Botanicals boost functional benefits

by Donna Berry
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Rising consumer interest in foods that naturally contribute to vim, vigor and vitality has many product developers turning to botanicals. The ingredients are often described as “plant extracts with functional benefits.”

Long used in topical skin and hair care products, botanicals are most notably recognized as a source of antioxidants, with a free-radical scavenging function able to benefit the body both inside and out. There are also some botanicals, which when consumed, function as a stimulant, while others exert a calming effect. And a select few are associated with influencing digestion, immunity and even stress.

Many botanical food ingredients are Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) but none have earned an approved health claim. And though some structure-function claims are permissible, most food and beverage manufacturers avoid any claims and will only use suggestive graphics or product descriptions.

For example, RealBeanz, Brooklyn, N.Y., markets a line of botanical-enhanced coffee-milk drinks. The varietal name suggests the functional benefit of the beverage. RealBeanz Energize is cappuccino with ginseng and vitamin B12, while RealBeanz Focus is caramel flavored and infused with ginkgo biloba and eleuthero root extract. The line’s decaffeinated variety is RealBeanz Relax, which has a vanilla nut flavor profile and is enhanced with chamomile and lemon balm for a calming effect.

Naturally functional

Many ingredients are extracted from plants, so what makes botanicals different? As the term extract suggests, the ingredient is often a pure, isolated concentrate coming from within the plant, not the plant itself. The latter would be better characterized as an herb or spice, appearing as identifiable pieces of the plant and possessing intense flavor. Because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not legally define the category of botanicals, the term has evolved to include dried plant parts, such as those that may be seeped to make tea. Most are characterized as possessing a floral aroma, such as chamomile, ginseng, jasmine and lavender.

It is important to remember that just because an extract is naturally derived from a plant does not mean it may be marketed as a food ingredient. This was communicated by the F.D.A. in January 2001 in its “Letter to Manufacturers Regarding Botanicals and Other Novel Ingredients in Conventional Foods.” The federal agency emphasized that ingredients that go into foods and beverages must be either approved as an additive or be GRAS, and with the latter, self-affirmation is an option.

The F.D.A. identifies GRAS plant extracts in 21CFR182.20. Some of the extracts possess flavor and color, with most having recognized benefits and qualifying as a botanical. For example, ginger extract long has been known to soothe stomach discomfort.

There’s another GRAS list of plant extracts located in 21CFR172.510. These are specifically identified as natural flavoring substances, with some qualifying as a botanical because of recognized benefits. For example, aloe extract is associated with reducing discomforts associated with heartburn and ulcers.

Plant extracts recognized as color additives “exempt from certification” are listed in 21CFR73. Many are rich in bioactives and qualify as a botanical. The color additive turmeric is an example, because it may impart a custard-like yellow color to various foods. It also exerts antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

A floral arrangement

Floral botanicals are making the most significant impact in the food and beverage sector, as not only are they GRAS, they also have a history of providing condition-specific benefits to the body. From lavender’s ability to relieve stress to rose’s capacity to calm, floral botanicals are appearing in all types of food applications.

Global food and beverage launches featuring the floral ingredients are booming, with the most popular floral botanicals being jasmine, lavender and rose, according to Innova Market Insights, Duiven, The Netherlands. Beverages are the most common application, but there’s also noteworthy activity in confectionery, dairy and condiments.

Lu Ann Williams, research manager for Innova Market Insights, explains that companies increasingly are using floral botanicals to impart new and unique notes and aromas to a range of products, particularly in countries where they may have not been traditionally used.

“This is particularly impacting the beverages sector,” she said. “Although confectionery is also seeing a relatively high level of activity as consumers continue to search for something combining novelty with naturalness and a healthy

Raaka Chocolate, Brooklyn, N.Y., has developed a line of dark chocolate bars that include two made with botanicals: Blueberry Lavender and Vanilla Rooibos.

“We find that when combined with culinary sensibility, botanicals in chocolate can be uplifting and soothing, without alienating people by deviating too far from classic chocolate flavors,” said Ryan Cheney, president. “When customers try our Vanilla Rooibos bar, most are surprised at its unique flavor. They appreciate it, without being intimidated by the novel approach.”

The cheese makers at Central Point, Ore.-based Rogue Creamery have discovered the brown butter notes and subtle tang of one of its signature cheeses — TouVelle — serves as the backdrop for the earthy flavors of organic English lavender. Heady but not overly fragrant, Lavender TouVelle makes a novel addition to mashed potatoes or an omelet, and also complements chocolate, according to the company.

Sence Rare European Rose Nectar, from Nevada Rose L.L.C., Henderson, Nev., is a beverage made from Kazanlak rose petals harvested during a three-week period from the end of May and early June in central Bulgaria. There are two varieties: Sence Traditional and Sence Silver. The latter has 33% less sugar than the former. Both may be served alone or as a mixer. Though the bottled product is relatively new, Kazanlak rose nectar has been consumed for many years, both hot as a tea and chilled.

Floral botanicals are making their way into the ready-to-drink iced tea market. Ito En North America Inc., New York, markets Teas’ Tea Rose Green, which is green tea enhanced with natural rose petals. Another offering is Teas’ Tea Green Jasmine, which is green tea enhanced with natural Jasmine, a flower often associated with bagged tea leaves. And lemongrass, which is not a flower, rather a perennial grass that is sometimes considered an herb, also is being combined with green tea in the Teas’ Tea Lemongrass Green variety. All of the teas are unsweetened and are marketed for their high concentration of antioxidants.

Ayala’s Herbal Water, Philadelphia, markets a range of botanical-infused waters, including varieties such as Lavender Mint, Lemongrass Mint Vanilla and Lemon Verbena Geranium. The waters function as a healthy, sophisticated food companion that is free of alcohol and calories. SIPsoda Co., Vancouver, B.C., markets a line of floral- and herb-flavored sodas. SIP stands for “Simple, Infused, Pairings of botanicals and fruit.”

The line currently includes three varieties: coriander orange, lavender lemon peel and rosemary lime.

Rosemary is a unique botanical with many varied uses. On one hand its distinct aromatic flavor complements many types of foods and beverages, in particular salty and savory applications. But it is also available as a flavorless ingredient for behind-the-scenes functionality. This is exemplified by Stacy’s Pita Chip Co., Randolph, Mass., a business unit of PepsiCo, Inc., which uses rosemary extract as an antioxidant in its baked pita chips, where the rosemary extract helps maintain chip quality through shelf life by reducing lipid oxidation.

As awareness of the benefits of botanicals grows, finished products may become more sophisticated and intriguing. The desire for new and different, combined with the aura of health and wellness is a winning combination.

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