Ingredient innovators looking for inspiration from exotic fruits may be able to cash in on an Agricultural Research Service project which is looking into ways to bring even more tropical fruits to the US.
Exotic fruits offer both a health reputation and present new taste offerings to finished products, such as juices.
Many types of tropical fruit can be classed as superfruits due to their high content of beneficial nutrients such as antioxidants.
But there can be a problem when it comes to importing some of these crops - such as mamey sapote and rambutan - to mainland US.
Based in Puerto Rico, the Agricultural Research Service's (ARS) research station has been looking at ways of supporting the tropical fruit industry. ARS has been using crop management practises to increase yield and obtain high-quality tropical fruit that can be imported safely.
ARS scientists are hopeful a fruit called mamey sapote will be the first to be exportable to continental US. This fruit (pouteria sapota) - about the size of a cantaloupe - is said to be prized by the Hispanic community in the US.
However, importing it to the US has been restricted through concerns it may serve as a host for the West Indian fruit fly. Scientists at ARS are close to confirming mamey sapote grown at their Puerto Rico centre are infection free.
The superfruit category has taken off in the last few years thanks to a wave of interest in health and wellness, and consumers are also open to trying exotic produce from far-flung places. Indeed, according to Datamonitor launches of products containing superfruits rose by more than 67 per cent last year compared to 2006.
Ricardo Goenaga, research leader, said: "Increases in health consciousness and ethnic diversity have greatly expanded the market for tropical fruit in the United States.
"But there are major obstacles-such as pests, diseases, drought, and acidic soils-that keep growers from capitalizing on this. For example, unless irradiated, rambutan can't be imported into the United States because of concerns that it may introduce fruit flies.
"Our goal is to identify-through selection of superior clones and development of best crop-management practices-high-yielding versions of these crops that can meet these challenges."
Companies have been busy making the most of the superfruit trend. Danisco, for example, developed a new acai berry flavor for use in dairy, ice cream, beverage and confectionery products.
Wild has also based a flavour inspiration on the South American lulo, while Treatt unveiled two flavours - Tamarind Treattarome 9860 and Rooibos Treattarome 9762 - based on African fruits.
ARS scientists are also able to look at other exotic tropical and subtropical plants, including sapodilla, Spanish lime, and species of Annona and Garcinia.