- François-Xavier Branthôme
It’s not sweet, salty, bitter or sour. It’s “delicious.” And it’s the fifth basic taste known by the Japanese word umami, which is described as a savory, meaty flavor.
Umami is naturally present in some cheeses, mushrooms, tomatoes, among other foods. The components responsible for umami may be extracted and duplicated or reproduced to offer food manufacturers umami ingredients, which increasingly are being used to assist with sodium reduction without any negative implications on flavor.
“The uncertainty of how the US consumer will react to sodium-reduced products may be influencing companies to be very calculated and perform their due diligence to strategize the best approach in reducing sodium,” said Christine Shiinoki, technical applications manager, CJ Food & Nutrition Tech, Downers Grove, Ill.
Tweaking flavor with umami
With many varied sodium-reduction solutions on the market, there is no one-product-fits-all ingredient. In many instances, reduction requires a systems approach, with umami ingredients part of the mix.
Ajinomoto Group, Tokyo, encourages manufacturers to boost the umami taste in food systems through the addition of monosodium glutamate (MSG), a seasoning that combines sodium with glutamate. MSG is the purest form of umami, which is a taste that brings out the savory deliciousness of food and adds dimension to flavors. It assists with sodium reduction because it contains two-thirds less sodium than table salt while being as, or sometimes even more, potent in flavor enhancement, and at a nominal cost.
To increase flavor without adding sodium in sauces and condiments, Illes Foods, Carrollton, Texas, uses lots of Asian ingredients. They help to reduce the use of sodium by enhancing palatability.
“Soy sauce, tamari, rice vinegar, black garlic, all these ingredients add umami from fermentation,” said Robert Murphy, chef and culinary development specialist. “By adding just a small amount of vinegar, the flavor of a recipe doesn’t need as much sodium to deliver a very flavorful sauce or seasoning. We have recently started using mushroom extracts and powder. The glutamate in mushrooms is their source of umami.”
CJ Food & Nutrition Tech offers umami ingredients produced by fermentation of non-genetically modified sugars by select microbial strains that are not yeast based. The ingredient can be labeled as a natural flavor. “The resulting product is comprised of a unique and complex blend of compounds that contribute to its dynamic taste effects,” Ms. Shiinoki said. “Along with organic acids and natural sugars, the umami-contributing components are from the amino acids, natural glutamates and nucleotides that are formed. The presence of the umami components functions to enhance the perception of salty taste while the sour taste from the organic acids helps increase the saltiness perception, thereby allowing the product formulator to utilize less salt while still being able to deliver the full-flavor effect.”
The company offers four different solutions within the line, all with slightly different taste features and functions to meet the needs of the formulator.
Tomatoes are the source of umami for sodium-reduction ingredients from Lycored, Somerville, NJ. These taste components can be labeled as tomato concentrate or natural flavor. “Using these tomato-based taste components comes with no drawbacks, just triple benefit potential through improved nutrient profiles, simplified ingredient lists and enhanced taste,” said Caroline Schroeder, marketing communications manager. “They are extracted from our very own breed of red tomatoes. This extraction yields two taste component solutions that address different needs for our customers while providing umami.
“At the heart of both taste components is an amino acid naturally occurring in tomatoes, glutamate. Our special cultivar of tomato and our production processes elevate the richness of this glutamate, resulting in an undeniable balance of flavors and sensations for an optimal eating experience.”
The first tomato-based taste component provides umami and kokumi flavors, with lower acidity and no tomato taste. The second solution offers umami by intensifying the taste of tomatoes, giving products a tomato flavor effect. “This makes it ideal for tomato-based products like sauces, condiments, soups and ready meals,” Ms. Schroeder said. “It can also provide the Maillard reaction, naturally.”
NuTek Natural Ingredients, Omaha, Neb., offers clean label umami flavor solutions that are created through age-old fermentation and cooking techniques, said Scott Keys, vice president of flavor solutions. “Our solutions can significantly increase umami, saltiness perception and round out flavors in wide range of savory applications,” he said. “Our solutions are labeled as natural flavors. It is not a salt, so it will not replace salt’s functionality beyond flavor enhancement. When salt’s functionality is needed, NuTek offers potassium salt-based solutions that can be used synergistically with our umami solutions for a holistic approach.”
Corbion, Lenexa (Kansas, USA), has a portfolio of fermented carbohydrate ingredients that provide savory and umami flavor enhancement. They may be labeled as natural flavors on the ingredient statement and are used in refrigerated foods, sauces and dressings, and baked foods. “The amount of sodium reduction that can be achieved depends on the formula and other product parameters, such as moisture, water activity, etc.,” said Ricardo Moreira, director of product development.
In many applications, sodium chloride, or simply salt, does more than impact flavor. It may influence color, texture, mouthfeel and shelf life. Sodium is a natural preservative. Removing too much may pose food safety issues, too. Thus, swapping some of the sodium chloride with potassium chloride is a common approach to sodium reduction. Potassium chloride may be labeled potassium salt on ingredient statements.
The drawback to potassium is that it tends to have a bitter aftertaste. Umami ingredients may help mask this. “Potassium salt performs many of the same functional roles as salt,” said Janice Johnson, food science adviser, Cargill, Minneapolis (Minnesota, USA). “A benefit of using potassium salt for sodium reduction is its ability to increase the potassium content in food. With the mandatory declaration of potassium content to the Nutrition Facts Label and the recent decrease in the Daily Value for sodium from 2,400 to 2,300 mg per day, potassium salt is an effective option to improve the nutrient profile of many foods in both areas.”