(This article covering elderberry is part of a series we’re calling Ingredients on the Rise, where we’re tracking emerging consumer interest in healthy and functional food, beverage, and supplement ingredients through a mix of social listening and online research. Read further for insights on the commonly understood benefits and use of elderberry, its formulation considerations, and the broader cultural lens that marks its rising popularity.)
Elderberry Origin & Composition
Sambucus or elderberry is a flowering shrub tree that produces beautiful clusters of small white flowers followed later in the season by clusters of small dark berries. Elderberry is a native North American crop that grows well on both coasts and in the Midwest as well as across Europe, East Asia, and temperate areas of the southern hemisphere.
Historically used to treat a variety of ailments, modern science recognizes elderberry as having significant antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anticonvulsant, antidiabetic, hypocholesterolemic (cholesterol-lowering), and antiviral effects, as well as immunomodulatory and antidepressant activity. This array of effects is due to the plant’s highly bioactive nutritional profile. It is rich in the antioxidant Vitamin C and contains moderate amounts of iron and B6. The dark purple-black fruits get their rich dark color from anthocyanin, a powerful phytonutrient. This phenol antioxidant provides an all-natural, water-soluble pigment.
Modern consumers are gravitating to ethical and clean label products with “contains antioxidants,” “free-from artificial colors/preservatives,” “high in fiber/heart healthy,” and “sustainable/upcycled ingredients” high on the list of consumer priorities in 2023 – making this ingredient particularly attractive in novel formulations.
Sustainability of Elderberry
Nearly all the parts of the plant can be utilized for a variety of applications, which means low food waste, and a lower carbon footprint. The fact that it’s a native domestic crop and remunerative is important because 70% of consumers prefer products with transparency around sourcing and farming and 28% believe product formulation should be driven by “naturalness.”
The bright and lively color of elderberry ingredients shines best in more acidic formulations and the pomace byproducts benefit from a formulation with slightly higher viscosity.
The juice of elderberry fruit has a dark and complex essence. A bit tart, a bit earthy, a bit floral, it is wine-like in nature and ideal for syrups, extracts, and teas. The nutritional halo of this traditional medicinal combines with the intricate natural flavors to provide consumers with a sense of nostalgic wholesomeness and feelings of good health. The multifaceted notes make this fruit a value-added pairing in exotic citrus, floral-botanical, and spice formulations, capable of bringing balance and nuance to all three flavor trends in different ways.
Endless Food & Beverage Applications
Elderberry pomace, the solid byproduct of the juice and wine industries, is an excellent source of complex fiber content, which works especially well in bakery applications as well as producing premium seed oil which may have cosmetic applications.
Reconstituted elderberry juice, elderberry puree, and elderberry pomace powder have proven to be excellent additives for improving the nutritional content of fermented dairy products, baked goods, dry pastas, and even processed meat patties. In addition, the antioxidant power of elderberry begins working in the food formulation itself reducing precursors to free radicals, and slowing the oxidative process that ruins the taste and color of foods making them unappealing to consumers. The antioxidant polyphenols of elderberry also extend the nutritional viability of functional food formulations, by slowing the degradation of other vital nutrients and vitamins.
Elderberry vinegar has even been shown to reduce the carcinogenic effects of flame-cooked meat when applied to meat before grilling.
Beverage manufacturers should be looking to this complex berry juice as a novel opportunity in the “Spirit Free” low/no alcohol revolution sweeping the bar scene post-Covid.
Applicable Cultural Trends
Elderberry answers to four top consumer need-states: avoiding negatives (free-from), minimal processing, functional foods, and ethical practices (carbon footprint, sustainable agriculture, upcycled foods). Natural colors are in, artificial coloring is out. And as more and more look to food as medicine, elderberry continues to permeate the market.
Sustainability claims are showing rapid total store expansion in CPG, as retailers respond to the consumer desire for products in line with their altruistic values.
The possibilities with elderberry are endless. CPG companies should respond to consumer trends by introducing this trending ingredient into their product formulations. Elderberry presents more than enough opportunities to reach your audience with nutrient-packed benefits.
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