Firmenich, Switzerland, named hibiscus as the flavor of the year for 2019 based on the growing appeal of florals in food and beverages.

“Hibiscus is a beautiful and tasty choice for 2019; it’s natural, floral and slightly tangy,” says Emmanuel Butstraen, president of flavors.

As with many popular flavors and ingredients today, hibiscus boasts numerous health benefits and medicinal remedies. Direct health benefits of a particular ingredient, as well as the overall trend toward healthier consumption habits and the consumer desire for reduced sugar all play a role in the rise of hibiscus, according to Jeff Schmoyer, vice president of global consumer insights.

“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 says. “Flavored water has become mainstream, with traditional flavors such as lemon, lime and berry having led the way. But, now, 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.”

Beyond infusions
To date, the most popular use of hibiscus has been in the form of infusions in beverages. However, according to Firmenich, the appeal is much broader.

“Hibiscus is more than just a flower extract. It does have 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,” says Fausto Carriles, senior 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. Hibiscus is used all around the world in many cultures, from the simple street beverages up to sophisticated culinary sauces.”

Firmenich trend experts also found other Mexican menu items with hibiscus, including enchiladas and dried hibiscus garlic chips.