Supplier debuts concentrated acerola extract with high level of ‘natural’ vitamin C

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Much of the world's supply of acerola fruit is grown in Brazil. ©Getty Images - Mironmax Studio
Much of the world's supply of acerola fruit is grown in Brazil. ©Getty Images - Mironmax Studio

Related tags Vitamin c Natural vitamin

An ingredient supplier based in California but with significant operations in Brazil has staked a new claim in the natural vitamin C fray with a new concentrated acerola ingredient.

The company, called CAIF, for Concentrated Active Ingredients & Flavors, Inc. has debuted a new concentrated acerola ingredient that company says contains 32% vitamin C, which the company says is 100 times more than an orange.  The company said it believes that level of vitamin C content, along with the other vitamins and minerals contained within the fruit, accord it ‘superfood’ status.

Backing the ‘superfruit’ moniker

According to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology​ acerola fruit is the highest natural of source of vitamin C, putting it on a par with camu camu (Myrciaria dubia​).  The fruit also contains a rich suite of other phytonutrients, including carotenoids, phenolics, flavonoids, and anthocyanins.

Acerola (Malpighia emarginata​) is a fruit bearing shrub or small tree native to South America and islands in the Caribbean Sea. The fruit was originally gathered wild, but has been a cultivated crop for many years, said Cesar Fernandes, CEO of CAIF.  The company markets a range of acerola ingredients and supplies açai, guarana and yerba maté as well.

“Brazil supplies 60 to 70% of the world’s acerola market. In all our ingredients, the main part of the story is their natural origin.  Acerola is originally from the South American rainforests but 100% of it is now cultivated in commercial farms in other regions, with high yields, genetic improvements, and an established supply chain. It just doesn’t make any sense to wild harvest it. We need to be very assertive to demonstrate where our products come from and that they are not related in any way to unsustainable practices,​” Fernandes told NutraIngredients-USA.

The vitamin C market has taken off this year as consumers look to dietary ingredients that can boost their immune systems in the face of the global pandemic. Fernandes said the global market for vitamin C stands at $8 billion and could reach $10 billion by 2024.  The ‘natural’ end of that market is worth $2.5 billion, he said.

But the market for acerola extends beyond just vitamin C, Fernandes said.  Including the other applications of ingredients made from acerola, which include natural antioxidants for food preservation and shelf life extension, as well as uses as a dough conditioner in baked goods, the market for acerola extracts is as much as $5 billion.

Natural vs. synthetic

Among the rush to purchase vitamin C ingredients are consumers who are seeking natural products. While research has shown that ascorbic acid present as part of a plant matrix and ascorbic acid derived from large scale food chemical processing perform similarly in the body​, Fernandes said that if consumers prefer a natural form, they should have that option.

“Synthetic and natural vitamin C molecules are indeed chemically identical. However, acerola is not only about vitamin C. This fruit contains many other minerals and micronutrients that enhance the absorption of vitamin C and provide other health benefits as well,” Fernandes said.

“Most people are not interested in market statistics or manufacturing technologies, but the ones that are interested in healthy foods and naturally sourced ingredients are actively reading product labels and watching what they buy and eat,”​ he added.

Achieving a high level of vitamin C via concentration does come at some cost, Fernandes said. For that reason, CAIF supplies a range of ingredients, some of which are fortified with less expensive synthetic vitamin C.

“We carry different types of products to serve different market needs. We have products with added synthetic vitamin, with added natural vitamin and with 100% native vitamin. Each one has different manufacturing technologies and price points. Our newest release has a minimum 32% of native vitamin, which is manufactured through a complex concentration process and uses the fruit’s own biomass as carrier,”​ he said.

Verifying the ‘natural’ claim

There have been allegations for years that some ‘natural’ sources of vitamin C have been surreptitiously fortified with synthetic sources to meet label claim. While this does not present a safety concern, it could constitute fraud if consumers are misled into paying more for a product with a ‘natural’ claim.  Fernandes said CAIF is sensitive to such concerns and claimed his company’s ingredients are tested to meet label claim and composition though he did provide detail on any third party verification.

“We regularly conduct lab testing to guarantee the highest quality standards,” ​he said.