It can be challenging to be unique in the functional food and beverage arena. Almost every "superfood" has been leveraged in some type of product and format. However, product developers still have opportunities to look at "superfoods" in a new way. Not from a perspective of the latest and greatest, but from the perspective of the underappreciated.
Walnuts are beginning to gain in popularity with food and beverage manufacturers as brand marketers and food scientists realize the ingredient's unique nutritional attributes. Chief among these is the inclusion of omega-3 fatty acid.
Walnuts are unique among nuts as they are primarily polyunsaturated fatty acids, with 13 grams per ounce, whereas most other nuts contain mostly monounsaturated fats. As a result, walnuts are the only nut offering an excellent source of plant-based omega-3 ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), with 2.5 grams per ounce.
In recent years, the number of studies describing the health-promoting benefits of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids has increased substantially, primarily in the area of heart health, brain health, and overall mortality.
Omega-3 ALA may help with reducing the risk of heart diseases and inflammation1. Overall, omega-3 ALA is classified as an essential fatty acid, meaning the body must get it through external food sources, such as canola oil, flaxseed oil or – of course – walnuts. If you are looking to give your product a boost of plant-based omega-3 ALA, walnuts are a great whole food ingredient to consider for your product formula.
The familiarity of walnuts with their omega-3 fatty acid content has led walnuts to be used in "superfoods" throughout the supermarket. In the dairy aisle alone, both Mariani Walnutmilk and Elmhurst Milked Walnuts tout the amount of omega-3 fatty acids per serving on packaging graphics to enhance the marketability of the products.
The demand for functional foods
The popularity of functional foods and beverages accelerated once product developers discovered how to formulate using nutritious, all-natural ingredients while still maintaining exceptional flavor and shelf life.
Walnuts have become a secret weapon for product developers looking to use plant-based, all-natural ingredients that carry significant nutritious properties as well as a great taste. In fact, in a 2019 survey, 90% of consumers recognized walnuts as a nutritious food and 80% considered omega-3 fatty acids to be good for them. In the same study, 81% said they like the taste of walnuts.
The positive perception of walnuts as a nutritious ingredient with plant-based omega-3s is already starting to pay off for some food and beverage manufacturers. Gourmet Nut's Mega Omega Mix is chock full of walnuts. The trail mix also contains mangos and cranberries.
Also in the trail mix aisle are omega-3 boosting products from Nature's Garden and Planters. Nature's Garden's Omega-3 Deluxe Mix features walnuts, cranberries, pepitas, and more, while Planters' NUTrition Omega-3 Mix contains walnuts, raisins, and dried apple pieces.
In the snack aisle, Keto Cookie Bites from Fearless Keto use California walnut flour to provide a boost of all-important plant-based ALA omega-3 fatty acid. The products are formulated to satisfy the keto diet and contain 3 grams of protein and 1 gram of net carbs per serving.
In the plant-based meat alternative space, Amy's Kitchen has been an early adopter of the flavor, texture, and nutritional benefits of walnuts in its organic California Veggie Burger. This frozen burger patty contains toasted walnuts, bulgur wheat, and mushrooms to offer a burger with the taste and texture of real meat.
From trail mix to snack bites to plant-based burgers, walnuts provide food and beverage manufacturers an ingredient that delivers omega-3 ALA fatty acid, flavor, and texture.
- Fleming JA, Kris-Etherton PM. The Evidence for Alpha-Linolenic Acid and Cardiovascular Disease Benefits: Comparisons with Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid. Adv. Nutr. 2014; 5: 1-14.