Lithuanian confectionery company Rūta and its EUREKA partners have developed the technology to use a range of little-known plant sources from the Baltic region in innovative confectionery products. Not only are these plants rich in health-enhancing vitamins and antioxidants, but they offer consumers original new flavours.
In recent years, public awareness has grown of the importance of antioxidants, including vitamins, and minerals commonly found in many fruits and vegetables. Adding these biologically active components into food products – making “functional foods” – may give health benefits and possibly help to boost the immune system’s resistance to infection. Neringa Vaitkutë of the Lithuanian company Rūta explains: “Just two or three candies with freeze-dried Actinidia will give 100% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C.”
But Europe is behind other regions like Japan and the USA in producing functional foods and food additives that contain antioxidants. In the Baltic and Nordic regions, a number of cultivated plants are known to be rich sources of antioxidants and vitamins. Working with food scientists and production technologists from Poland and Estonia, Rūta set about developing the technology needed to build plant extracts into new and exciting products that would tempt consumers with new flavours and a promise of added health benefits.
THE VALUE OF COOPERATION
Among the surprising plant sources are Jerusalem artichoke, squash, pumpkin, Chinese lantern or winter cherry (Physalis alkekengi, often used to decorate desserts), and the colourful garden climbing plant, Actinidia, that gave the project its name. “The main problem,” says Neringa, “was working out how to prepare the fruit and vegetables to extract the biologically active components without breaking them down in the process. We needed to develop new technology to do this.”
The project to develop these new products has involved very different skills from five project partners. The raw plant materials were produced by horticulture and market gardening experts from the Lithuanian University of Agriculture, and their properties analysed by the Food Technology Department of Kaunas University, Lithuania. The Kaunas food technologists also developed methods to use the extracts in confectionery, then analysed any effects on the final composition or texture and evaluated the acceptabilty to consumers.
'THE PROJECT WILL HAVE A GREAT IMPACT IN PROMOTING BIO-CONFECTIONERY AND INCREASING CONSUMER CHOICE.'
Rūta developed the production technology and carried out research to estimate shelf life, acceptability and the potential market for the new functional confectionery in Estonia and the Nordic region. Tallinn University (Estonia) analysed the texture of final products, while Warsaw University conducted studies of the sensory, health, functional, nutritional and other aspects.
Neringa Vaitkutë believes that the project will have a great impact in promoting bio-confectionery and increasing consumer choice. After the new processing methods have been investigated further for other possibilities in confectionery-making, it may be possible to share them with other producers. EUREKA helped with both finance and finding partners, and the rich mix of skills available in the consortium and the close collaboration achieved has enabled the partners to develop plans for a completely new project for the future.