Citrus flavor fusion

by Allison Gibeson
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When it comes to citrus flavors, the challenge for the industry is to refresh the category and to continue to keep interest high, said Jim Shepherd, director of beverage solutions at Sensient Flavors, Indianapolis.

“(Citrus) never really goes in or out of fashion, however it kind of reinvents itself every now and again as industry comes up with new profiles and combinations to use citrus in,” Mr. Shepherd said.

Kim Carson, product man-ager of beverages at Givaudan, Cincinnati, said citrus is the No. 1 flavor category in North America and as a result has much recognition among consumers.

“Citrus profiles have long been appreciated for their organoleptic (sensory) appeal, naturalness and versatility,” said Mark Walsh, vice-president of citrus specialties at Takasago International Corp., Teterboro, N.J. “Their utilization across all flavor categories and segments may achieve simplicity for a clean label or deliver an exotic element to an otherwise ordinary product.”

Introducing new citrus fruit flavors is one way the industry maintains interest in the category. Mr. Shepherd said a new emerging citrus flavor is the Shikwasa lime from Japan, a green-skinned, round fruit that looks like a lime but is tart and has a taste profile like a lime-lemon hybrid.

“Is it just another type of lime? In some regards, yes,” Mr. Shepherd said. “But because it has a name that is a little bit different and because it comes from Japan, it is beginning to appear at least in the flavor industry, and we are beginning to present it to food and beverage people as another twist on the citrus profile.”

Ms. Carson said consumers are looking beyond the traditional general orange flavor and looking specifically at mandarins or clementines, sometimes even looking for specific varieties within those. She said pomelos and kumquats also are becoming popular. She said kumquats are interesting to consumers as the peel and the fruit usually are eaten together, giving a bitter and sweet flavor at the same time. She said there is very much an ethnic and global feel with the fruits as pomelos are popular in Asia right now. In addition, Australian finger limes are another emerging fruit.

“Food manufacturers now are beginning to talk about varieties on their labels as well as locations where they got the material from,” Mr. Shepherd said.

He said Sensient links the citrus product with the region the company sourced the material. He said the company doesn’t merely buy lemons — they buy lemons from California or Sicily or other specific locations. Consumers increasingly are intrigued by knowing where their food comes from and the concept of providence, partly as a sense of adventure and partly due to food safety concerns, he added.

Ms. Carson noted that citrus flavors are being used in combinations with other flavors in blends, such as cranberry lime or strawberry lemonade. There is even pairing of citrus with tropical flavors like mango or passion fruits.

“We are seeing that branch out into not only stand-alone citrus flavors but pairing that with other flavors consumers are familiar with,” Ms. Carson said.

Consumers are looking for specific flavors such as Italian blood orange and kaffir lime or pairings such as lavender lemon and blackberry tangerine, Mr. Walsh said.

“Citrus is not only a taste people like, but it’s great for combining with other taste profiles,” Mr. Shepherd said.

With regard to unique applications, Mr. Shepherd said Sensient sees the craft beer market as an opportunity for citrus flavors. There is strong consumer interest in the market, numerous craft beer manufacturers and almost every craft beer has a citrus variety.

Ms. Carson said ready-to-drink tea is an area of growth for citrus with new types of flavors being introduced in the category. She also said there has been citrus growth in sauces and marinades.

Mr. Shepherd pointed out that the major beverage line-ups, including Gatorade, Powerade and SoBe Lifewater all have a citrus variety in their offerings, and it is usually the first or second best-selling product within the lineup.

Mexican food is another area where citrus is being used as lime has become a popular flavoring within the category.

“Citrus is very acidic,” Mr. Shepherd said. “Traditionally chefs use citrus not only for its nice flavor, but for its acid. If you squeeze that on meat during its final preparation, it helps to soften the tenderized meat.”

In terms of specific new citrus products, Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, recently introduced Minute Maid Pure Squeezed Never-From-Concentrate products as a way of refreshing the not-from-concentrate market. Other new products include Canada Dry lemon-lime flavored sparkling seltzer water from the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Plano, Texas, and lemon pepper marinade from Olde Cape Cod Marinades, Ayer, Mass.

Mr. Shepherd said one of the biggest challenges with citrus is increasing the shelf life and stability.

“What we are continually trying to do is make citrus flavor more authentic and stable,” he said. “If you can make them more stable, you can find more ways to use them.”

He said Sensient is trying to do this by finding new ways to gently process citrus to capture the profile and ensure it stays as long as possible in the end food product. In addition to shelf life stability, Ms. Carson said beverages often have natural flavors, and it’s hard to find sources to give a varietal-type naming for the products, so sourcing materials may be an issue. For example, she said to label something as a natural blood orange there has to be blood orange in the flavor, and such citrus varieties may be difficult to source because they aren’t always grown on a commercial scale like typical oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruits.

According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, there were 859 products introduced with a citrus fruit flavor in 2010, up from 750 in 2009. For 2011 through Oct. 4, there have been 649 new citrus products introduced. The most popular category for such introductions was non-alcoholic beverages, followed by confectionery and bakery.

“It’s up to us to get better profiles, more stable profiles, and continually try to make you as the consumer remember that you like citrus either on its own or in combination and look for new ways of presenting it to you,” Mr. Shepherd said.

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