The Ingredient Hot List: Functionality In Food

July 5, 2018
Ingredients Snacks Health
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Clean label is closely connected to consumers’ personal health and wellness goals. The ingredients that are making the biggest waves in the marketplace are those that are both functional from a health perspective (like superfoods) – and have the perception of being  more “natural.” As a result, naturally occurring functionality (as opposed to fortification) is where it’s at, bringing superfood ingredients to the forefront in nearly every category. Let’s explore some buzz-worthy ingredients, with an eye towards desired functionality.

Adaptogens: Nature's Tonic for Reducing Stress & Finding Balance

Adaptogens are getting a lot of attention these days as consumers seek more natural and proactive measures to create balance in their fast-paced lives. Adaptogens are a unique class of healing plants that are believed to help the body cope with physical and mental stress and assist in keeping normal function throughout the body. While most can be found in herbal supplement form, today many food and beverage manufacturers are embracing adaptogens as means to add healthy benefits and functionality into their food and beverage products. Ginseng and mushrooms are two adaptogens we have been closely watching in the food and beverage packaged goods space.

Deeply Rooted Ginseng

Ginseng has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries and there are many types of this herb but one of the most popular is Asian or Panax Ginseng. The genus name Panax is derived from the Greek word “panacea” or “all healing” and the species name Ginseng is said to mean “wonder of the world.” Both terms refer to the medicinal properties and virtues of this plant.

Panax Ginseng consists of ginsenosides which act as a natural product steroid. Ginsenosides in ginseng are said to regulate inflammation, provide antioxidant protection and maintain the health of cells according to recent research.

Ginseng is probably one of the most commonly recognized adaptogens due to its long history and use as a natural energy component in sports and energy drinks. Today we see it expanding as an ingredient and flavor into new categories like wellness teas, coffee energy drinks, functional snacking items and beauty products.

The Product of Note:

  • Lipton Lemon Ginseng Green Tea claims to cleanse and purify the body along with helping to improve brain function, and help fight cravings

  • Starbucks Doubleshot Energy Spiced Vanilla Energy Coffee Beverage is flavored with natural flavors; and contains guarana, B vitamins and ginseng.

  • K’ul Energy Bar 70% Dark Chocolate Golden Spice Bar is described as a holistic snack for vibrant energy, made with 600mg turmeric, and ginger, ginseng and goldenberries. (Source GNPD)

Soap Reflecting Food Trends
Ginseng Soap is one of the dozens of natural ingredient soaps that The Soap Work has created. The skin benefits from this Ginseng soap include reduction in wrinkles and aging, and tones down sensative and oily skin. The deep cleansing from this soap leaves your skin feeling refreshed.

Magic of Mushrooms

Chaga, Lion’s Mane, Reishi, and Cordyceps mushrooms are all considered to be adaptogens due to their purported immunity boosting and stress relieving properties. These mushrooms all have slightly different functional claims but they are all poised nicely to deliver added value and a healthy halo to many food and beverage products.

Whole Foods listed medicinal mushrooms as a top food trend for 2018. They specifically named chaga and reishi based upon the sales increases in mushroom broths, chocolate drinking powders, coffee and even body care products like soaps and shampoo.

Food Navigator found that year-over-year sales for food products incorporating medicinal mushrooms rose or has risen 200-800% depending upon the variety.

Mushroom Coffee

The most common product category containing these “magical mushrooms” is coffee according to Mintel. They there has been a 218% increase in Pinterest searches for “healthy coffee” in 2017.

If people are searching online for healthy coffee it makes perfect sense as to why we are seeing cafes dedicated exclusively to mushroom based beverages pop up. Two popular ones found in the Los Angeles area are Lifehouse Brands on Sunset Boulevard and The Shroom Room located in Venice Beach.

The Product of Note:

  • Four Sigmatic has created coffee, lattes, cacao, and mixes that are based off the mushrooms. The FOUR in Four Sigmatic does indeed represent the four mushrooms. The Mushroom Coffee Mix provides the energy without the jitter, promotes gut health, and boosts the brain power.

  • The Four Sigmatic Mushroom Lemonade mix contains both Chaga and Activated Charcoal (a hot ingredient discussed in our next section). Within this mix, the Activated Charcoal acts as a detox and digestive aid while the Chaga is once again recoqnized for the immune function-supporting properties.

