The opening of this decade is witnessing strong demand for botanicals that target better mood and active lifestyle. The most popular botanical ingredients could be called “experiential,” designed to help bring us up, bring us down, calm us, vitalize us, and help us focus so we can work better.

Other botanicals work to “Zen us out” so we can meditate better, relax us so we can sleep better, and stimulate more energy so we can endure the day and exercise better. Overall, these natural ingredients are applied to make us generally feel better so we can live our best lives.

A few brands are leading this movement, and their primary ingredients highlight the top types of botanicals for 2020. One such brand, the Four Sigmatic Co., exemplifies this trend via its line of mushroom coffees — coffees mixed with health-enhancing or mood-altering mushroom extracts or “adaptogens.” The company uses use Lion’s Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) extracts paired with coffee as a morning beverage claiming to “support productivity, focus, and creativity.”

For “better-for-you” food and beverage developers, the rapidly expanding compendium of well-studied botanicals offers equally expanding opportunities to craft foods and beverages that include these ingredients and target their purported benefits to an eager consumer. Today’s botanical ingredients are inclusive not only of plants and their parts (leaves, flowers, buds, seeds, bark, roots, and rhizomes) but fungi (mycelium and body), algae, and other ingredients neither animal nor mineral.

Hand in hand with the cognition and performance-enhancing supplements, sports is an area of product development that is taking off combining the cognition enhancing herbs with energy and even eye-health ingredients, such as algae-derived astaxanthin and blueberry extract.


That 70s Show

PHOTO COURTESY OF: Australian Carob Co. (

In the 1970s, carob was touted as a healthier replacement for chocolate. And, indeed, carob (Ceratonia silique-L) contains important minerals (including calcium and iron), plus a wealth of phytochemical constituents, including gallotannins, polyphenols, flavonoids, and isoflavonoids. These have been recognized as having anti-cancer, anti-diabetes, anti-diarrheal, and anti-hyperlipidemic activity. Also, carob is rich in both essential and nonessential amino acids. And unlike chocolate, carob is caffeine-free.

So what killed the excitement for this superfruit? “Manufacturers didn’t position carob right in the 1970s — it’s not a chocolate replacer,” explains food trends forecaster Elizabeth Moskow. “When you’re comparing anything to chocolate, it’s going to fail.” But Moskow predicts that, supported by current diet trends, carob is set for a comeback.

One of the amino acids in carob helping it garner this renewed interest is that it is a plant-based source of hydroxyproline, an amino acid form linked to collagen production, making it an excellent “beauty from within” ingredient. That amino acid is typically found in animal products. “Expect to see carob paired with chocolate in snacks and sweet baked foods, or carob powder as a booster in smoothies,” says Moskow.


Keep Calm & Carry On

In the area of cognition, adaptogens continue to be strong ingredients, with many new product introductions. While these include the now-popular herbal superstars ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), ginseng (Panax ginseng), and rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), other botanicals — and areas of brain-health focus other than memory and alertness, such as sleep, calm, and relaxation — are trending up.

One example is naturally boosting gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) with botanicals, such as L-theanine from matcha, chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), and passionflower (Passiflora-spp.). GABA is one of the body’s main inhibitory, relaxing neurotransmitters, and although it is often taken by itself in supplement form, there are botanicals that are established as GRAS found to positively affect GABA levels in the brain.

Chamomile is known for its calming quality, the mechanism of which is believed to be derived from an ability to bind to the GABA receptors in the brain similar to the anti-anxietal benzodiazepine drugs. Passionflower, a traditional herbal also used for its anxiolytic activity, modulates GABA by improving the receptors and uptake. Another food product that meets the demand for GABA in the diet is germinated brown rice, called GABA Rice.

The process of germinating brown rice not only increases the amount of GABA, but also other nutrients, such as the amino acid lysine, the powerful vitamin E form known as tocotrienols, magnesium, and zinc. This rice, called hatsuga genmai in Japanese, has a long history of use in Japanese and Korean cuisine. Expect to see it showing up in foods and beverages as consumers seek better mood states from their foods.

Another area of cognition where botanicals are key is the enhancement of gut-brain health. Botanicals contain phytochemicals such as the polyphenols. Certain of these are known to enhance gut-brain signaling, reduce inflammation, and have the potential to promote neurotransmitter synthesis. An example of this is Amare Global, Inc.’s Fundamentals MentaBiotics product, which contains flavonoids (termed “phytobiotics”), and mushroom bioactives. MentaSync promotes them as helping to improve the signaling ability of the gut-brain axis, thereby promoting healthy cognition and mood. 
In beverages, nootropics continue to be on the rise, and one of the newer areas of innovation is in non-alcoholic beverages — “mocktails” — that target the cocktail market. With the rising popularity of “Dry January,” these non-alcoholic options are finding increasing markets.

