The lemon myrtle plant is native to Australia, and is not unknown to Asia but thus far has mostly been more popular as a personal care and cleaning ingredient due to its natural antibacterial properties, or as a herb and spice due to its aroma.
The firm believes that it has massive untapped potential in terms of flavour, health and functional benefits, making it suitable for consumption as a beverage and especially as a tea.
“The lemon myrtle leaves make a refreshing tea when dried, and has a more herbaceous and sweet lemon flavour when compared to the lemon fruit,” Australian Native Products Founder Gary Mazzorana told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“Lemon myrtle also offers an added health bonus to tea blends – it is a rich source of the potent antioxidant citral which boasts a range of functional benefits. Citral is lemon myrtle’s active compound, and it has more citral than other known lemon herbals like lemongrass – in fact it’s made up of more than 90% of citral.
“As a tea, lemon myrtle tea also has more antioxidants than many other herbal teas. If compared with black tea, the antioxidant levels are similar but lemon myrtle tea [carries the added benefit of] no caffeine.”
Australian Native Products has set its sights on tea markets in Asia for its lemon myrtle tea – India, Sri Lanka and Japan were highlighted as some of the particular countries of interest.
“The Asia Pacific tea market is growing fast, it’s expected to grow 2.4% in the next five years, with India, China and Japan leading the way as the top consumers of tea,” said Mazzorana.
“There is a growing interest in the functional benefits of tea and millennials are showing a preference for flavoured teas. With lemon myrtle’s antioxidant content and its sweet and herbaceous citrus flavour, it could be the perfect ingredient for many Asia Pacific tea manufacturers.”
Although no business plans or conversations have been officially announced, Australian Native Products is clearly aiming to go big with lemon myrtle tea, as most of the brands Mazzorana said they are looking to work with are major names in the industry.
“There are a few companies in India and Sri Lanka with whom we’re hoping to work with – In India, this would be Tata Tea which is India’s largest packaged tea brand, where one in three Indian households drinks Tata Tea; [and Society Tea], which is known for its innovation, is another target,” he said.
“In Sri Lanka, we’re looking at collaborating with Akbar Group/Brothers and Dilmah.”
Tata Tea and Dilmah in particular have been named amongst the largest tea companies in Asia Pacific by various intelligence firms including Mordor Intelligence and Technavio.
The firm also hopes to draw appeal from sustainably-focused consumers for lemon myrtle as a tea, as the plant’s natural characteristics allow for its growing to be conducted in an eco-friendly manner.
“Lemon myrtle has very few natural predator pests and is resistant to many diseases common in other exotic tree crops. [We have] implemented sustainable farming practices to encourage the native flora and fauna to thrive, creating a natural ecosystem to minimise the use of chemicals,” said Mazzorana.
The processing of the plant is also zero-waste – after harvesting, the leaves will be separated for use as tea or other products, but the remaining stems will be distilled to obtain essential oils for personal care products.
By-products from any distillation that takes place are used either in other products or for the next batch of plants, preventing wastage from taking place.
“For example, hydrosol or floral water is a by-product of the distillation process, which is being developed for use in personal care products [based on its] fragrance and residual citral,” he added.
“The distillation process also produces a by-product mulch that when returned to the soil around a young lemon myrtle plant, will prevent the growth of weeds and slow the evaporation of moisture from the soil - Optimal soil health is critical for a lemon myrtle plant’s roots to receive the vitamins and enzymes needed to develop.”