Sea buckthorn is the latest superfruit landing on Michelin-star menus and CPG products, according to Bloomberg. Its vibrant range of orange and red colors add pizzazz to almost any foods and beverages, including jellies, juices, purees and sauces. It has a sweet and tart taste.
Researchers predict awareness of sea buckthorn will continue to rise as more and more studies show the berries' health benefits, which include antioxidants, fatty acids and vitamins C and E. They can be used as a natural remedy to ailments including arthritis, sunburns, diabetes and inflammation.
Little is known about this superfruit, despite the fact that it’s a staple superfood and adaptogenic plant that’s been used for at least 2,000 years. Native to Asia and Europe, the sea buckthorn bush grows in places as diverse as the Himalayas, Russia and the Canadian prairies around Manitoba.
In the 1950s, the Chinese military used sea buckthorn to treat soldiers suffering from altitude-related ailments. Since the early 2000s, it’s been touted as a go-to natural solution for the anti-aging and organic markets, providing a host of skincare treatment options from moisturizing to reducing inflammation and healing sunburns. Additionally, sea buckthorn’s leaves and flowers are used to treat arthritis, gastrointestinal ulcers, gout and skin rashes caused by infectious diseases such as measles, according to WebMD.
Sea buckthorn also helps support heart and metabolic health in overweight women, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Results showed sea buckthorn seed mixed with bilberries caused the best natural reduction in cholesterol and triglycerides.
The sea buckthorn phenomenon is just beginning to infiltrate the food and beverage space. It appears in juice and cocktails — both in foodservice and CPGs — and is sometimes a dried snack or part of candy. Ingredient supplier Superfruiticals uses sea buckthorn — which is a natural preservative — in a variety of meat applications. Bell Flavors & Ingredients even listed sea buckthorn as one of its Top 10 sweet flavors in 2010.
However, the biggest challenge thus far has been the fact that the plant “is not well known—that makes it harder to sell,” Jos de Koning, founder and CEO of Superfruiticals, told Food Navigator. “Sea buckthorn is not very fashionable — yet.”
One reason it may not be in vogue yet is because it's been called a “ridiculously frustrating fruit” to grow. The plant loves tough conditions and thrives in poor soil conditions, so sea buckthorn can be difficult to maintain. Sometimes the berry bursts right after being picked, and the plant itself can grow under soil. Once it’s cut back, it can grow back even more aggressively.
Researchers still believe consumer education and evidence-based directions for product development and identifying potential barriers to adoption will aid food producers in developing new products containing sea buckthorn.