Hibiscus: The Functional Flower with Many Health Benefits

When most people think of hibiscus, they probably think of the beautiful flowers that can be found in many tropical climates.

However, hibiscus is more than just a pretty flower - it’s also a functional plant with many health benefits. There is no shortage of opportunities for product development or ingredients formulation in this industry as health care trends change and consumer behaviour evolves. In order to stay ahead of the curve, it’s important to always be on your toes learning about other industries with similar challenges so you can make informed decisions when designing new food products.

Hibiscus is one functional ingredient that’s been catching on in recent years. The flower extract has been found to help lower blood pressure and improve lipid profiles by reducing bad cholesterol levels and slowing the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.

In this post, we will explore some ways you can incorporate hibiscus into your products by providing an overview of its benefits, potential applications, and flavour profile.

What is hibiscus?

Hibiscus is a flowering plant that has been used for centuries in traditional medicine, predominantly in Africa and Asia. Tropical hibiscus sabdariffa is the species of hibiscus most commonly used in supplements and functional foods and it contains a variety of bioactive compounds including anthocyanins, phenolics and proanthocyanidins.

These compounds are responsible for the plant’s many health benefits which include reducing blood pressure, managing blood sugar levels and fighting cancer cells.

Hibiscus can be used in a variety of food and beverage applications, such as teas, juices, smoothies, and even beer. It has a tart and slightly sweet taste that many consumers enjoy, so it can easily be incorporated into existing products.

What are the health benefits of hibiscus?

While human research is sparse, there is evidence to suggest that hibiscus may bring various health benefits:

  • Can help reduce blood pressure - hibiscus has been shown to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension. One study showed a significant decrease in systolic blood pressure (the top number) after just two weeks of drinking hibiscus tea.
  • May boost the immune system - Hibiscus is high in flavonoids, which are plant-based antioxidants that can help prevent cell damage from free radicals.
  • Could reduce risk of heart disease - Hibiscus contains anthocyanins, which are beneficial compounds that can help keep arteries healthy and lower bad cholesterol levels.
  • Could reduce risk of cancer - Anthocyanins have also been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells in a number of studies.
  • Beneficial for lowering blood sugar - People who drink hibiscus tea have been shown to have lower blood sugar levels after eating a high-carbohydrate meal. This could help with diabetes management.
  • Hibiscus could help with weight management - Drinking hibiscus tea may help to reduce body fat.

So far, the research on hibiscus is positive, but it's important to note that more research is needed to confirm these benefits in humans. However, drinking hibiscus tea or eating hibiscus-containing foods is a safe and healthy way to potentially improve your health.

Using hibiscus

Hibiscus is an interesting option for food manufacturers looking to add functional value to their products. It can be used in a variety of formulations, including beverages, jams, jellies, syrups and desserts.

There are a few things to keep in mind when formulating with hibiscus:

  • The hibiscus plant contains several bioactive compounds, so make sure to do your research and determine the best form and dosage for your product.
  • Hibiscus is a natural source of vitamin C and minerals like potassium, so it can be used as a nutrient fortifier in food products.
  • When using hibiscus in beverage products, make sure to adjust the acidity levels as hibiscus can be quite sour.

Hibiscus applications

Now that we’ve covered some of the basics, let’s take a look at some applications for hibiscus plants in functional foods.

1) Teas: hibiscus tea is a popular drink and can be used as a base for other flavours, for example in sour tea. It’s also a good source of vitamin C.

2) Cocktails: Hibiscus can be used to make a variety of cocktails, for example, a hibiscus margarita or mojito.

3) Juices and functional drinks: Hibiscus juice is a refreshing drink that can be enjoyed on its own or added to other juices to add colour and antioxidants.

4) Smoothies: Hibiscus makes a great addition to smoothies to add sweetness and tartness.

5) Fortified foods: hibiscus can be used to fortify products with vitamins and minerals.

6) Snacks: hibiscus extract can be used as a flavouring or colouring agent in snacks like bars, bites and balls.

7) Desserts: hibiscus can be used to add a tart flavour and beautiful colour to desserts like cakes, jellies, puddings and ice cream.

8) Supplements: capsules and tablets are a popular way to consume hibiscus and its bioactive compounds.

9) Preserves: jams and preserves are a great way to enjoy the flavour of hibiscus.

Get in touch

With its many health benefits and versatile forms, tropical hibiscus can be the perfect functional addition.

If you want help formulating with hibiscus or help with ingredient sourcing, get in touch with our team.