Specifics about Functionality

According to Tero Isokauppila founder of the functional mushroom company Four Sigmatic and author of the guide “Healing Mushrooms: A Practical and Culinary Guide to Using Mushrooms for Whole Body Health”. Use these mushrooms to gain the following benefits:

Chaga: Avoid Colds / Thick and Shiny Hair / Glowing Skin / Lower Inflammation
Lion’s Mane: Improve Memory / Boost Concentration / Protect Your Nervous System
Reishi: Sleep Better / Stress Less / Cure Seasonal Allergies
Cordyceps: Perform Better / Increase Energy /Aleviate Asthma and Bronchitis

Emerging Functionality - Cleansing & Beauty Claims

Activated Charcoal

Activated Charcoal is another ingredient gaining attention. The byproduct of burning coconut shells, wood or other plant materials, it is believed to act as a cleansing agent. It imparts a black, Instagram-worthy color to many food and beverage items. We are spotting it in a multitude of product applications from juices and lattes to ice cream and from hamburger buns to crackers and even pizza.

We have seen activated charcoal pop up recently as a strong trending functional claim trend within the toothpaste category.

Besides whitening teeth, there are other claims being touted for the use of activated charcoal (some of the claims are quite scientifically dubious). Examples: hangover cure, cleansing the “toxic mold inside your body,” and relieving bee stings and mosquito bites.

The Product of Note:

  • My Magic Mud Whitening Tooth Powder is said to be lab tested, kid-friendly, and gentle on enamel. It claims to fight plaque, deeply clean, polish, whiten and detox. The cruelty-free product is suitable for vegans and contains no GMO, gluten or fluoride. Contains activated coconut shell charcoal, calcium bentonite clay, organic orange peel extract and organic mint extract.

33% of Oral Care product users are interested in active charcoal toothpaste for deep cleaning. - Mintel


Collagen is a structural protein in animals’ connective tissues. As an ingredient, collagen is flavorless and doesn’t have the chalkiness typically associated with most protein powder mixes. As a result, it gets high marks on both taste and texture. While serving as a more palatable sports protein powder it also has added benefits and can boost the growth and quality of your skin, nails, and hair.

Sports powders are the most common way in which we see for collagen delivery outside of supplements and beauty products. But recently, collagen is appearing in a number of more mainstream retail channels and categories. We are seeing innovative protein bars, collagen candies, collagen infused salmon broth and even collagen-enriched gin starting to make its way into the North American marketplace.

The Product of Note:

  • Bulletproof Vanilla Shortbread Collagen Protein Bar is made with collagen protein from grass-fed cows, and is rich in the same amino acids found in the bone broth which are the building blocks of bone, joints and skin

  • Said to be deliciously smooth and impeccably fragrant, Collagin is the original gin with added collagen. Eleven delicate botanicals are said to infuse each velvety drop, in a bewitching concoction of warm, earthy licorice and floral notes of orris root, balanced by the clean taste of juniper and the gentle tang of fresh oranges.

Drink it Up
According to Grand View Research, the food and beverage segment of the collagen market will be the primary driver of the overall global collagen growth through 2025 with a 7% projected revenue increase.

On the Menu: Jamba Juice is featuring a “Poolside Fit with Collagen Boost” smoothie. This is perfect for those who are not sold on collagen as a supplement. The addition of the protein is said to help with gut health which connects to your mood, immunity, and digestion.

Nutrient Dense Superfoods


Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that is rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, carotenoids and antioxidants. Often compared to other sea vegetables (such as dulse, kelp, nori, kombu, arame, wakame, and chlorella) spirulina is said to be more easily digestible and have greater nutrient bioavailability. Claims include boosted energy and weight loss.

Beyond its reputation as a superfood loaded with nutrients, spirulina is also getting a lot of attention due to the vibrant color it can impart when used in foods. Thanks to a few persistent ingredient suppliers who filed petitions, spirulina is now an FDA-approved colorant and the extract is now making its way into many food product categories. It has been all the rage on Pinterest with its bright blue hues catching attention in items like Mermaid Toast, Blue Lagoon Smoothies or Blue Magik Bowls.

Products of Note:

  • Green Goodness 100% Fruit Juice Smoothie is a flash pasteurized and cold-filtered product that provides eight servings of fruit per bottle, and includes ingredient spirulina, green tea, broccoli, spinach, barley grass, among others.