One fast-rising brand in this channel is Kin Euphorics, by Kin Social Tonics, Inc. Kin Euphorics is a line of dietary supplement beverages marketed as an alcohol-free booze substitute and containing a variety of ingredients billed as contributing to a sense of euphoria. For example, its “Dream Light” contains L-theanine, passionflower, and L-tryptophan; “High Rhode” contains rhodiola, GABA, 5-HTP, tyrosine, hibiscus, gentian, and licorice. The company describes its rationale, “Whereas alcohol inhibits cognitive function, euphorics are formulated to enhance cognitive function.”

The potential for the food and beverage market is exemplified by products containing GRAS botanicals, such as Diageo plc.’s Seedlip distilled non-alcoholic spirit brand. The company’s SPICE 94 contains allspice and cardamom distillates with extracts of grapefruit peel, lemon peel, oak bark, and cascarilla (Croton eluteria) bark. It contains no calories, sugar, or sweeteners, and is intended to be served simply with tonic and a red grapefruit peel.



Although caffeine might seem “old school” compared with the adaptogens and newer botanicals being used for mood and energy today, it still reigns as king in the market. Innovation is bringing new sources of natural caffeine to the fore, and contributing to an expanding variety of “better coffee” products, including many coffees containing botanicals, GRAS botanicals containing caffeine, and beverages that include caffeine extenders and caffeine modulators.

Guarana (Paullinia cupana) is reappearing in the marketplace — not just as a natural caffeine and energy source, but also in products using it as an ingredient billed to increase mental alertness and improve mood. Although galanga (Alpinia galanga), a type of galangal and a relative of ginger and turmeric, has long been used in food and beverages, it is now supported by new clinical science suggesting that it can extend the effects of caffeine.

Caffeine is often found with other xanthine alkaloids, especially theobromine and theophylline. These are found most commonly in chocolate and tea. Theobromine is promoted as having cognitive and mood enhancement properties, while theophylline, more associated with green tea, has energy enhancement benefits.

Cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum) is a cacao relative that few know about, but which has a local market in Brazil and good potential on the world market. Cupuaçu is not only consumed for its fruit pulp, which has a delicious tropical flavor, but also for its bean, which can be prepared like chocolate. It has a lower caffeine content than chocolate but contains a type of xanthine alkaloid called theograndin. Theograndins have demonstrated powerful antioxidant capacity in research studies.

Another phytochemical gaining attention recently is rutaecarpine. An alkaloid compound derived from the Tetradium ruticarpum tree (called goshuyu in Japan and wu zhu yu in China), it is associated with caffeine as a strategy for enhancing the coffee ritual. It has been shown to assist the body in breaking down caffeine. It has a long history of use in Kampo (traditional Japanese medicine) and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).


Made to Fit

Adaptogenic herbs have played key roles in traditional medicine for centuries, yet are fairly new to the American market. This includes herbs such as schisandra (Schisandra chinensis), jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum), shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) and plants from the genus Bupleurum. Schisandra is well known in TCM for its adaptogenic and alleged longevity-promoting capacity. Today, it has enjoyed a surge in popularity as a supplement and a food, as the berries are known to possess “all five flavors.” Elements, LLC’s “Elements by Lokai” tincture uses schisandra in its Focus formulation, one of four products the company markets as being able to “quickly elicit either uplift or unwinding feelings.” Elements plans to launch an RTD beverage based on the formulation this year.

Jiaogulan is an Asian native that has been referred to as “immortality herb” due to its tonic adaptogenic effects on the body. It contains antioxidant compounds called gypenosides and is now being included in some anti-aging formulations. The leaves have a sweet flavor when consumed as a tea, and it has even been referred to as the “sweet tea vine” — a history that could help facilitate its expected GRAS status.

Shatavari is an adaptogen commonly incorporated into rejuvenating tonics in Ayurvedic medicine. It is considered a “counterpart” to ashwagandha and is recommended for enhancing fertility in both men and women. Shatavari is thought to be especially beneficial for many women’s health conditions and is used to “cool” menopausal symptoms. Bupleurum is an herb well-known in Kampo and TCM. It often is combined with other herbs for moving Qi (“ch’i”) — the “life force” — through the body.

A recent systematic review and meta-analysis of bupleurum for treating depression found it was able to reduce the severity of depression either alone or when given with other antidepressants. As these ingredients have traditional uses as “tonics” and have been on the market as teas, it is not hard to imagine there will be GRAS designations before too long.


