By Kristen Farr, Innovation & Marketing Manager, iTi tropicals, USA
While orange, apple and grape juices have solidified their role in the juice marketplace, there are new flavours emerging looking to steal the spotlight. Exotic fruits like acerola, dragon fruit and mangosteen are powerful fruits that blend well with other juices and add new and exciting flavour profiles. Their colours and flavours are far from ordinary. Many consumers are traveling more and being exposed to flavours, fruits and cuisines that are not part of their normal repertoire. With this increased wanderlust, pallets are expanding. Consumers are seeking out the exotic fruits and flavours tasted on their travels.
Dragon fruit, mangosteen and acerola, all have unique properties that make them excellent partners to juices ready for a facelift. Take for example juices like mango, guava and passionfruit, they have secured places in the juice marketplace both as standalone flavours as well as blends. Over the years, many fruits have crossed the barrier from exotic unknown to available to all of us. Now dragon fruit, mangosteen and acerola are new flavours ready to make the leap.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these exotic fruits. First up; acerola, a small, deep-red, cherry-like fruit native to the West Indies, Brazil, and the Caribbean Islands. Also known as the Barbados cherry or West-Indian cherry, acerola is one of the most vitamin-rich fruits. It is a potent source of natural vitamin C and bio-flavonoids, as well as vitamin A, vitamin B1, B2, B3, iron, phosphorous, and calcium. Its pulp has a distinctive fruity and sweet flavour described as a cross between a tart lime and a berry.
Acerola juice can be used in many products and can be consumed as a straight juice but is often paired with others. The tartness of acerola blends well with other juices such as banana, papaya, mango and coconut water. It is more recently being used as a natural source of Vitamin C replacing ascorbic acid in ‘clean label’ products.
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Dragon fruit, also known as pitaya or strawberry pear, is the probably the most beautiful and strange looking fruit in the cactus family and is growing in popularity. Dragon fruit is cultivated in the subtropical and tropical regions of Central Mexico, Central America, South America and Southeast Asia. Upon maturity, dragon fruit reaches its optimal sweetness. The fruit has a hot pink or reddish skin with greenish scales and the edible inner flesh is white, pink or red with numerous small black seeds. The dragon fruit is most commonly known for its natural deep red-crimson colour and slightly sweet taste often compared to that of a kiwi or pear. The texture and flesh is certainly comparable to a kiwi however its subtle flavour and refreshing juiciness are closer to a melon.
What intrigues consumers is its visual appeal from the beautiful pink colour. When used in fruit juices the seeds are typically removed and a pink juice is left to blend. Dragon fruit is very appealing to consumers due to its exotic nature and vibrant colour. It tastes and looks great in tropical drinks, smoothies and cocktails. Dragon Fruit blends well with most fruits including banana, guava, coconut cream, pineapple, papaya and mango. It brings an exotic feel and colour to a product without overpowering the palette.
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Queen of fruits
Another exotic fruit of note is the mangosteen, also known as ‘the Queen of Fruits.’ The mangosteen’s exterior is round, dark-purple/red-purple and smooth. Inside, there are 4-8 triangular segments of white, juicy, soft flesh that may or may not contain seeds. It is said to have numerous health benefits and tastes somewhere between a sweet orange and a peach. The mangosteen has a slightly acidic flavour, but is also both luscious and delicious at the same time.
It grows mainly in Southeast Asia, south-west India and small pockets of other tropical areas in regions such as Puerto Rico and Florida, where the tree has been introduced. Mangosteen’s delicate flavour brings a taste of the tropics to any product. It blends well with other juices including peach, passionfruit and coconut water and is also gaining popularity as a delicacy and a fine, exotic dessert ingredient. It can be incorporated into juice blends, nectars, blends, smoothies and cocktails.
The processing of dragon fruit and mangosteen are relatively straightforward. The fresh fruit is received into the plant and undergoes quality inspections prior to washing. The tops or crown are then cut off and the fruits are washed again before removing the exterior skin and peel. Next up in the process is pulp extraction where all of the flesh is collected in tanks to await further processing. Most fruit will go through an evaporator, screener to remove the seeds in the case of dragon fruit, and then the pasteurization process begins. Along the way are several quality checks to ensure the products is both safe and consistent. The fruit juice is then flash frozen and stored until it is ready to be shipped.
In US juice markets these three exotic fruits are starting to make an impact. They are blended with better known juices and used in super fruit blends for their antioxidant properties and/or vibrant colour. In other areas of the world such as Brazil, acerola is an established juice and is just as common as orange is in the US.
In order to stand out in an increasingly crowded category, juice manufacturers must look to innovate with new juices and this is where exotic fruits come into play. Less familiar fruits can also boost the nutritional profile of juices by adding the functional benefits consumers are seeking. As health, nutrition and clean label remain key drivers in guiding innovation within the beverage industry, consumers are looking for functional beverages that deliver benefits such as immune health, vitamin support and the promotion of overall well-being. Better-for-you functional beverages that deliver health benefits are impacting the use of both traditional and exotic fruits. Cold-pressed juices and high-pressure pasteurization (HPP) technologies have helped to drive tropical fruit flavours by maintaining the bright colours.
Within the food and beverage industry, and especially in the beverage segment, exotic fruits still make up a sizeable portion of new product development and launches – and it is only increasing. This should come as no surprise considering the consistent growth in popularity of tropical fruits. For many beverage manufacturers, line extensions provide the perfect opportunity to experiment with unique fruits and flavours, leading to increased consumer familiarity and, consequently, increased consumer demand. There are several factors that contribute to the trend of exotic fruits, but overall it is the consumer’s desire for health and innovation that has pushed manufacturers to think outside the box, beyond apple, orange and grape.