Aloe vera is an ingredient that is proving to be an exception to the rule as it has moved into many mainstream functional food, nutraceutical and cosmeceutical applications without the kind of scientific backing that has afforded an ingredient like omega-3 such a guided passage into the functional ingredient limelight. This was the opinion of Hartmut Sannecke, the marketing director of Cognis Europe's Nutrition and Health division at the Natural Ingredients Symposium held in Dusseldorf this week. "In 20-30 years the level of public acceptance for a wide range of health benefits for aloe vera has accelerated rapidly," he said. "It shows how important the marketing is and how powerful the natural message can be. A natural ingredient that has, or is believed to have, strong health benefits, is a wonderful marketing story." Health and application expansion For centuries aloe vera has been used topically to treat burns and skin abrasions, but it has become an increasingly popular anti-ageing and skin health ingredient in nutricosmetics products. It has also been linked with boosted immune function, gut health, modulating blood sugar levels and enhancing the bioavailability of vitamins C, E, B12 and the ORAC capacity of blood plasma. Its use has sky-rocketed in food supplements and functional foods as a result as formulation issues have been resolved. Companies like botanicals supplier Unigen, part of the Econet group along with sister company and major US aloe player Aloecorp, claim new technologies exist to resolve taste issues that have plagued the ingredient in the past and offer a neutral aloe vera version for many food and beverage applications. Vindication for the ingredient's development can be seen in its incorporation into functional beverages such as mangosteen leader, Xango, which included aloe vera in a version of its highly successful drink launched by the Utah-based company in select European countries in 2007. That product also contained green tea and grape seed extracts and was marketed on its boosted antioxidant content. Unigen Europe vice president of sales and marketing, Douglas A. Lynch, told NutraIngredients.com there was aloe vera science in place but a lot of it was generic, and not related to specific food matrices. "To say there is a lack of science behind aloe vera is a little harsh on the reality of the situation," he said. "The public are not stupid and they are buying these products because they are proving beneficial in various areas." He suggested the fact aloe vera has won a certain level of public acceptance may have contributed to the trickle rather than rush of new science being commissioned. The market may be compromised by products with compromised efficacy, he said, due to inadequate dosage levels or the fact they employed aloe vera sourced from parts of the aloe vera plant that had lower concentrations of active nutrients.