Beauty From Within

“Ingestible beauty” is the new term coined for foods and beverages with a beauty focus. Such beauty-from-within products have been named by research group Mintel as an area of untapped potential growth. While using nutraceutical botanicals to enhance beauty and youthful appearance is as old as recorded history, the two-year-old company Moon Juice LLC is a standout in showing how such products are being crafted and packaged in a fresh new way to a younger market.

Via a line of powdered botanical products that the company calls “dusts,” Moon Juice features a number of formulations consumers can concoct to suit specific goals. For example, the recipe “Beauty Latte” contains coconut milk, a collagen-based ingredient, rose water, South American lucuma fruit powder (Pouteria lucuma), pearl dust, schisandra, raw honey, and coconut oil.

Another featured Moon Juice product and recipe is “Strawberry Beauty Milk.” The recipe itself calls for the user to mix water, coconut butter, frozen strawberries, and coconut nectar with its collagen ingredient and its “Beauty Dust” — a blend of adaptogens and powdered pearls.

One key trend appearing increasingly in consumer media is the convergence of beauty and mental health. It is often pointed out that the “Gen Z market” favors brands that offer some sense of calm and sensorial experiences. This makes it easy for a brand like Moon Juice and others promoting adaptogen-led beauty products to resonate with consumers.

Another quickly growing plant-based brand gaining a devoted following is Urban Remedy, Inc., an organic food company that delivers ready-to-eat meals, juices, cleanses, and snacks made from ingredients touting specific mind and body functionality.

Online consumers choose which health concern they want to address, such as skin health, and Urban Remedy promotes its products based on “brightly colored fruits and veggies” that are “rich in antioxidants that promote a healthy glow.” The company’s “Purify Cleanse” product contains ingredients such as dandelion greens and burdock root (for liver support), turmeric (for reducing inflammation), vitamins, minerals and “healing plant pigments.”


Better Aging

While the collagen in some of these formulations is not plant based, many vegan brands are now featuring collagen boosters that are, and these ingredients are included in products not only addressing the traditional hair, skin, and nails focus but also healthy aging and sports nutrition. Ingredients often used for boosting collagen include amla berry (Phyllanthus emblica), also called the Indian gooseberry.

Research links the amla berry to collagen production in human skin fibroblasts, not only due not to its vitamin C content but to its phytoceramides, waxy lipid compounds also found in wheat. Often combined with collagen for the sports and healthy aging products is protein, and a new plant-based protein from Peru, called “tara,” is hitting the market.

Tara powder comes from a South American tree (Caesalpinia spinosa or Tara spinosa), used industrially as a source for tannins from its seed pods and a food additive gum for thickener and stabilizer use. Tara naturally contains a large amount of protein and fiber and those components are finding their way into food protein supplements, baked goods, and beverages.

As such exotic fruits and botanicals hit the market, some that are more familiar also are getting closer looks. Mango has been gaining new attention for a few of its more recent scientifically supported applications. In personal care, mango extracts, mango butter, and mango seed oil are being incorporated into ingestible cosmetic formulations. Mango powder is showing up in products targeting “healthy metabolic aging” by improving blood flow and increasing eNOS (endothelial nitric oxide synthase) for optimal nitric oxide function.

Recent research also has indicated that phytochemicals in mango can help activate the SIRT1 enzyme, which is thought to act like a master-switch in promoting healthy aging, energy homeostasis, and cell protection. The active ingredient mangiferin, extracted from mango, is believed to provide energy- boosting benefits without caffeine or negative side effects. As mango powder and the mangiferin ingredient have been self-affirmed as GRAS, expect to see functional mango products in foods and beverages promoting not only energy, but also healthy aging.

New research has indicated many potentials for mango ingredients in future product development. Mango seed has been a recognized source of prebiotic fiber-like resistant starch, and a new study has showed that mango peel also has prebiotic activity. Another study, this time of athletes performing sprints, showed that mango leaf extract increased sprint muscle performance.

Also, a January 2020 pilot clinical study demonstrated that mango polyphenols could offer relief for irritable bowel syndrome. As the research continues to mount on the benefits of the most popular fruit in the world, we can expect many new product introductions of this fruit across the different natural channels.

In tracking which botanicals will be the next hot ingredients, it is typically supplements and food and drink that lead the markets in predicting the big functional ingredients. However, as the line between food and drink and personal care and beauty continues to blur, more crossover trends are bound to appear.

Just as adaptogens and antioxidants began in food and drink and crossed to beauty products, antipollution promoters and antiaging skin products will soon be featured on the front label of food and beverage products.