Firmenich’s flavor of the year for 2019 is... hibiscus: ‘There is a subtle and delicate fruity undertone’

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Hibiscus has a 'strong floral aroma, with a woody-astringent character, but at the same time there is a subtle and delicate fruity undertone,' says Firmenich. Picture: Firmenich
Hibiscus has a 'strong floral aroma, with a woody-astringent character, but at the same time there is a subtle and delicate fruity undertone,' says Firmenich. Picture: Firmenich

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It has surged in popularity in recent years as shoppers embrace florals in foods and beverages, and reflects “the trend towards curiosity in consumption,” says flavors giant Firmenich, which has selected hibiscus as its flavor of the year for 2019.

Hibiscus is “natural, floral, and slightly tangy​,” said Emmanuel Butstraen, president of flavors at Firmenich, while its Instagram-friendly looks could help boost its applications, said the company, which said worldwide use of hibiscus in food and beverage new product launches has increased nearly 300% vs 2012 (according to Firmenich insights, and Mintel GNPD data).

Top categories for hibiscus-fueled launches include yogurt, beer, tea, and chocolates, with most new launches occurring in the US, Brazil, Mexico, Denmark, Spain and Italy.

The demand for more interesting flavors in beverages is also driving interest in hibiscus, which has a “strong floral aroma, with a woody-astringent character, but at the same time there is a subtle and delicate fruity undertone, even a hint of green, like freshly cut mint leaves​,” said Fausto Carriles, senior Firmenich flavorist in Latin America.   

It is very versatile for beverages: it can be consumed cold in summer and also can be a great flavor modifier for winter hot fruit punches.”

In Mexican cuisine, he said, hibiscus has been used in savory applications for years in everything from enchiladas to dried hibiscus garlic chips.  

Jeff Schmoyer, VP of global consumer insights, also believes consumer demand for reduced sugar is driving interest: “A correlation we are making to explain the rise in hibiscus is between consumer awareness of sugar content - in particular in their beverages - and their desire to replace sweetness with other flavors that help deliver sensorial impact and provide interesting and novel taste experiences​,” he explained.

“As people continue to demand healthier beverages, we expect the demand for more niche flavors such as hibiscus that have historical and cultural associations with health to also rise​.”

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