Using Flavor to Enhance Mood-Boosting Foods & Beverages

by | May 5, 2022

Your current or desired mood often influences the foods and beverages you choose to consume. You might keep a box of chamomile tea in the cupboard to help you relax after a stressful day. Or maybe you look forward to a caffeine boost from a refreshing iced tea in the afternoon, or a drink from an ice-cold craft beer after work. Formulators who want to deepen the connection between mood and food can explore flavor as a functionality signal for consumers.

With more consumers turning to nutrition to help manage stress or balance moods, developers have ample innovation opportunity. Let’s take a closer look at some popular categories for mood-boosting products and explore flavor and formulation opportunities for different mood “platforms.”

Balancing Mood with Nutrition

Before we dive deeper into specific categories, let’s define what we mean by “mood.”

For our discussion, “mood” is a conscious state of mind or predominant emotion. Mood is only one aspect of overall mental health and can be affected by everything from stress and anxiety to physical wellness and sleep.

During the pandemic, 21% of global consumers reported concerns about their mental health (Innova). Since then, we have seen a shift toward food and nutrition to help balance moods and calm feelings of stress.

What steps did consumers take to improve mental and emotional wellbeing (Innova)?

  • 30% said they made changes to diet and nutrition
  • 25% said they chose foods and beverages to help with mood
  • 25% said they took supplements

What Categories & Flavors Are Associated with Mood?

Many of us may already link certain food and drink categories with mood benefits. Hot beverages evoke perceived benefits like relaxation and sleep assurance while energy drinks and sports beverages readily connect with mood “boosting” and energy claims.

The top six categories for food and beverages launches with “mood” in the description (Mintel) are:

  • Tea
  • Nutritional and meal replacement drinks
  • RTD iced tea
  • Sweet /cookies
  • Cold cereals
  • Coffee

Flavor can highlight the mood or feel of a functional product so consumers can target specific needs (like relaxation) at specific times (evening hours before bed). Lavender and chamomile connote calm and relaxation while brighter flavors with a little more tang like citrus or raspberry work well with energy-boosting claims. Some flavors, like lavender or turmeric, even offer some functionality in addition to flavor.

Formulation Insight: Proper levels of functional ingredients like nootropics (compounds that affect brain performance) and adaptogens (non-toxic plants and mushrooms) are important for consumers to experience the purported benefits. To achieve an ideal eating experience, formulators also leverage stabilization ingredients.

  • Keeping certain ingredients dissolved in a beverage can be a challenge, and developers may need to find solutions to avoid sedimentation, grittiness, or solid particles. Stabilization ingredients can support functional ingredient delivery because they create a homogenous fluid, resulting in a smoother finished beverage.
  • Solid applications like ice cream or nutritional bars will still require those stabilization ingredients to ensure even dispersion. These applications do, however, provide frameworks that make it easier to mask the off-flavors that may come from added functional ingredients.

Opportunities for Mood-Boosting Claims

Examining several mood-boosting “platforms” helps identify the categories and flavors that align with different claims.


According to Innova, beverage launches with happiness claims saw a 6% CAGR from 2016 to 2021. Food categories like confections, bakery, and frozen desserts can also fit with consumers seeking to boost their mood. From a taste perspective, botanicals like ginger and lemongrass can enhance the connection between flavor and function.

Flavors to watch

  • Turmeric: launch CAGR +3.5% in North America
  • Ginger: featured in 20% more categories since 2018
  • Lemongrass: launches up +66% in the last 6 months


Consumers often select hot beverages and confections to help with mood and emotional well-being. Interest in CBD-infused foods is growing. Mintel found that 43% of U.S. consumers have either tried or are interested in trying food and drink containing CBD as a functional ingredient. Floral, herbal, and citrus flavors are popular for products positioned as calming. Chamomile, lavender, hibiscus, lemon balm, basil, and valerian have become more popular in relaxing beverage launches (Innova).

Flavors to watch

  • Basil: in 28% more categories through 2021
  • Hibiscus: +6% more launches in the last 52 weeks and featured in more than twice as many categories
  • Cocoa: +24% increase in beverage launches in the last year


Frozen treats and bakery items are a natural fit for consumers who want to prioritize time for self-care and indulgence. Warm, rich flavors like dark chocolate and coffee can inspire a sense of comfort and help consumers momentarily “escape” the stress of busy schedules. Ice cream’s versatility and consumer interest in variety give manufacturers a broad canvas for flavor innovations. Brands can also cultivate a sense of “permissible indulgence” by offering smaller portions or adding other functional or environmental claims like reduced sugar, lactose-free, or plant-based.

Flavors to watch

  • Coffee: featured in 21% more categories through 2021
  • Dark chocolate: highlighted in +3% more categories since 2017
  • Cinnamon: steady-to-growing in one-third of categories tracked by Mintel


Not surprisingly, beverages lead the way with energy claims (hot, cold, dry/powdered mixes, energy drinks, etc). New beverages featuring energizing claims grew by 5% from 2016 to 2021 while beverages with replenish claims grew by 15% (Innova). A wide range of flavor families fit with energy and alertness claims including berry, citrus, tropical, and botanical. Formulators are adding greater citrus variety with more exotic fruits like blood orange or yuzu. Ginger is also a popular profile, both for its functional benefit and slightly peppery and spicy notes.

Grain-based baked goods can also deliver energy benefits and can help consumers reach health or dietary goals with additional claims like protein, fiber, gluten-free, and digestive health.

Flavors to watch

  • Lemon-lime: featured in 14% more categories since last year
  • Lime: expanding into +9% more categories since 2021
  • Red Raspberry: showing in +17% more categories in the last year

Formulation insight: Lesser-known functional ingredients like L-theanine or reishi mushrooms may need additional on-pack information or fact-based educational messages. For example, in a recent FlavorSum study designed to assess consumer expectations around food functionality, at least 25% of consumers didn’t associate spices like saffron and cinnamon with any functional benefits. And about half claimed they had little to no knowledge of adaptogens (e.g. ashwagandha), nootropics (L-theanine), and streptococcus thermophilus.

What’s Your Next Flavorful Innovation?

If you’re looking for support on your innovation journey to success, leverage FlavorSum’s extensive applications expertise by partnering with us on your next project! Collaborating with our flavor experts can help you navigate development hurdles and speed time to market. Connect with our team to learn more!

In the meantime, we have more functional food and beverage insights for you. Download our e-book to learn about desirable benefits, ingredients, and flavors that can build consumer trial and loyalty.

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