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Ayurveda, a system of traditional medicine found in India, has received a fairly mixed press since it first came to the notice of western consumers. While many swear by it as a natural route to better health, there have been concerns raised over the levels of toxins found in some imported Indian medicines and the lack of quality control in the market, with regulatory bodies in some countries now looking to tighten up on distribution. However, while it would be unwise to blindly believe in the safety and efficacy of all Ayurvedic medicines, ongoing scientific investigation suggests that many of the most popular Ayurvedic plants do have distinct medicinal benefits, and with the strong focus currently placed on naturally healthy botanical extracts, it is time for ingredients manufacturers to look more closely at the opportunities that this field of alternative medicine can offer.

From Dietary Supplements to Functional Foods?

As with most botanical extracts, the dietary supplements market has been the initial target for many active Ayurvedic ingredients. However, more recently, rising interest has been noted in the sports nutrition category, while some speciality and herbal teas in western markets now include Ayurvedic components. Although consumer awareness of specific Ayurvedic botanicals is still very low, these developments suggest that acceptance of perceived benefits can overcome knowledge of specific ingredients.

Uptake from the functional food and beverage markets is still low but there have been a few interesting instances in which Indian botanicals have featured in fortified products.  Amla fruit or Indian gooseberry has been one of the most high-profile products from Ayurveda, with claims made over its benefits in heart, immune, digestive and eye health. It appears to have been the most widely used of the Ayurvedic ingredients to date, featuring in a number of antioxidant beverages around the world, including Beauty In, a Brazilian brand positioned specifically as a beauty beverage. The global market for ‘Beauty from Within’ beverages is forecast double-digit growth over 2013-2018 so there is plenty of potential for amla fruit ingredients in this arena. Meanwhile, other products have been using amla specifically as a vitamin C ingredient, while the Uvé Gourmet Weight Loss range of beverages in the US features Indian gooseberry as a ‘superfruit antioxidant’.

Another of the better known Ayurvedic herbs is Indian ginseng or ashwagandha. Again, this has been promoted on the back of a wide range of potential health benefits related to energy, heart health and stress control. Specific products already seen with ashwagandha ingredients include Pulsin’s Bliss Bar! in the UK, which claims immune- and energy-boosting benefits, and Bean & Body’s natural coffee-based drinks in the US, which use Essentra-branded ashwagandha root extract as an energy ingredient. The market for natural energy drinks is growing fast, particularly in the US, and could well hold immediate potential for ashwagandha.

Further Research to Support Ayurvedic Extracts

Other Ayurvedic ingredients that are generating interest among scientists and ingredient developers include gymnema for its role in diabetic foods, pterostilbene for its heart health benefits, salacia for its aid to pre-diabetic consumers, and bacopa for its role in cognitive function and memory. Several of these are already being sold as commercial ingredients, although as with ashwagandha and amla the initial emphasis is on dietary supplementation. However, as the global search for the next big thing in botanicals intensifies, further research into Ayurvedic plants is inevitable and functional food applications are expected to feature in their future use.

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