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Tamarind, kumquat, caraway seeds and star anise may be featured in new beverage formulations. These are among trending food and drink ingredients cited by Ilana Orlofsky, marketing manager at Imbibe, a Chicago-based beverage development company.
Unusual flavors, textures and preparations are elevating coffee, tea and cocktail menus across the country, offering hydration with a splash of inspiration.
“Use your platform to bring fringe ingredients to the forefront,” Ms. Orlofsky said during a presentation at the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, held May 18-21 in Chicago. “Fringe is in.”
An emerging ingredient is butterfly pea flower tea, which has a midnight-blue hue that transforms into a vibrant magenta when citrus is added. The acidity in a squeeze of lemon alters the pH, Ms. Orlofsky explained.
Lemonade Restaurant Group, El Segundo, Calif., serves a classic or blood orange lemonade with blue butterfly flower tea at its more than two dozen eateries throughout California. Yard House, a casual dining chain owned by Orlando-based Darden Restaurants, Inc., earlier this year introduced a “magic” color-changing margarita with butterfly pea flower.
“I call it nature’s Unicorn Frappuccino,” Ms. Orlofsky said of the ingredient.
Other additives adding Instagram appeal are spirulina, beet and charcoal, which are used to naturally tint beverages.
Aquafaba, or chickpea brine, may replace egg whites to add a plant-based twist to a whiskey sour or gin fizz. Cascara, the traditionally discarded outer skin and pulp of the coffee fruit, plays a starring role in beverages served at Starbucks and Blue Bottle Coffee.
“Upcycled ingredients is something we see more and more,” Ms. Orlofsky noted. “You can really leverage these products at the intersection of innovation and sustainability.”
Consumers are seeking beverages with benefits. Ingredients associated with beauty (collagen), digestive health (kombucha and shrubs) and taming inflammation (turmeric) are gaining steam. Medicinal mushrooms such as reishi, chaga, lion’s mane and cordyceps are cropping up in coffee drinks and linked to improved mood and mental clarity.
Sugar reduction also is playing a key role in beverage innovation. Product developers are dialing down the sweetness or swapping in lower-calorie substitutes such as monk fruit, stevia and erythritol.
“Beverages for the next generation are very different, and that’s because millennial parents are choosing low- and no-sugar products for their children,” Ms. Orlofsky said. “Because they’re being served these less-sweet items, they’re going to demand less sweet as they grow.”
The sparkling water boom provides a platform for a broad range of custom flavors and combinations, Ms. Orlofsky said, citing heightened social media activity related to seltzer, sparkling water and specific brands such as La Croix. Standout flavors may incorporate a cooking or preparation method (toasted coconut, caramelized cherry, grilled apricot), specify a varietal (Meyer lemon, blood orange, alphonso mango), combine fruits and vegetables (cucumber lemon, carrot peach, strawberry rhubarb), or enhance with a botanical or flower (lemongrass, hibiscus, elderflower, sage).
“Millennials currently are spending 13% of their salaries on food and beverage,” Ms. Orlofsky said. “In 10 years they’re going to be the largest spender in the food and beverage space, so (the fact) these are the types of flavors and products that appeal to them is going to be critical in keeping their attention,”
Young adults are sipping spiked seltzers and hard kombuchas or opting for booze-free craft cocktails enhanced with flavorful spices, herbs, roots, barks and botanicals. Curious Elixirs, based in the Hudson River Valley, offers a range of sophisticated, non-alcoholic brews, promoted with a tagline, “shaken, not slurred.”
“Teetotalism is on the rise,” Ms. Orlofsky said. “The number of consumers between the ages of 16 and 24 staying away from alcohol has risen 22% in the past 10 years. This isn’t happening only in dry January.”
The legalization of recreational marijuana in a growing number of states may be a factor influencing consumers to drink less alcohol.
“Some people are saying I’d rather have that experience and no calories and no hangover … but don’t want to relinquish that social opportunity,” she said.