If you think you’re seeing more herbal and floral botanicals in drinks and food, you’re not hallucinating. Wait. Are you sipping absinthe at the moment? Then maybe. And consider yourself officially on-trend.
Why oh why are lemongrass, ginger, anise, turmeric, lavender, rose, and pretty much any edible floral and herbal showing up across food and drink categories? At the heart of the botanical flavor trend lies a quest for sales, especially to Millennials. With ethnic dishes and boldly-flavored foods now standard fare in the American diet, we are looking for our next thrill. Willingness to experiment with bitter, spicy, savory, and umami (the fifth taste sensation) is commonplace. Perhaps it’s a backlash sriracha. If we consume rose water kombucha, surely it offsets last night’s pressed ginger-infused Moscow Mules. Right?
Botanical Flavors Sprouting Like Weeds
The once unusual lavender honey, rosemary-crusted cheese, and ginger beer now seem like quaint perennials at food shows. And the Coca-Cola Company and Food IQ reported a 7% increase in herb-flavored beverages in 2017. Botanical futures are looking rosy.
Some of the more unusual recent botanical products include:
- Strawberry basil kombucha from Wonder Drink
- Urban Moonshine’s artichoke and raw honey bitters (part of their “herbal apothecary for the modern world”)
- LIVE Sparkling drinking vinegars including Pomegranate & Elderberry
- Black Licorice in chocolate by Askinosie, which won a Good Food Award
- Reishi mushroom-based snacks and drinks, including an instant mushroom coffee from Four Sigmatic
Even Pepsi-owned Naked Juice has rolled out a line of Pressed Botanical Juices including “Botanical Apples to Lavender” and “Botanical Citrus Lemongrass.” Naked Juice makes the case for these niche flavors noting on their website that: “botanicals offer invigorating refreshment and are perceived to have holistic healing and functional health and wellness properties.” Even Philz Coffee got into the garden-in-a-cup action, topping hot coffee with fresh mint sprigs.
The artisanal, farm-to-fork movement looked to apothecaries of centuries past to bring natural flavors into our drinks and eats. Indiana-based Garden Party Hard Sodas is betting drinkers will slurp up 8% alcohol floral hard sodas, featuring perfumey violet, hibiscus, and lavender. The Indiana company won 2016 Beverage Industry Magazine’s Innovation award.
Why Botanicals and Why Now?
The botanical flavor trend reflects this decade’s artisanal movements and Millennial interest in food craft. The founder of Garden Party hard sodas said: “The retro aspect of 1600s botany and the degree of playfulness in experimentation with uncommon flavors is the sort of nostalgia that proves attractive to potential millennial consumers.”
Chefs and bartenders can now easily experiment with new flavors thanks to endless recipe books and DIY tools. One example is the culinary essential oils and sprays, developed in conjunction with chefs, by Mandy Aftel. Spray some black pepper on whipped cream? No problem.
Home bartenders now have access to cocktail kits focused on botanicals. Hella Cocktail Co. out of Brooklyn started with bitters kits and now makes fruit and vinegar shrubs to mix with sparkling water and libations. Gift sets may be the perfect gateway to botanical bliss. The “Special Touch Botanicals for Cocktails” gift sets developed by a Spanish mixologist and sold by Spice Lab include hard to find botanicals, such as Persian Roses, Cassia Cinnamon and Cubeb Pepper.
From the quest to stand out on shelves, for good health, or to find the next Instagram-worthy flavor shot, the subtly savory “potentially healthful” allure of botanicals has room to grow.