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Ingredient Spotlight: Coconut shows its versatility
by Elizabeth Fuhrman

Posted: May 16, 2011

Coconut water, cream and milk debut across categories

Coconut waters have become a hot new category for the beverage industry, and coconut ingredients from water, milk, cream and flavoring are flourishing in new beverages on the market.

Of the 79 new products that launched in the U.S. market and included a coconut ingredient last year, 59.5 percent were juices and juice drinks, while 19 percent were drink concentrates and mixes, says Innova Market Insights, Duiven, The Netherlands. Six percent of new beverages that included coconut were energy and sports drinks. Another 16.5 percent were some other type of non-alcohol beverage, Innova reports.

Of the new coconut beverages that launched last year in the United States, beverage formulators included coconut water in 57 percent of the products, coconut flavoring in 22 percent, coconut milk in 15 percent and coconut cream in 6 percent, Innova says.

Beverage-makers not only included coconut ingredients as stand alone flavors in their products but also combined coconut flavors with other flavor notes. Pineapple, peach, guava, guava/peach, lime, pomegranate, tropical fruit, strawberry, vanilla and mango were the top 10 flavor blends with coconut, according to Innova.

The coconut water category has become one of the fastest growing categories in the beverage market. In 2008, only five U.S. coconut water introductions were tracked in Mintel International's Global New Product Database, and last year that number grew to 36. Most coconut water introductions are positioned as an alternative to many isotonic sports drinks because of coconut's naturally occurring electrolytes, the research group says.

A current trend with new coconut waters is offering additional benefits, Mintel reports. For example, Los Angeles-based One Natural Experience (O.N.E.) launched O.N.E Active Coconut Water with Energizing Botanicals. It offers the inherent benefits of coconut water, in addition to the benefits of ginkgo biloba to increase mental focus, ginseng to increase energy, catauba bark to increase vigor and stamina, calcium for bone health, and antioxidants to fight free radicals. The company also has expanded coconut water into a variety for children. The expansion of coconut water into these new areas marks a key milestone in the evolution of this rapidly expanding category, Mintel says.

Versatile ingredient
The use of coconut ingredients continues to grow this year.

"Coconut water as well as coconut cream is making inroads in a variety of applications within the beverage category," says Don Giampetro, vice president at iTi Tropicals Inc., Lawrenceville, N.J. "The use of these two ingredients will lead to continued output of new beverages."

Coconut water, cream and milk are derived from different parts of the coconut. Coconut water is the liquid heard moving around when you shake a coconut, Giampetro explains. Coconut milk and cream are drawn from the white meat of the coconut. When coconut meat is pressed, what is extracted is either cream or milk based on the level of fat.

"Typically most cream product runs around 24 percent fat," Giampetro says. "Anything over 20 percent fat is considered cream. Once you get below 20 percent, then it's really classified as coconut milk. Most of the coconut milk that we find is between 14 percent and 17 percent fat."

The growth of the coconut water category can be explained by coconut's inherent attributes, such as containing electrolytes potassium, sodium, magnesium and calcium along with its low-caloric load and fat content.

"Its natural brix is five," Giampetro explains. "This contributes very little in the way of calories in many beverage items. The product is also fat free. ... Coconut water provides very good levels of potassium, magnesium and other vital electrolytes. It functions as a natural isotonic beverage, perfect for replenishing those lost electrolytes while working out."

Coconut water also is bland in its flavor, which enables it to be blended easily with other juices, he says. The ingredient is low in viscosity and translucent in color, which are two additional qualities that allow the product to be blended readily with other juices, Giampetro says. Another benefit is that coconut water can be labeled as 100 percent juice.

"This is very important when trying to maintain high juice content in a product, without having a significant negative impact on calorie contribution," Giampetro says.

Because of the juice claim, coconut water can be used to maintain and increase juice content in a variety of products, he says.

For many years, iTi Tropicals' focused on growing coconut cream. "The use of a 24 percent fat product in a beverage item was pretty difficult, although the flavor and mouthfeel of coconut cream enabled its use in many decadent and rich food products, where fat and calories were of no concern," Giampetro says. "The fatty acid composition of coconut cream is predominantly medium chain fatty acids, which puts coconut cream in a much better fat position when compared to other fat sources out in the market. This draws people to coconut cream, and on top of everything else with coconut cream, you cannot beat that truly silky smooth flavor and texture."

The sky is the limit when it comes to formulating with coconut water and cream, but formulators do have some considerations to keep in mind.

"Coconut is considered an allergen, so when formulating, and eventually going into large scale production, making sure the production facility you are working with can handle this type of product is very important," Giampetro says. "Also, the product has a high pH, which makes the product low acid. This has to be considered as well as you are doing your developmental work using both coconut water and coconut cream."

Coconut ingredients also can be combined with numerous flavor options.

"The fat in the coconut cream tends to blend well with a variety of flavors including things like chocolate, peanut butter, strawberry, mango and others," Giampetro says. "With coconut water, again, since there is very little flavor impact from the coconut water itself, blending with any flavor is a snap. When blending with acidic flavors, the coconut water tends to mellow them out a little because the pH of the coconut water is above five. This allows products that are normally too acidic, to be even more palatable when combining with coconut water. Flavors like orange, lemon, apple, grape, and acerola tend to blend extremely well."

Electrolyte beverages have become an interesting use for coconut water, he says. In addition, coconut cream is being combined with ingredients such as piña colada, key lime and mangosteen to create smoothie-type beverages. In smoothie beverages, coconut water also is of interest for caloric reduction, Giampetro adds. Coconut milk, cream and water also can be used in dairy alternative beverages.

Additionally, coconut water can be formulated into carbonated soft drinks and teas.

"Tea can easily be brewed directly into the coconut water environment, which could lead to a 100 percent juice/tea product that would be low in calories," Giampetro explains. "The possibilities go on and on, and as a product developer, the coconut ingredient category is very, very exciting." BI
Related Links:

Category Focus: Coconut water emerges as a natural alternative

Category Focus: Smaller sectors growing for juice drinks

Ingredient Spotlight: Antioxidants make acai a go-to superfruit

Elizabeth Fuhrman
Elizabeth Fuhrman is the Editor-in-Chief of Beverage Industry.


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