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Ruchika Gupta October 18 , 2018
If you have ever had sharbats, thandai or a mocktail, all of them must have had one thing in common. They are all made from a non-alcoholic beverage item called syrup which is witnessing a tremendous growth in terms of its production and consumption. According to global industry estimates, the market for flavoured syrups is expected to reach US$53.31 billion by 2021. Various factors such as increasing consumer demand for a variety of flavours in food products, personalised flavour options, rising disposable income, and preference towards convenience food and ready-to-eat products are contributing to this. The rapid increase in the production of these items in different parts of our country is also a proof of their rising popularity.

Syrups can be used in mocktails and cocktails depending on the flavour. Indian flavours include Rose, Lemon, Lemon Ginger, Pudina, Thandai, Paan, Saunf, Cinnamon, Elaichi, Jaljeera, Khus, Aam Panna, and Kaala Khatta. Sharbats of these flavours are made by mixing a fixed proportion of the respective syrup with water. Now we also have new-age flavours such as Green Apple, Caramel and Hazelnut. The syrups have other wide variety of applications that include soda crushes, kulfis, ice creams, dessert toppings, cupcakes, teas, ice golas, lassis and welcome drinks.

The syrup comprises of sugar syrup (chaashni) with different flavourings using fruit, vegetable, flower or any other ingredient. Basically apart from the raw ingredients, there is a group of substances that are added into syrups, which are edible. They are added with the agenda of enhancing taste, looks, texture, safety and nutritional value. Market players currently, most of them, add these additives such as essence, artificial flavouring agents, emulsifiers, preservatives, colours, sweeteners, antioxidants, and stabilising agents.

Essence: These are predominantly used by almost all manufacturers to add the flavour, taste and aroma to the product because they are far cheaper than using the actual raw material itself, and comes in variety of flavours. They also help to make the entire manufacturing process far simpler and easier. The time taken to make it becomes far lesser since it just involves adding a few drops of the essence to the product. Various flavours such as watermelon, rose, khus, lemon, green apple, coffee, and vanilla are some of the most popular ones.

Flavouring Agents: These are substitutes to natural flavouring agents. It could taste as that of fruit, nuts, spices, vegetables, wine, and blends, and they are added to enhance the taste or aroma. In some cases where the natural ingredient does not provide the complete taste, these flavouring agents enhance the taste. It comes in three varieties – natural, artificial and natural identical. Natural flavours are extracted from plants, herbs, animals and so on. Artificial flavouring agents are imitates of the natural agents, chemically. However they may not necessarily taste the same. But they are cheaper and easily sourceable.

Emulsifiers: These are added to improve the texture or to bind the items together, thereby giving the product, a thicker appearance. So if you see a very thick syrup (unless it actually has the ingredients visible), be assured that there are emulsifiers contributing to its thickness. Emulsifiers can be natural or synthetic. In most cases, synthetic ones are used in application.

Preservatives: They are used to increase the shelf life of the food / beverage products. These are usually nitrites, sulphites, benzoates or sorbates. The quantities in which it is to be used are recommended and capped by the FSSAI. Also depending on whether the items is fruit-based or vegetable-based or the flavour, the preservative recommended can vary. There are natural preservatives available too, such as citric acid, vinegar and so on. Depending on the shelf life desired, the quantity differs.

Colours: Colours are added in syrup concentrates to make it visually appealing especially when they are further used to make mocktails and cocktails in parties, pubs and restaurants. Colours can be synthetically sourced or naturally. Most widely used colours are synthetic in nature. It’s cheaper and widely available. But as people are becoming increasingly knowledgeable and health-conscious, natural colours are coming into limelight, albeit slowly. The natural colours are sourced from plants, vegetables, fruits etc. In some cases, even from insects.

Sweeteners: Sweeteners are low calorie sugar substitutes added in food and beverages to obtain the same level of sweetness but to cut out on the calorie part. These can be again synthetic or natural. Synthetic ones are more commonly used by manufacturers who are trying to avoid sugar in their process. However, these have their own disadvantages and risks to health. The natural sweeteners such as honey and palm sugar are far better. But their taste is quite different than that of sugar. So it depends on the manufacturer as to what kind of balance they wish to maintain between the raw materials, taste and price economics.

Antioxidants: Oxidation is a chemical reaction that can produce free radicals, thereby leading to chain reactions that may damage the cells of organisms. In terms of food, oxidation is a destructive process that leads to the spoilage and changes its chemical composition as well as nutritional value. To prevent this or delay the process of oxidation, antioxidant additives are added. Antioxidants such as thiols or ascorbic acid (vitamin C) terminate these chain reactions and increase the shelf life of the food.

Stabilising Agents: These are thickening agents to achieve items of desired consistency. Gelatin, Starches or Gum are added in small quantities and enhance the effect of emulsifiers.

We at Gulabs take great responsibility in using as much less additives as possible in our syrups. Most of them have only preservatives and in some of them colour too is added. It is important that customers get products that contains only very minimum use of artificial agents, if at all they cannot be avoided completely. In that sense, thandai fits perfectly as a chemical-free syrup that does not have any preservatives, colours, emulsifiers, flavouring agents and essence. It’s a rich concoction made of dry fruits, dried seeds, gulkand and pepper which only needs to be diluted with milk. It can also be used to make kulfi, dressing on desserts, thandai cakes and so on.

Growing demand for healthier and organic food and beverage items from the consumers today is leading to development and increase in variety of product portfolio by the additive manufacturers. Media focus and technological developments have also played a vital role in the same. Hence the need of the hour is to meet the requirement of the health-conscious generation by making quality products. The concern of the consumers regarding harmful chemicals, preservatives are creating an immediate need for good quality beverages to be made without also compromising on taste, quality and cost.

(The author is vice-president, sales and marketing, Gulabs. She can be contacted at lohit.gulabs@gmail.com)

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