Zero-Proof Spirits Movement Creates Demand for Botanicals

Beverage | Food | Small Business
Zero-Proof Spirits Movement Creates Demand for Botanicals

Even though the most popular use for botanicals has historically been in beverage applications, according to Kerry (global ingredient supplier) and Food-Navigator-USA, there has been a recent surge due to the popularity in the alcohol-free movement born out of the pandemic.

According to Kerry, the global low- to no-alcohol market registered a 41% sales increase over the period 2015–2021 and a 46% growth in the number of beverages containing botanical extracts.*

Since many consumers have decided to cut out or lower the amount of alcohol they drink, this is a big opportunity for beverage businesses to push flavor innovation. Botanicals can play a big part in replicating the flavor profile of spirits and beers that rival the alcoholic versions.

Popular Botanicals used in Zero-Proof Beverages

There are certain herbs and spices that are repeat players in zero-proof spirits and beers. They prove to be functional in more ways than just flavor.

JUNIPER

JUNIPER

Juniper is the most distinct flavor and aroma in alcoholic gin, so there’s no question why it is also used in alcohol free gin alternatives. It gives the flavor and smell of citrusy pine, and is often paired with other botanicals like coriander seeds, angelica root, and citrus peel. Distillers have been getting more creative by turning away from the classics and using herbs like chamomile, cucumber, hibiscus, or even locally foraged plants along with juniper berries.

Juniper berries are used for their flavor and aroma in beverages, but also have medicinal benefits derived from its naturally-occurring chemicals called flavonoids, tannins and volatile oil. These compounds and acids can be used as a diuretic—helping to stimulate your kidneys to get rid of extra water in your blood—reducing blood pressure and bloating. Juniper is also known to help digestion, which could make a mock-gin cocktail a nice after dinner drink.

If you really want to talk about good-for-the-gut drinks, there is an interesting Bosnian, fermented juniper berry drink, called Smreka. The process of making it is similar to making ginger beer. You put juniper berries in water with a little bit of lemon, seal the container so it is air-tight and let it ferment for 10–15 days. The fermented liquid contains probiotics which are beneficial to digestion. It is evident that gut health is important to overall health, and it is a bonus when you can get that from a refreshing drink. Smreka tastes like a sour, bubbly lemonade, and would make a great substitute for gin.

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CHAMOMILE

CHAMOMILE

Chamomile is one of the oldest and best documented medicinal herbs around. For centuries it has been enjoyed as an herbal tea, known for calming and relaxing. It looks like a mini daisy flower and smells like apples, making it a delight to sip on when brewed. Chamomile is used in some zero-alcohol beverages to balance the strength of juniper berries or the bitterness of hops. Since it is a stress-relieving herb, it can be a good replacement for alcohol—taking the edge off without the hangover. Chamomile has moved beyond the teacup and into alcohol-free beers, fizzy mocktails, and mood-altering drinks.

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DANDELION

DANDELION

The dandelion is more than just a weed. It’s an amazing plant, and each part of it has medicinal properties. It is one of the most versatile plants in modern herbal medicine used for thousands of years. So, it’s not surprising that it is a common ingredient in the non-alcoholic, functional drinks popping on the market. Dandelion can help with digestion and even detoxify the liver. It’s nutrient rich, including iron, potassium and calcium, and full of vitamins like C, D, A, and B complex. It is often mixed with lemon and ginger for a tart and invigorating tonic, or a balance to an otherwise fruity alcohol-free wine.

Each part of the dandelion has a different taste, which is important when deciding how to mix it in drinks and teas. Tea made from dandelion flower petals is a little sweeter than the bold flavor of the dried roots. Roasted dandelion roots can have a similar flavor profile as coffee, but none of the caffeine. The leaves are very earthy and can be on the bitter side, so the greens are best paired with fruit juices or floral tastes and aromas. It’s exciting to see dandelion go from an herbalists’ standby to a favorite ingredient in mainstream beverages.

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CUMIN

CUMIN

Using cumin in a cocktail may seem strange to most Americans, but it is more common in India, used in a popular summer-drink called Jeera Soda. This is a savory, bubbly concoction made with ground cumin seeds, black peppercorns, sugar, salt, chat masala, lemon, and soda water. There is also a trend of adding cumin, salt and other herbs to cola. The herbs and spices balance the sweetness for a tangy, effervescent drink.

Cumin has also been used to flavor a spirit called Kummel, originating from Holland. Kummel is infused with caraway and cumin, traditionally drunk as a shot, but is mixed into cocktails with fruity flavors for a spicy finish.

There is a real opportunity to include cumin in new zero-proof spirits for a more unique and adventurous palate—for the people willing to go beyond the normal alcohol-free gin or vodka basics.

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FENNEL

FENNEL

The taste and smell of fennel is similar to licorice or star anise—which are commonly used in liqueurs and aperitifs, like Sambuca, as an after-dinner drink. Bartenders are starting to experiment more with fennel in cocktails by pairing it with acidic fruits, as an infusion, or simple syrup. A zero-proof spirit made with fennel would make an excellent post-meal cocktail because of its history of fighting bad breath and indigestion. Fennel seeds are also high in anti-inflammatory agents and antioxidants, which are both important to fighting chronic conditions. Look out—this sweet flavored herb could become a new favorite ingredient in the next big functional beverage brand.

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TURMERIC

TURMERIC

Turmeric has been showing up in cocktail recipes because of its healthy properties, but adding alcohol seems like it would undo or counteract its ability to fight inflammation and immunity. Again, this seems like a chance to innovate and find ways to mimic a delicious cocktail without the alcohol. Turmeric could be that powerful ingredient in a functional drink—a great alternative to sugary, boozy ones during a night out with friends. There are a few ready-to-drink mocktails out there that use turmeric for the main ingredient. It is often mixed with lemon, ginger, and sometimes a fruit flavor to balance the bite.

Turmeric has an earthy and slightly bitter taste. It seems like those flavors often come with a ton of nutrition, and turmeric definitely packs it in with major benefits for your brain and body. It contains curcumin which is the compound responsible for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. We think it is turmeric’s time to hop out of the kitchen and have a whole new life at the zero-proof bar.

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CINNAMON

CINNAMON

Cinnamon is a very popular spice and already widely used by the beverage industry. It can give drinks a warm, sweet taste if you are wanting to forgo sugar or sugar-substitutes. It is often a flavor note described in wines, spirits and liqueurs. Cinnamon extract and cinnamon infusions are present in several of the zero-proof spirits like rum and whisky alternatives.

Cinnamon has been used for centuries in both culinary and medicinal ways. One of the most important active ingredients in cinnamon is cinnamaldehyde which could be responsible for some of cinnamon’s possible health benefits like regulating blood sugar, and its antioxidant, antibiotic, and anti-inflammatory properties. What a bonus when cinnamon already brings a delicious scent and taste to pretty much everything it is added to.

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We’ve seen herbs and spices become popular in new beverages as people continue to pay more attention to ingredients and the power of plants for health and flavor. How will you experiment with new botanicals and flavors? We provide bulk herbs to a range of beverage, tea, kombucha, and beverage brands. Reach out to us if you are thinking of creating a new product and need a source for quality bulk herbs at competitive prices.