Savory reduction

by Allison Gibeson
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Companies are using various savory flavors to help with the sodium reduction process, but a challenge is the cost involved with adding more savory profiles to distract consumers from the lower sodium content.

Chris Santilli, category director for the savory business unit at Symrise, Teterboro, N.J., said some of the most popular savory profiles right now include chicken, beef, onion, garlic and tomato. He said emerging flavors include bacon, lemongrass, sesame, peanut, basil and combinations of citrus and savory.

In terms of seasonings, citrus and chilies are popular as well as Korean flavors, said Suzy Badaracco with Culinary Tides.

“There has been increased interest in Asian-type flavors that may include soy sauce infused with citrus (orange or lime), roasted garlic, ginger, honey mustard, plum, cilantro and lemongrass,” said Joanne Ferrara, senior director of research, quality and innovation with Spicetec Flavors and Seasonings, a division of ConAgra Foods, Inc., Omaha. “Bold, spicy flavors incorporated into sauces that are added to pork, chicken, shrimp and vegetables are a wonderful addition to egg roll appetizers. They’re becoming popular in retail and food service chains. The difference is with the customer. Fifteen years ago, the flavor profiles were more traditional and mainstream. Today’s consumers are traveling more and are anxious to try new foods.”

While adding such savory profiles helps improve quality in reduced sodium products, there are limitations to what boosting savory may achieve. Ms. Badaracco said salt, sugar and acid unlock receptors in the mouth that allow consumers to taste the food more fully, but savory flavors simply cannot do that.

“Savory cannot magnify the flavor,” Ms. Badaracco said. “What you are basically doing with savory is tricking yourself. You are putting a stronger flavor in your mouth to begin with … but it does not open the pores to allow the senses to detect the flavor better. You are overriding that mechanism and giving yourself a stronger flavor to begin with.”

She said this trick works because it’s a distraction technique despite the fact the flavors cannot do what salt does. Because it acts as a distraction, she said companies have to be careful to distract the consumer in the right way.

Not all methods of sodium reduction are appealing to all consumers, so the more tools the food industry has at its disposal, the better, she said. Currently, the industry uses salt replacers, enhancers and increased flavor profiles.

“A lot of what goes on in the industry is people begin with an alternative mineral salt … you can only go so far with that before it becomes problematic,” said Douglas Young, principal flavorist at Symrise. “That’s when we come into play. Through various processed flavorings and chemicals and certain other ingredients also help to replace that missing salt perception.”

Ms. Badaracco said salt enhancers such as bamboo salt and extracts from seaweed are technologies that will be developed further in the future as enhancers still magnify the flavor while keeping the ingredient list clean.

Mr. Santilli said another challenge in savory flavors is the trend toward clean labels, with the removal of MSG being a focus for Symrise.

“We have to use kitchen ingredients or things that are very natural and try to avoid things that have been the mainstay,” Mr. Young said.

A challenge in savory flavors and sodium reduction is the cost. Ms. Badaracco, Mr. Young and Mr. Santilli all said salt is an inexpensive ingredient, and to replace it with enhancers and flavors that are used to rebalance the profile may be expensive.

“Salt is a very cheap enhancer,” Mr. Young said. “Even though you might be able to replace salt and the salt perception, you may not be able to replace flavor enhancement effects. Sometimes you have to add back savory flavors to rebalance the flavor.”

Ms. Ferrara said Spicetec has made progress with customers who allow Spicetec to unbundle their recipes and re-create them using only the necessary ingredients that contribute to flavor and sodium in a compatible way, and many times this actually leads to a cost reduction instead of a cost increase.

Savory flavors also provide other functional benefits, including adding to the body, mouthfeel and depth of the flavor of a food. Such functions may be used to help in low-fat products. Masking bitterness and other off-flavors in products such as high-fiber foods is another function the flavors may serve.

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