New elderberry varieties bred for cordial market

New varieties of Sambucus (elderberry) are being bred for scent for the cordial market by Edmund Brown, the national collection holder of Sambucus including 116 named varieties from all over the world and co-owner of Cotswold Garden Flowers.

Brown: planning full-scale production starting in 2017
Brown: planning full-scale production starting in 2017

Brown, who has been breeding Sambucus since 2009, said walking through the national collection in 2013 he "realised that all the Sambucus have different scent. I'm also a home brewer, so I already was becoming very aware that the different varieties impart different flavours into the finished sparkling wine."

He has isolated new flavours including almond, orange squash, blackcurrant, star anise, orange, and rose scents, and is working with a food scientist to develop more. He has also been selecting out those with stronger flower colour, which becomes an integral part of the finished cordial, saving the need to add artificial colours.

Elders are healthy and full of antioxidants, added Brown, but they are often seen as a weed so have not found favour in the same way as blueberries or goji berries. But he said elderflower flavours are becoming more popular in the soft drinks market with companies such as Schweppes, Belvoir and Fever Tree, although UK production does not meet demand and centres on one variety.

Brown is breeding for a longer flowering season, extending to late September. Increasing flower size from 5.5in to 14in has increased yields by five or six times. He has even found a sweet elderberry that he has eaten straight off the tree. A standard control elderberry has 90g of sugar per litre while the new sweet selection has 150g, he pointed out.

"With the sugar tax coming along, high antioxidants and high levels of background sugar without the need to add sugar have got to be a winner. Getting new products into the marketplace is difficult but these plants are so good it should be easy. I am planning full-scale production, starting in 2017, of both finished plants and our own orchards."

He added that an old study run by Mike Dunnett showed 85 per cent of new introductions completely disappeared from production after a period of 10 years, "so because of this it makes me very critical of my own breeding". Lack of trials meant many introductions failed to take off, though trialling has improved since Dunnett's study, which means they are likely to have more longevity.

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