They have been making extruded snacks from fruit powders and comparing them with popular crisp brands such as Quavers. The fruit snacks had a much higher nutrient content, they claimed.
“Food intended for children needs to be improved and firms should consider more nutritional foods," said Valentina Stojceska, one of the research team at MMU. “Children like snacking, so we have been working on improving products to produce new options of a better nutritional value.”
As well as measuring the nutritional content of the snacks, the MMU team also investigated consumer acceptance of these products. In taste tests carried out with schoolchildren in Manchester, the fruit snacks scored four out of five. The tangerine and apple flavoured snacks scored the most highly, with banana the children's least favourite. Stojceska said children were attracted to the fruit-based snacks' bright colours.
“This type of research could help fight childhood obesity and make snacking healthier,” claimed Stojceska. “While it is too early to say what commercial opportunities this might present, there is very little information about this field.” She hoped the results of the MMU research would help manufacturers develop healthier snack products.
However, the biggest obstacle to the wider adoption of fruit-based snacks was likely to be cost, said Stojceska. “Fruit powders are very expensive and the cost of drying is also expensive,” she said.
In a bid to improve the efficiency of extrusion, the MMU researchers have been working with the University of Newcastle to develop cheaper ways of drying snacks. They have looked at ‘electrokinetics’ ̶ a dewatering technique that improves the drying process by removing the need to use heat. The process is "60% less expensive than thermal drying", claims Stojceska.
She added that researchers would continue to explore the use of dried fruits in snack foods.