Chr Hansen is introducing a new natural hibiscus extract to give a bright red colour to beverages that also comes with a standardised anthocyanin content.
ibiscus is a genus of flowering plants that are native to warm temperate, subtropical and tropical regions. The 200+ different species include herbaceous plants, shrubs and small trees.
According to Chr Hansen, flowers and herbs are particularly popular as ingredients in Asian products. Since 2005, the number of new flavoured still drinks with hibiscus extracts launched in Singapore, Taiwan, Hong-Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, The Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia has doubled.
Almost 500 new products were launched in these markets in 2007.
Business development manager for beverages and colour Bertrand Martzel told NutraIngredients.com that Asia is a key market for the launch of Chr Hansen's new ingredient since it is already so popular.
It is also popular in Mexico, the southern states of the US, and increasingly in Europe.
Martzel pointed out that Cadbury Schweppes launched a hibiscus product in Europe about four years ago, as part of a push to revitalise its brand.
He said that Chr Hansen's offering has a standardised content of anthocyanins, well known antioxidants - a minimum of 16g per kg of the extract powder.
A soft drink would typically contain between two and five grams of powder, depending on the hue and brightness required for the product.
Martzel stressed that Chr Hansen is not marketing the extract as an ingredient that will allow products to make health claims about the benefits of anthocyanins. But the standardised content means producers can "build up a story around anthocyanins", that leverages consumer awareness of the antioxidants' role in health.
Anthocyanins from various fruits have been studied for their potential role in reducing the risk of cancer, ageing and neurological diseases, inflammation, diabetes, and bacterial infections.
Chr Hansen sources its hibiscus from partners in Africa. The high level of anthocyanins is attributed to the specific selection of flowers, but Martzel was not able to give more details on the selection criteria or the species of hibiscus used.
The ingredient is produced using a gentle water extraction process.
Flavour-wise, Martzel said the extract "has a typical flower flavour, not strong but with a slight bitterness".
Hibiscus in Europe
Other companies marketing hibiscus extract in Europe include Euringus, which included a hibiscus flavour among the first products in its organic range launched in 2007.
French natural ingredients firm Burgundy has been building up the science behind its hibiscus extract to support its use to combat urinary tract infections.
Preliminary data suggests regular and premium 200 mg doses of the hibiscus sabdariffa extract may cut the incidence of urinary tract infections by 60 per cent, Burgundy says.
The data forms part of an ongoing study by the company with end results expected in July. Earlier studies with rats and in vitro reported supporting results. NutraIngredients.com has not seen the full data.