Slideshow: Almond innovation in the spotlight

KANSAS CITY — Vegan nacho cheese, sliced bread and savory snack bars are just a handful of new products utilizing the mighty almond.

A well-known source of plant-based nutrition, almonds provide a high degree of flexibility and versatility, allowing product developers to tap into a range of established and emerging food trends.

Almond flour is the star ingredient in Notcho Nocheez, a line of vegan cheese dips and spreads from Pittsburgh-based The Happy Vegan, LLC. The dips come in classic, hot and tangy varieties, each containing 100 calories and 5 grams of protein per serving.

Founder Sharon Gregory developed the recipe in her home kitchen, using a Vitamix container to grind whole almonds before partnering with a co-packer to scale production.

“I met a local supermarket owner, and she told me that if I can make the nacho cheese shelf stable, she would put it on her shelf,” Ms. Gregory said during a virtual showcase hosted by the Almond Board of California. “It wasn’t necessarily a linear equation like I thought.”

The biggest change was swapping out whole almonds with almond flour.

“That’s the ingredient that really makes the flavor and consistency,” Ms. Gregory said. “I chose almonds over cashews because there were quite a few cashew-based vegan cheeses on the market, and I found almonds were less acidic to your bloodstream and the healthier option.”

Almond butter

Held twice per week throughout June and July, the Almond Board’s virtual showcase series highlighted several almond butters that are meeting consumer demand for unique experiences and cleaner ingredients.

Revival Food Co. offers a line of almond butters with no added sugar, palm oil or preservatives. With their stone-ground texture and unique flavor combinations, the products pack an artisan punch that appeals to millennial women, said Rachel Klein, founder of the Indianapolis-based startup. Varieties include Chai Time, a blend of cinnamon and chai spices, and Coco Love, a blend of raw cacao and coconut.

“Consumers are looking to have more of an experience with the product now than ever,” Ms. Klein said. “They want a product that feels special, like it’s curated for them. They want real texture and real flavor and something that’s Instagrammable.”

While Revival’s flavor-forward approach helps the nut butters stand out on the shelf, the brand also appeals to shoppers looking to incorporate more functional foods in their diet.

“That’s something millennial women and mothers are looking for,” Ms. Klein said. “They’re looking for superfoods and functional health benefits, foods that they can bring into their daily lives and feel great about.”

Almond butters from Base Culture feature just a handful of ingredients for flavor. The company’s original almond butter is made with only roasted almonds, while its cinnamon variety contains only almonds, cinnamon and sea salt.

“We roast and grind our almonds with the skin on rather than using blanched almonds,” said Jordann Windschauer, founder of the Tampa, Fla.-based company. “This, along with our unique grinding process, provides a wonderful texture that elevates our products.”

Base Culture also offers a variety of gluten-free baked foods and snacks, three-quarters of which contain almonds. Available in original keto, nut and seed, cinnamon raisin and soft sandwich varieties, the company’s sliced bread features both almond butter and almond flour as key ingredients.

“Almond butter brings structure, moisture and protein to the sliced bread,” Ms. Windschauer said. “Almond flour helps bind all the other ingredients together.”

Sweet and savory snacks

Chicago-based Undressed Snacks made headlines last year with its first-to-market savory salad bars. Made without gluten, soy, dairy, added sugar or GMOs, the bars contain 5 to 7 grams of protein and a full serving of vegetables. They come in chipotle cranberry, cilantro lime, honey mustard and sesame ginger varieties.

Almonds are a key ingredient in the bars, which were designed to make greens more accessible for on-the-go consumers.

“We ran all of our ingredients through a filter of, ‘Does this make sense in a salad?’” said Anne Klassman, founder of Undressed Snacks. “We use toasted skin-on whole almonds, so you see them and recognize them in our bars.”

The simplicity of a whole ingredient that offers intrinsic protein and the healthy fats found in almonds are hard to beat, she added.

“To say that almonds work very well in our bars is an understatement,” Ms. Klassman said. “The flavor is recognizable without being overpowering, and it marries well with the greens and flavors in our bars.”

On the sweeter side of the snack spectrum, almonds are featured across Siren Snacks’ lineup of organic protein, keto and energy bites. With flavors ranging from dark chocolate brownie and mocha chip to lemon poppyseed, the functional snacks benefit from the superior taste and texture of almonds compared to other plant proteins, said Elizabeth Giannuzzi, co-founder and CEO of the San Francisco-based startup.

The company originally used pea protein to create its snack bites before switching to almond protein.

“We found that the texture could dry out pretty quickly,” Ms. Giannuzzi said. “Even with blending in other flavors, it still had that pea or legume type of flavor to it that we weren’t satisfied with.”

Almonds provide a softer, chewier texture and a cleaner, creamier taste, she added.

“With the pea protein, it tended to be a grainier and choppier texture,” Ms. Giannuzzi said. “We think almonds are superior to the other plant proteins out there, and we’ve tried and tested all of them.”

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