What is the Difference Between Hibiscus Syrup and Hibiscus Infusion?

February 13, 2014

An EU-funded study explains the differences in taste, appearance, and nutrition.

Hibiscus drinks are enjoyed the world over, but interested manufacturers should know that different processing styles create different types of hibiscus drinks. Thankfully, the EU wants to help manufacturers understand the differences.

As part of an EU-funded AFTER (African Food Tradition rEvisited by Research) project, the results of which are now published in Food Chemistry, Aurélie Bechoff of the University of Greenwich and colleagues evaluated consumer acceptability of eight types of hibiscus drinks-including hibiscus infusions or hibiscus syrups-all made from Hibiscus sabdariffa. Of 160 consumers, some preferred syrups (43%), some preferred infusions (36%), and others enjoyed both equally (21%).

Hibiscus drinks are made of hibiscus calyxes (sepals), water, and sugar. While infusions are consumed straight without further dilution, syrups are first significantly concentrated. Both products are mixed with sugar, but at different amounts and different stages of production. For all of the differences, hibiscus infusions and hibiscus syrups end up being two very different drinks.

Because syrups are more concentrated, consumers associate them less with the tart, acidic taste characteristic of hibiscus and more with the sweeter taste of added sugar-an amount that exceeds what is used in infusions. Syrups are pasteurized at higher temperatures than infusions, and Bechoff and her team expect this may actually result in greater degradation of hibiscus acids and tart-tasting anthocyanins, which are found in higher amounts in infusions.

Because infusions appear higher in anthocyanins, experts consider them the more nutritional of the two beverage styles. Infusions undergo less processing (lower pasteurization), and this makes for fresher taste, which consumers appear to pick up on, but their lower sugar content can result in shorter shelf life.

Each preparation method can result in a different color of beverage, as consumers identified colors ranging from bright yellows and reds to dark blues and purples. Deeper colors are, in fact, determined by greater levels of phytonutrients, which can be altered by the amount of processing, sugar reactions, and pH of the final product formulation.

Although hibiscus syrups tend to dominate the hibiscus drink market, hibiscus extract suppliers like Teawolf (Pine Brook, NJ) should be able to offer particular extracts suited for syrups or infusions. In Teawolf’s case, it offers hibiscus extracts HIB215, 450, and 221. While HIB 450 is its standard hibiscus extract, HIB215 is a highly concentrated extract that, at 70 brix, can lower potential shipping charges and application levels. For beverages and other products that have no red color or do not rely on hibiscus as coloring, Teawolf even offers a clear hibiscus distillate (HIB221) that imparts “true hibiscus aroma” without its bold color.

For the various characteristics made possible with either syrup or infusion, hibiscus suppliers should be able to cater to a client’s particular needs.

 

Robby Gardner
Associate Editor
Nutritional Outlook magazine
robby.gardner@ubm.com