Green bananas are not sweet/sticky, and can be milled into fine, free-flowing, neutral tasting powders that can be used to reduce or replace wheat or rice flour, maltodextrin, corn or potato starch xanthan gum, sugar, and other ingredients in a wide range of applications from fruit roll-ups to gluten-free muffins.
“We probably know about 40-50 different uses but we are still discovering new applications every month,” International Agriculture Group (IAG) CEO Maurice Moragne told FoodNavigator-USA.
Fruit rollups… with 30% less sugar
One application generating some buzz is a 30% reduced sugar fruit rollup where sugar is replaced with fruit in the form of banana flour, making for a clean label and a more appealing nutrition facts panel.
NuBana green banana flour – which has a slightly earthy but neutral taste and a beige color – is ideal for applications needing viscosity, adhesion or water-binding, from beverages, pasta, puddings, coatings, and cereal bars to fruit fillings, sauces and salad dressings, crackers, baby food and meats, he explained.
“We’re not the first to sell green banana flour, but most of the other players in this sector are boutique, or more retail oriented. We’ve created a business that has commercial scaleability from the farm up, so we can support multinational food companies. We’re not just a middleman marketing company or a self-standing value-added processing business, we’re going right back to the farm.”
NuBana N100 and NuBana P500
The first two products from IAG (which was formed around two years ago) are NuBana N100, which delivers the processing benefits of a native, cook-up starch with unusual viscosifying properties; and NuBana P500, a pre-gelatinized flour that thickens in cold water and can replace hydrocolloids and stabilize fruit systems (enabling ‘all-fruit’ systems). They can both be labeled as ‘green banana flour’ or ‘banana flour.’
“We see NuBana green banana flour as a great fit for stabilization, clean label viscosity modification, sugar replacement and more in both foods and beverages," he said. "As a new crop entry into the functional ingredients arena, these flours provide texture and labeling opportunities different from those available from corn, potato, tapioca and other traditional starch starting points.
“But the great thing is that they are 100% banana, 100% natural, there’s only one ingredient.”
Several manufacturers are already working with NuBana and plan to launch commercial products featuring the flours later this year, he added. “We’re at the benchtop analysis plant testing stage with a number of food companies.”
NuBana green banana flour has a different starch structure than starch from corn, potato, tapioca or other plants, says IAG. It does not absorb water from the environment and will not clump in storage.
While milling green bananas might seem pretty simple, there are several trade secrets around NuBana, and IAG is also building IP around some new products, he said. “The way you process the bananas and the point at which you harvest them has a big impact on resistant starch content, for example.”
He would not go into detail on the production process, but said: “We could cut corners and solve certain challenges by using different processes – fermentation, various chemical additives, but we have chosen not to do that.”
International Agriculture Group (IAG) is led by fruit industry veterans including CEO Maurice ‘Mo’ Moragne, who has held senior roles at Chiquita, Patagonia Foods and Naturipe Foods; and VP sales and business development Ken Billings, who also worked at Chiquita and Naturipe. VP marketing and business development Rhonda Witwer is an expert in resistant starch who worked at Ingredion for more than a decade before setting up the consultancy Witwer Works.
Its debut products - NuBana green banana flours from bananas sourced and processed in Ecuador – will be followed by other fruit-based products with unique functional or nutritional properties in due course, says Moragne. “This is just the beginning.”
Unique functional properties
Rhonda Witwer, VP marketing and business development, noted that entirely green bananas (Stage 1) have a starch content of 70-90%, whereas ripe bananas (in which most of the starch has converted to sugar) contain just 15% starch, creating some interesting functional properties.
The starch in NuBana green banana flour contains 75-80% amylopectin and 20-25% amylose, a ratio similar to that in dent corn (field corn) or potatoes, she said.
“NuBana N100 has very long chains of amylopectin, with unique viscosifying activity where it behaves like a lightly cross-linked modified starch. It is able to maintain its viscosity relatively well and delivers higher final viscosity than other types of starches with a minimal amount of breakdown after peak viscosity.”
It also works well in gluten free applications where it can “replace high glycemic flours like rice and potato flour, and may eliminate the need for binders and other hydrocolloids, resulting in better nutrition and clean labels,” added Witwer. “It also contributes softness and flexibility in gluten-free applications.”
From a nutritional perspective, 15g of NuBana green banana flour is equivalent to half a serving of fruit, she claimed, while 100g of NuBana P500 contains 1,400mg of potassium.
When it comes to RS2 resistant starch (which is not digested in the small intestine and has beneficial effects on blood glucose), the way green banana flours are processed and subsequently used in food applications is key, she added.
“The two products we are launching at IFT are more about texture and viscosity and functional characteristics,” said Witwer. “The N100 has around 25-30% resistant starch but P500 has a lower level.”
However, the third product in the NuBana range will be very high in resistant starch, and is designed for customers making products such as smoothies or shake mixes or powdered supplements or snack/energy bars that are not baked.
“If you disrupt the granule by heat or shear you can lose the resistant starch,” said Witwer.
'Green banana flour is poised to take off and be the next major healthy ingredient'
As for claims such customers might be able to make on pack about the forthcoming NuBana high-resistant starch product, the FDA-approved qualified health claim about resistant starch and type 2 diabetes specifically refers to high amylose maize – and not green banana flour – she acknowledged.
However, many food marketers don’t want to talk about disease (diabetes) or use such heavily qualified language on pack anyway, she noted.
Meanwhile, there is a lot of clinical evidence to support more structure/function type claims about green banana flour’s ability to help people better control their blood glucose, she said. "We don't have to talk about diabetes in our communications.
"Resistant starch and green banana flour are poised to take off and be the next major healthy ingredient. I've been doing education in the dietetic community on resistant starch for 10-15 years and awareness is rising from all kinds of different groups, from plant-based to Paleo."
Visit IAG at the IFT Show in Las Vegas at booth #V323