  • Multi-Vegetable Pasta is made with kale, spirulina and carrot. It is said to be made with 100% natural ingredients and is high in fiber.


Here comes hemp with a healthy halo. The number of food and drink launches containing hemp has nearly doubled during the past 5 years, moving from the milk category into the cereal and bar and bread categories and across other hybrid beverages like juice smoothies and infused waters.

U.S. non-dairy milk sales have grown by 61% over the past five years, and hemp milk is primed to be the next big dairy alternative. The seed, which can be consumed raw, cooked, or roasted makes a nice addition to the top of salads, in yogurt, and smoothies. Hemp serves as great source of protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Products of Note:

  • Tempt HempMilk from Hudson River Foods has just expanded the line to the refrigerated case. Their Tempt HempMilk is said to include vitamins, minerals, all 10 essential amino acids, and omega-3 and omega-6 which are the “good fats”. Flavors include Original, Original Unsweetened, Vanilla, Vanilla Unsweetened, and Chocolate.

  • Living Intentions Activated Banana Hemp Superfood Cereal is described as “an incredibly flavorful snack or meal with real, nutritionally-dense, activated foods, and superfood goodness of alkalizing greens like Spirulina.


Jackfruit is appearing in produce sections nationwide, and is hailed on vegetarian blogs as meat alternative. According to the “Upserve State of the Restaurant Industry Report”, jackfruit saw a 131% increase in popularity in 2017, and it is growing quickly in popularity as many people see it as an excellent vegan or vegetarian meat substitute.

According to Nutrition Business Journal, 25% of US consumers decreased their meat intake from 2014 to 2015, and meat alternative sales nearly doubled from $69 million in 2011 to $109 million in 2015.

All these factors place jackfruit in a good position for growth, but what exactly is it? Well, it is a fruit which is in the mulberry and breadfruit family that comes from Southeast Asia, South America and the Caribbean and is one of the heaviest tree borne fruits. Some of the fruits have been known to reach almost one hundred pounds.

It is high in nutrition content and the taste of jackfruit has been described as a combination of pineapple, mango, and banana, but when boiled, it’s described to taste more like a potato. The raw flesh is crisp and firm, harder than an apple, but it can be cooked into a softer, “meaty” texture.

Products of Note:

  • The Jackfruit Company sells prepared jackfruit meals as well as pre-packaged jackfruit. The company was founded by Annie Ryu. While traveling to India in 2011, Ryu came across the exotic Jackfruit and it piqued her interest. Once she tasted it, she wanted the whole world to experience it. About 200-300 jackfruit can be produced on one tree each year. In 2011, about 75% of the abundant fruit was left to go to waste there wasn’t a market. Today, the Jackfruit Company gets their supply from 500 small farms in India. Varieties of prepared meatless meals include Teriyaki, Tex-Mex, Curry, and BBQ.

Avocado Oil

Millennials and Generation Z consumers in particular, are more inclined to view any type of fat as offering positive health benefits according Packaged Facts. These younger consumers embrace plant-based fats, especially avocado oil.

While most plant-based oils come from seeds, avocado oil comes straight from the avocado. Avocado is known as a source of good fats and as a healthy alternative for those who have allergies to coconut oil and other nut-based oils. While avocado oil is mainly used as a cooking oil other benefits of the oil are said to be healthier skin, increased antioxidants and added nutrients and addition to a mild, delicate and delicious taste.

Products of Note:

  • Good Health Avocado Chips organic, non-GMO snacks. Available in a variety of flavors, the chips are said to be delicious and guilt-free.

  • Winky Lux Matcha Lip Balm is said to use natural ingredients such as Green Tea Powder, Vitamin C, Food-Grade Vanilla, and Avocado Oil. The Avocado oil is said to act as a superfood to help with the long-lasting power to replenish and moisturize the lips and keep them from cracks and sores.


Nutrient dense. Cleansing. Stress relieving. No matter your target consumer, it’s likely they have a health and wellness goal in mind as they purchase. Is there a trending ingredient that fits with your product and can help them meet that goal? From healthy fats like avocado oil (which appeals especially to younger consumers) to the versatility of ginseng, the options are endless. Opportunity for you lies in using clean-friendly ingredients in a way that stands out from the crowd.

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