All-natural rhubarb flavour targets health market
order to tap growing demand for the latest fashionable health
"Our philosophy is to think ahead of the wave," Create Flavours commercial director John Sheahan told FoodNavigator.
"Rhubarb is not set to be the next cranberry, but its health benefits are now being widely recognised."
Sheahan said that while there have been plenty of nature-identical flavours around, finding good natural ingredients to produce an all-natural version has always been a difficult task. This applies to a wide range of flavours used in the food industry.
"Many nature-identical flavours are made artificially, and are not necessarily sourced naturally," he said. "Vanillin for instance is found on the outside pods of vanilla, but nature-identical vanilla flavours are often made from other sources."
Create Flavours' rhubarb however, is all-natural. "This could be a pretty neat thing for the food industry," said Sheahan.
Rhubarb, once the staple of school dinners across the UK, has seen sales more than double after a number of recent endorsements.
The vegetable, originally brought to Europe by Marco Polo and used in folk medicine to treat intestinal problems, has featured in a number of articles because it is a rich source of dietary fibre, vitamin C, calcium and potassium.
"We've focused on rhubarb because of the great write-ups its been getting in numerous articles," said Sheahan.
"Its health benefits have been compared to the pomegranate and the blueberry. Look at all the new recipes its becoming fashionable again."
Indeed, this return to fashion has been led by British celebrity chefs such as Rick Stein and Anthony Worrell Thompson. The latter has included the vegetable in his recent books on the Glycaemic Index (GI) diet: rhubarb is low in carbohydrates.
Rhubarb is also being championed as a way of reducing cholesterol levels and slimming, with 100 grams providing only seven calories.
With rising public awareness has come rising sales. Morrisons, for example, is reported to have seen sales double in one month, making it the number one vegetable in terms of sales.
Rhubarb growers expect sales to top 1,000 tonnes for 2006.
"We are mainly targeting the dairy and drinks industries with this flavour, which can be used in products such as smoothies. And you know, in addition to the health benefits, rhubarb tastes pretty good."