Once thought of as a passing fad, coconut has emerged as a go-to ingredient for a number of industries, including food, beverages, sports nutrition, supplements and beauty. Used for centuries in Southeast Asian cuisine, coconut began to gain prominence between 2005 and 2008 when coconut water hit retail shelves. Since then, coconut has continued to increase its presence in the food and beverage world and its popularity shows no sign of slowing, which is why Firmenich has crowned coconut as the 2016 Flavor of the Year.
The appeal of coconut lies in consumers’ attraction to the feelings of balance and well-being that coconut evokes. The company notes that in the United States, coconut water first appeared in yoga studios, and the association between wellness and coconut has remained strong, and consumers will continue gravitating to the calmness of coconut.
“Coconut in general is benefiting from being ‘on-trend’ on a number of fronts, and coconut flavored variants as a whole can be expected to continue to grow across the food and drink sector," said Chris Brockman, senior food and drink analyst, Mintel.
Since 2010, the number of coconut flavored food and drink products introduced on the market globally has increased by 121 percent, with an annual growth rate of 17 percent. This surge in product launches includes soups and sauces; coconut chips (both sweet and savory); popcorn and trail mix; coconut oil chews; and much more. Not to mention a coconut beverage craze that’s blossomed well beyond water including coconut-flavored coffee, tea, vodka, milks and sparkling water.
What’s more, as an ingredient, coconut has become a holy grail within the “free-from" circles: coconut flour allows for gluten-free baking; coconut aminos are touted as a soy-free alternative to soy sauce; and cultured coconut milk has found a place on the shelves as a dairy-free alternative to traditional yogurt.
But what makes coconut so versatile? Coconut, actually a seed and not a nut, can have flavor described as anything from toasted and sweet, to creamy and lactonic, to fatty and fresh. The proliferation of coconut water introduced much of the world to an entirely new way to experience coconut flavor: young and fresh.
“This new generation of coconut flavors in particular is modern and redefined, adding freshness and giving a different spin to products if compared to the well-established ‘classic coconut’ flavors," said Gerry Van Gerven, Senior Flavorist at Firmenich in Thailand, noting the flavor can be applied across numerous categories beyond drinks, from bakery and confectionery.
What’s more, combining other flavor profiles with coconut is becoming popular.