As well as enabling the creation of innovative products, fruits, nuts and seeds can sell themselves on their health benefits. Nuts contain protein and a variety of other essential vitamins, while fruit inclusions can count as part of consumers' five-a-day.
Data from Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD) revealed almonds were the global nut of choice for use in food last year - with 23% of them used in bakery - as they contain no cholesterol and as many as 13 essential nutrients. A recent market report from ingredients supplier RM Curtis noted that almonds are also attractively priced compared with other commodities in the tree-nut basket. They can be used whole, ground, flaked or toasted and suit a variety of applications. For example, they are great when used on iced fruit loaves, says bakery consultant Wayne Caddy, and provide texture as well as taste. Bakers using a combination of nuts and fruits "get the softness of the vine fruits and the nice nutty and distinctive crunch of, for example, an almond, hazel or Brazil nut", he adds.
In terms of new fruit products on the market, Ocean Spray's ingredient technology group has recently introduced a new sweetened dried cranberry (SDC) to its range. The Choice SDC aims to be a low-cost option for bakers who want to improve the taste, appearance and nutritional profile of their products. Bakers could use it alongside glacé cherries or candied peel in cakes, batters and doughs.
Seeds tend to be used in breads, but they can also be used in cakes - for example poppy seed and lemon cake.
Cost-wise, pine nuts and pumpkin seeds, which are imported from China, have increased in price of late, but another Chinese alternative is sunflower, which currently has high availability and is much cheaper than other seed alternatives, says RM Curtis.
Bakers can also use a combination of additions in breads, such as poppy seeds, millet and sunflower seeds, says Caddy. "The use of sesame seeds can be restrictive in a lot of bakeries, due to nut allergen issues, but they do deliver a very good nutty flavour."
Another popular nut is the peanut, used a great deal in American confectionery, but not so much in bakery. The American Peanut Council (APC) is keen for more UK bakers to use peanuts in their products due to their nutritional benefits. It recently launched a multimedia campaign in the US to drive sales of the nut and is hoping to boost its export business. Under the slogan 'Energy for the Good Life', the campaign aims to highlight the health benefits, popularity and contribution to sustainable agriculture made by American peanuts.
Dr Andrew Craig, health education consultant at APC, says peanuts are very process-tolerant and versatile. Bakers don't just have to use the whole nut itself, he adds, but could use peanut oil or peanut flour in products. This is the same with many other nuts. "Peanuts are cheap and nutritious," says Craig. "They contain lots of protein, no cholesterol, healthy fats and important vitamins such as magnesium."
Allergies are one issue to bear in mind with the use of nuts, but as long as you make sure the labelling of your products is clear, generally all fruits, nuts and seeds work well in bakery. Price is another issue and this is where knowing your market is important. Macadamia nuts may be a popular ingredient in posh coffee shop cookies, but they are expensive. If your customers aren't prepared to pay the premium for a pricier nut, you should opt for a cheaper alternative.