the next ‘superfoods’, says analyst

By Nicola Cottam

- Last updated on GMT

Ancient grain chia and prickly pear are growing in popularity among food and drink makers, says Mintel
Ancient grain chia and prickly pear are growing in popularity among food and drink makers, says Mintel

Related tags: Nutrition, Food and drink

Global food and drink manufacturers should exploit the ‘superfood’ potential of ancient ingredients such as prickly pear cactus and chia seeds, known for their rich nutrient content and health-giving properties, says Mintel global food science analyst, Stephanie Pauk.

Both chia and prickly pear have a unique opportunity to position themselves as the next big ‘it’ ingredient, given their health benefits and diversity of uses,” ​she said.

Penetration of chia seeds, in particular, has been growing over the last five years, Pauk explained, with a ten-fold increase in its use as a food and drink ingredient between 2009 and 2014.

“Around 55% of all food and beverage launches using chia seeds over the past five years occurred in 2013,”​ she said.

“North America saw the majority of chia seed food and drink launches in 2013, with 47% of launches in the US and 12% in Canada, compared to 18% in the Asia Pacific region and 11% in Europe.”

Growing appeal

Of the chia products launched, 12% were within the beverage category, up from zero in 2009. Chia is used primarily in meal replacement beverages, juices, nectars and energy drinks.

Undesirable texture properties in some products have prevented more rapid expansion into mainstream markets and chia seeds are still only present in around 1% of product launches globally, says Pauk.

“Whole chia seeds in beverages can exhibit a slimy texture that may not be palatable for all consumers,” ​she said.

“Even with a beverage as familiar as orange juice, only 34% of US orange juice consumers buy orange juice with pulp, although blending chia seeds may be an appealing option.”

Prickly pear is also predominantly used in beverages. 57% of food and drink product launches containing prickly pair between 2009 and 2013 came in the beverage sector, with many launches in Mexico.

“Although fewer than 100 products have been launched globally with a prickly pear ingredient, the health benefits as well as the plant’s resilient nature make it a promising superfruit in the upcoming years, especially given the increasing number of droughts.”

Health implications

The natural health-giving properties of chia seeds give manufacturers the opportunity to include nutritional claims on products to increase their appeal among health-conscious consumers, said Pauk.

“With 65% of US consumers trying to include plenty of fibre into their diet, manufacturers could use chia’s high fibre content to help set it apart in beverages. Less than 1% of all beverages launched in 2013 used a high fibre claim.”

Pairing chia seeds with popular ancient grains, such as quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat – consumed by 44% of US consumers - would increase its profile and open the ingredient up to new markets, she continued.

“Using antioxidant-rich and often gluten-free ancient grains with chia seeds could strengthen the health and naturalness positioning of these products.”

Chia seeds are loaded with protein, fibre, minerals, antioxidants, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), while prickly pear can be applied to alleviate symptoms associated with blood pressure, ulcers, and fatigue.

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