Special edition: Meat substitutes

Bring back the meat: How flavors can boost product quality

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Meat flavors can give an intense meaty note to products made with meat substitutes and instant foods, as well as provide a more authentic and intense taste in meat-containing products, says Symrise director.

Over the past few years the major flavor houses have been revamping their meat flavor ranges to mimic authentic flavors for different cuts and cooking processes.

Marek Muenstermann, category director for the savory business unit at Symrise, told FoodNavigator.com that there has been a shift in culinary meat preparation techniques. Chefs no longer tend to serve up meats that have been fried quickly in a pan, but they are more likely to braise them then cook them slowly in a pan with the lid on to allow more intense flavors to develop.

This tendency has led to the development of flavor ranges that replicate the results obtained by culinary techniques, and which are seen as more authentic for higher quality food products.

Muenstermann said are three contexts where meat flavors are useful:

In products containing meat substitutes, such as soy proteins, a full culinary meat flavor is required – as well as flavor maskers to counter any off notes or aftertaste from the raw material.

A full culinary flavor is also required in instant products such as soups and ready meals. In the UK, gravy is an especially important product for culinary meat flavors, as it is expected to be “dark, brown and juicy,”​ he said.

Finally, meat flavors play an important role in convenient prepared products that contain a certain percentage of meat to comply with labeling rules. The real meat might provide a basic meat taste but not the process note that develops from a long-time simmering. In this case, meat flavors improve the quality of the prepared food.

Muenstermann said it is very easy to produce meat flavors from non-meat raw materials. “All the flavor houses can mimic the complete meat flavor with nature identical flavors,” ​he said, as they have huge libraries of flavor ingredients they can draw on.

Making natural meat flavors with all the nuances of real meat cooked over a long time is another matter, however.

“It is not impossible to make vegetarian and natural meat flavors,” ​he said, “but it is challenging.”

New developments

Recent research has thrown up some interesting new possibilities for vegetable-based meat flavors.

Last year researchers from Henan University of Technology in China and RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, reported that the enzymatic treatment of proteins from Brassica vegetables, such as broccoli, may yield thermal processing flavorings that taste like meat.

They found that different flavor nuances could be obtained by adjusting the temperature of the process. The range 100 – 120ºC produced cooked meat flavors, while processing at around 140ºC gave off a roasted meat aroma.

In 2008 Lambert ten Haaf, director of sales and marketing at Dutch flavor firm Exter explained that his company’s vegetable-derived meat flavors are created by direct conversion of the plant protein into amino acids via an oven-based process. This is a similar to process to that which takes place within an animal, when it consumes vegetable protein, he said, and the resulting amino acids are transferred to the flesh, giving it the characteristic flavor.

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