Citrus flavors have international appeal, bringing crisp flavor to various beverages, snacks and confections, and not just on a seasonal basis.
"Citrus flavors have been around for a very long time," says Elaine Kellman-Grosinger, director of R&D for Citromax Flavors, Carlstadt, N.J. "They have universal appeal and are rarely polarizing.
"Citrus flavors are familiar to people all over the globe and, for the most part, are known everywhere and taste the same all over the world," she continues. "There may be different varieties of citrus fruits, but the basic flavors are the same. They have a unifying quality. The flavors are clean and refreshing, and blend well with many different flavors."
Indeed, nearly every culture in every country enjoys citrus flavors, agrees Ian Sgro, marketing manager for Gold Coast Ingredients Inc., Commerce, Calif. In addition, he notes, citrus fruits offer health benefits such as vitamin C and "have been used throughout history, a perfect example being the limes carried by sailors for hundreds of years to protect against scurvy — hence the term 'Limey' used oftentimes to describe English sailors."
"Aside from the direct health benefits," Sgro continues, "the wide variety of different citrus fruits [and] different characteristics make them extremely versatile in most applications." He lists those characteristics as high or low acidity and varying degrees of tartness, bitterness and sweetness.
New trends and applications for citrus flavors are diverse and include a resurgence in the flavored alcohol beverage sector, including the malted beverages and fine spirits categories, he says. The electronic cigarette (which is being made in citrus flavors) is a new niche market that Gold Coast Ingredients does not currently service, but is keeping an eye on, he adds. In addition, "Concentrated energy drops continue to be challenging and oftentimes have several citrus attributes to assist in palatability," Sgro says.
In general, citrus flavors are finding homes in virtually every type of beverage, candy and confection, Kellman-Grosinger summarizes.
"Historically, lemonade, lemon-lime sodas and orange juice and sodas have been the popular beverage application for citrus flavors, but they have been showing up in cookies, candies, baked goods, et cetera," she points out. "Lemon and lime have been finding their places in snack foods, like chips. They are also used in savory applications. Lemonades will continue to be popular, as will flavored lemonades like strawberry lemonade and raspberry lemonade."
In the near future, we may see some limeades and orangeades or maybe a combination citrusade, she predicts.
While demand for real citrus flavors may be high, supply may not be.
According to Sgro, "Much of America's (and some of the world's) citrus crops (including nearly all of Florida's orange crop) are being decimated at a more rapid rate by a bacterial disease called 'Citrus Greening,' thereby creating a potential shortage of quality citrus stocked for production of citrus oils. The good news: With concerted research into what makes quality citrus flavors taste the way they do, we are identifying what gives each citrus fruit its most desirable characteristics and thereby are able to best replicate the flavor in a natural or organic compounded formulations."
"Since citrus fruits are commodities, they are subject to climate and, therefore, it is always going to a prudent decision to find citrus extenders for those times when there is a shortage of certain citrus oils," Kellman-Grosinger says. By doing so, suppliers are able to extend the "citrus season" year-round for food and beverage processors.
The prospect for new citrus products is promising."Citrus flavors have a wide open window for food and beverage applications," Kellman-Grosinger says, adding that "we will continue to see them in virtually every type of beverage.
"On the technical side," she notes, "there is a recent development that expresses some potential concern about the presence of BVO [brominated vegetable oil] in emulsion-based beverages. Removing it from emulsion flavors may be a trend, but this will encourage technology to move forward and find replacements for BVO in citrus emulsions.
"Clear emulsion technology is also something on the horizon and may find uses in some clear beverages. Citrus technology is always on the cutting edge, and fractions will continue to be developed from all citruses. There will be a quest to find stable fractions to extend the shelf life of citrus flavors," she concludes.
This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue of Food Processing Magazine.