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Food makers look to umami as they cut sodium, says Bell Flavors

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 04-Feb-2011

Food manufacturers are increasingly looking to boost the taste of their products with mouth-filling umami-type flavors as they reduce sodium in their products, according to Bell Flavors and Fragrances.

The company recently released its top ten savory flavor trend predictions for 2011, which include a strong focus on umami-type flavors, including rich umami, black garlic, nuc maum and demi glace. Umami is one of five basic tastes known to be detectable by humans, along with salty, bitter, sweet and sour, and is often described as a savory, hearty flavor. Bell claims that food manufacturers are looking for ways to boost flavors, including umami, in an effort to avoid the more negative message of ‘reduced sodium’.

Chris Warsow, corporate executive chef at Bell Flavors and Fragrances, told FoodNavigator-USA.com: “A lot of food manufacturers are trying to get away from reduced sodium because that equals reduced flavor in consumers’ eyes. They are increasing herbs, spices… If you take the salt out, you need to fill that void – you enhance other flavors.”

Research into how we perceive umami and its interactions with other flavors is still in its early stages, but there is emerging evidence that umami flavors can boost our perception of saltiness.

Industry under pressure

This could be of great interest to the food industry, which has been under increasing pressure to slash sodium from its products as most Americans consume more than is recommended – around 3,400mg a day compared to a maximum of 2,300mg. It is estimated that 70 to 80 percent of US sodium intake comes from packaged foods.

This week that pressure became even more intense as the US Department of Agriculture set the recommended maximum daily amount of sodium at 1,500mg for groups that represent about half of the population, in the newly released 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

However, replacing salt entails challenges beyond flavor, as salt has important functionalities in food, including in preservation and texture.

“We use potassium chloride to get more towards the functionality of salt but we pair that with a masking agent and rich umami or a flavor enhancer…on a case by case basis with manufacturers,” Warsow said.

Exotic influences

He added that many of the savory flavor trends that the company has predicted as up-and-coming for the year ahead often arise from the fine dining scene – and a small number of the exotic flavor trends in fine dining progressively make their way into people’s home kitchens. While relatively few trends make the transition from top restaurants to home cooking, Warsow said that those that do may be driven by people’s desire for exotic, escapist flavors in their every day lives, the increase in home-grown ethnic influences on American cuisine, and the rising popularity of television cooking shows.

“A lot of people are looking to other cultures and other cuisines to make their cooking more exciting. They want to bring exotic flavors into their own homes,” he said. “Especially within the Chicago community, there’s a lot of Indian and Hispanic foods. They want to pay homage to these cultures but also Americanize it a bit.”

Bell’s ten savory flavor predictions for 2011 are: black garlic, rich umami, truffle oil, aged cayenne pepper, nuc maum, calamansi lime, demi glace, harissa, aji panca, and paneer cheese.

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