Finding savory flavors around the world

by Allison Gibeson
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As consumers’ palates are becoming increasingly broad and more familiar with flavors that are global in nature, bold tastes that are complex in flavor and texture are in demand.

“As the world shrinks, people are looking at things outside what’s common,” said Kevin McDermott, technical sales manager for Savoury Systems International, Branchburg, N.J.

There has been an increased interest in Asian-type flavors, including soy sauce infused with citrus, roasted garlic with sweetened molasses, delicate ginger notes, rich plum and aromatic lemongrass.

“Consumers are looking for flavors that are multi-dimensional,” said Joanne Ferrara, senior director of research, quality and innovation at Spicetec Flavors & Seasonings, Omaha.

When it comes to domestic flavors, Ms. Ferrara said flavors of the South, including Old World cuisine with a New Orleans touch are still popular. Regional barbeque flavors for snack foods are popular, with specific requests for Memphis, Kansas City and Carolina Gold flavors.

In addition, there has been an emphasis on the combination of sweet and savory flavors. This may entail Caribbean flavors that include some savory character, heat and citrus notes. Ms. Ferrara said consumers want flavors to “pop,” and they are looking for excitement.

Stepping up the heat
Polly Barrett, director of flavor research and development and applied technology for Kalsec, Inc., Kalamazoo, Mich., said she is seeing more emphasis on pungency and heat in flavors. She said there is a lot of use of curries and chili peppers, with consumers even beginning to understand the difference between different kinds of chilies. Ms. Ferrara said guajillo and pasilla chilies are two specific types consumers are seeking. Overall, Ms. Barrett said more authentic Hispanic dishes also are resonating with consumers.

Umami is still as popular as ever, but a new taste sensation called kokumi is generating interest in savory flavors.

“More recently, researchers are talking about kokumi — not a taste perception like umami — but more of an intensification of the five basic tastes,” Ms. Ferrara said. “I like to think about it when I’m cooking spaghetti sauce at home. I cook the meat ahead of time — meatballs and pork spareribs — and include them in the cooking of the sauce for a few hours with the garlic, onion and savory spices and herbs. Their inclusion in the sauce during the cooking stage helps develop and marry the tomato and meat components and intensify the taste. It’s somewhat like a shortened aging process to create a well-balanced flavor.”
Mr. McDermott said using yeast extracts not only helps produce a high umami profile but adds kokumi as
well. Currently, his company is working on a fermented soy sauce that is oven-dried.

Consumers want flavors and tastes to be authentic as if they were cooking at home, Ms. Ferrara said. This has led to many grilled and roasted notes. She said the process of getting the foods up to those high heat levels provides an extra flavor.

Bell Flavors and Fragrances named the top 10 savory flavors of 2012 as white truffle oil, kimchi, absinthe, calamansi lime, rich umami, rose water, aged cayenne pepper, Satsuma orange, mirin and romesco. The most popular food categories for savory flavors are meat, condiments, dressings, sauces, soups and seasonings. The company also said Korean, Cajun and Greek foods are making an impact. Overall, they said the salty caramel flavor will have the biggest impact on all food and beverage products this year.

Keeping savory clean
As if keeping pace with all of these evolving flavor trends isn’t enough, there is also a push toward more natural products, keeping the labels clean and reducing sodium.

With sodium reduction, Ms. Barrett said in addition to modulators and salt enhancers, sodium may be reduced through emphasizing spices other than salt. There also has been work replacing sodium chloride with potassium chloride, but she said she isn’t sure that’s the long-term answer. She said it’s still possible to get a savory sensation without as much salt, but a company has to set realistic goals.

“If you think the consumer is not going to notice the difference at all — that raises the bar,” Ms. Barrett said. “If you are looking for something that tastes equally as good but can taste a little different, it’s very easy to achieve that.”

She emphasized the importance of a simple label and using fewer, more recognizable ingredients. To this end, she said her company uses natural spice extracts to create savory sensations. Mr. McDermott said it is possible to create a simpler label with yeast extracts as they may replace the function of MSG and function as a low-usage flavor enhancer in end products. He said using baker’s yeast protein allows him to look at various yeast strains to see which has the best amino acid profile for different finished products.

Some of the most significant challenges of using savory flavors involve stability during processing as different compounds in foods degrade at different rates, Ms. Barrett said. She said it is important for manufacturers to understand how the consumer is going to use the end product because often consumers do not use the products as the manufacturers intended.
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