by Donna Berry
Amid concerns surrounding Americans’ excessive consumption of sodium, meat processors have been busy identifying ingredients that add to the savory profile of center-of-plate proteins without contributing excessive amounts of sodium. This is because sodium chloride has long been the most economical and efficient way to make meat taste meatier.
Keep in mind that for the most part, raw meat has little flavor. Flavors develop when heat is applied and are species-specific. Flavor also depends on the amount and proportion of various compounds, most notably carbohydrate, fat and protein.
Savory flavors are often used in meat and meat analogs to enhance flavor intensity, bring back authenticity and add flavor characteristics, all of which are often lost in processing. They can provide meaty flavor to the increasingly popular category of heat-and-eat entrées, where the protein’s inherent flavor may break down during processing and shelf-life. Savory flavors also provide processors with a tool to deliver consistent flavor from batch to batch. In addition, with all types of packaged meat, flavor can vary by animal breed, their feed and even season. Savory flavors ensure reliable flavor regardless of these factors. They can also improve the flavor and quality of lower grades of meat. Further, savory flavors allow for cooking cues such as grilled notes or fried notes to be added to meats that are not going through those cooking processes.
In order for chemists to develop savory flavors, it is important that they understand the many sensory attributes of center-of-plate proteins. With that said, savory is a flavor that is easier to define by saying what it is not, and that is sweet. When you look at the five human tastes – bitter, salty, sweet, sour and umami – savory is closest to umami, but also can possess some salty, bitter and sour, just never sweet.
Savory is not a stand-alone taste. There are only the five. Rather, savory is a flavor profile that can include other flavor sensations, such as astringency and heat. It can also include nuances of various cooking processes, as well as enhanced aromas of isolated compounds, such as pan drippings.
Savory, like umami, is often described as piquant, pungent and meaty – a brown flavor that magically completes or rounds out the taste of a food. Umami layers flavors, allowing perception of different flavors to occur at different times. The layers then combine to create a full, complete flavor.
This deliciousness comes from the amino acid glutamate (in its various forms) and select ribonucleotides, all of which occur naturally in foods such as red meat, smoked and cured meats, fish, vegetables and aged cheeses. Deliciousness also comes from reducing sugars reacting with amino acids when certain foods are exposed to heat and undergo chemical modification through the Maillard reaction. This produces the brown flavors of caramelized and sautéed.
Flavor chemists construct savory flavors based on their intended application. For example, a flavor used in a raw chicken breast marinade needs to be able to withstand multiple processing steps. Not only must it be injectable, it should be freeze/thaw stable and thermally stable, all without negatively impacting yield or texture.
Many savory flavors are composed of two categories of compounds: protein volatiles, which are typically comprised of sulfurous components, and fatty volatiles, which are usually based on aldehydes and acids. Other more complex meat flavors are complemented by seasonings and herbal blends.
Suppliers offer a variety of savory flavors that can boost the taste of all animal proteins. Many are described as broths and stocks and are based on fresh meat. Processes such as broiling, frying and roasting can be cooked into the savory flavor.
Many savory flavors often include yeast extract, a concentrated source of glutamic acid. It is considered a natural ingredient that contributes minimal sodium, which is how it appears on ingredient statements, and is label-friendly.
One supplier introduced a portfolio of versatile and concentrated yeast extracts in chicken (white meat and dark roast) and beef (roasted and boiled) flavor profiles. They can be blended to create unique flavor systems.
A new low-sodium, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) ingredient provides desirable meaty flavor without the high amount of sodium associated with traditional HVP. It naturally enhances brown flavors while at the same time its inherent amino acid and peptide content creates new flavors and rounds out others.
HVP serves as a building block for savory flavors that can include the taste of specialized cooking processes. They can even be designed to be vegetarian in order to replicate the taste of meat in meatless alternatives.
Depending upon the application and the desired flavor profile, vegetables high in glutamic acid, such as tomatoes and mushrooms, can be dried, roasted or sautéed, and included in a marinade or breading in order to enhance the savory flavor of meat.
One supplier offers a savory flavor ingredient made from milk. Using select dairy cultures, the milk undergoes a proprietary fermentation process that naturally produces potassium glutamate. The pale brown powdered ingredient no longer resembles milk and it possesses a brothy, meaty, savory flavor profile, rendering it ideal for a broad range of applications, including marinades and meal kits.
Even home cooks have recently been introduced to the concept of boosting meaty flavors through the use of savory flavors in the form of concentrated broths and stocks.
Similar to savory flavors made available to processors of heat-and-eat meats, these stocks are made using carefully selected ingredients that are slowly cooking in order to release their full flavor and aroma.
Consumers want their meat to taste meaty…and savory flavors can help.
Donna Berry is a contributing editor from Chicago and owner of Dairy & Food Communications, a company that specializes in writing, speaking and consulting projects in the dairy, beverage and food industries.