Nutrition Meets Food Science

Healthy Snacks is Where Future Growth Will be

Health professionals have been emphasising that Indians need more dietary fibre and proteins with less fat, sugar and salt in their diet, the industry also started offering many food products with lesser fat, sugar and salt in addition to healthier ingredients that would include more fibre and proteins.

The Market of Snack Foods

There have been all kinds of products appearing in the market such as millet dosa and pancakes and pasta products. There are also purple yam chips, sweet potato chips and beetroot chips to counter the potato chips and fries. Some of the sweet products have appeared with fenugreek and cinnamon and all other healthy ingredients in bars sweetened with dates. There are many fun products like ragi bites and quinoa puffs as alternatives to potato puffs.

Until some time ago, there used to be two types of snacks. One type would be traditional Indian snacks, which could be both sweet and savoury types. This would include, milk-based sweets like peda, burfi, rasgulla, shrikhand, kulfi and a large number of other dairy sweets and then there would be non-dairy sweets including Mysore pak, petha, jalebi, laddoos, gajar halwa, and a large number of others.

There are many savoury snacks that are popular in India including chakli, papad, pakoda, batata vada, samosa, bakarwadi, sev, ganthia, khakhra, poha, dosa, kachori, dhokla and a large number of others.

Among the western snacks, there are cookies & biscuits, crackers, waffles, chips & wafers & fries, cakes, pastries, doughnuts, puffs, chocolates and many types of bars, hard-boiled candies, gummies, ice creams, and many different extruded items.

Although some of them are milk based and may have a good amount of high-quality protein still there are high proportions of fat and sugar which health professionals frown upon. Some of them are grain and pulse based. Pulses tend to add dietary fibre in addition to protein, but still, these snacks tend to have high sugar and fat if they are sweet or high fat and salt if they are savoury.

Healthy Snacks

Since people have started worrying about their health and the undesirable intake of too much fat, sugar and salt, they have been looking for healthier snacks.

The industry has responded by adding proteins to many of the snacks. The use of defatted soya products like soya flour, granules and chunks or badi offers both proteins as well as dietary fibre. More recently, there is renewed interest in millets including major millets like sorghum or jowar, pearl millet or bajra and finger millet or ragi and quite a few minor millets are available. These mostly have a good amount of proteins and fibre along with minerals and vitamins. There are some problems with them such as the presence of phytates and tannins which could reduce the bioavailability of minerals but there are ways of preparing these ingredients to reduce their effects.

Some new ingredients such as quinoa and chia, along with some older ones that have been relooked at such as flax, pumpkin, sesame etc. also are promising ingredients for some of the snacks.

A few snacks have made an appearance in the market with vegetable ingredients such as spinach, although methi leaves have been used for a long in many savoury snacks including khakhra.

Food developers have also been experimenting with natural colours, especially with healthy ingredients. Red chillies and tomatoes would provide red colour, while turmeric provides yellow and orange. Spices are very healthy that contain many phytochemicals and would also provide flavour and at times zing to the taste of snacks that Indians love.

The Texture is Important for Snacks

When these healthy ingredients are used, there must be a very important consideration besides the taste. Snacks commonly are crispy, crunchy, crumbly etc., which is liked by the consumers very much. The addition of some of the ingredients may change the texture. If they are too hard or chewy, the savoury snacks may not be appreciated. When adding ingredients developers must ensure that by adding healthy components there should not be a loss of property that provides fun and joy.

Some of the snacks may be made in such a manner that ingredients would make the product less unhealthy. Dietary fibre, especially soluble one say from guar gum etc. may reduce the rise in blood sugars. This would make the snack less unhealthy. There are many opportunities available like this to improve the healthy character of the snacks. As people are not going to reduce the consumption of snacks, making them healthier, either by adding healthy ingredients or processing or formulating in a manner to reduce the sting of unhealthy properties may boost its market.

Dr Jagadish Pai

Editor, PFNDAI

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