A growing number of time-pressed consumers seek out short cuts for dinner, with protein-centric ready meals increasingly being offered at supermarkets, mini-marts and as takeout. Consumers expect the protein component to be flavorful and succulent, just like it appears. What they do not realize is that raw meat, for the most part, has little flavor.

Flavors develop when heat is applied and can vary by species and the amount and proportion of various compounds, such as carbohydrates, fat and protein.

Latin cuisine features taste sensations ranging from basic to complex.

But just as quickly as flavors develop, they can also disappear or change from exposure to the elements, making it very challenging for convenient, ready-cooked meats to maintain flavor over shelf-life. Thankfully, formulators have a range of available savory flavors to enhance flavor intensity, bring back authenticity and add aroma and taste.

Savory flavors not only provide that cooked, meaty flavor one expects from a fresh, off-the-heat meat, they provide ready-meal processors with a tool to deliver consistent flavor from batch to batch. Most savory flavors are versatile enough to be used in any number of manufacturing processes, including breadings and batters, vacuum tumbling, injection, baking, retort and freezing.

These flavors can also improve the flavor and quality of lower grades of meat. Some savory ingredients add an extra layer or two of flavor through the addition of heat, as well as cooking cues, such as barbecued, fried, grilled or smoked. And savory flavors can serve as a delivery vehicle for ethnic spices and seasonings.

Heat is ‘hot’, so is ethnic

Celebrity chefs have shown consumers that flavors have no boundaries, which makes innovative layers of flavors highly desirable. This can often be achieved through the layering of a familiar flavor with something from across the border. Specifically, adding the flavor sensation of heat is the hottest trend for delivering a kick to savory flavors. But it’s not just ordinary heat; today’s consumers crave adventure and ingredient suppliers are developing savory flavor blends to take them on that journey.

“Authenticity of that global flair is an important consideration,” said Elaine McGlynn, Senior Principal Development Scientist, Spicetec Flavors & Seasonings, Omaha, Neb. “Identifying the source of a particular flavor adds authenticity. Examples include Mongolian hot sauce and Szechuan pepper. Popularity in varietal naming such as Truffle captures the gourmet appeal.”

Sensient Natural Ingredients, Turlock, Calif., just launched a chili-blends collection that includes seven authentic dry-chili blends inspired by the flavors of Latin America, India, Morocco, Thailand and the United States. These seasonings can be added to marinades and sauces, as well as used in batters and breadings.

Adding the flavor sensation of heat delivers a kick to savory flavors.

“The new chili blends are designed to assist our customers in quickly creating products that are in sync with market trends,” said Nestor Ramirez, a certified research chef with the company. The blends help manufacturers deliver bold flavors with complex heat. The red sriracha blend is a distinct garlic-and-heat flavor that matches the profile of the on-trend tableside condiment. The Indian curry blend has a delicate, sweet-savory balance that helps formulators recreate the taste of authentic curry dishes while lending an exotic flavor to South Asian-inspired dishes.

For more intense heat, there’s the Thai arbol-chile blend, which incorporates the vibrant, complex flavors of Thai cuisines, from bright lime to fiery arbol chile. The Moroccan harissa blend was inspired by the cuisine of North Africa. It delivers deep, intense heat courtesy of arbol, ancho and guajillo chiles.

Milder and more familiar heat options are available with the all-American hot-sauce blend, which packs the punch of traditional hot sauce with a fermented, spicy flavor. There’s also a spicy-buffalo blend that replicates the distinct buttery heat flavor of traditional buffalo-wing sauce. Lastly, there’s a pickled jalapeño blend that recreates the mouth-watering flavor of vinegary, tangy pepper rings.

Baltimore, Md.-based Fuchs North America now offers a line of ethnic-inspired savory flavors that build on the traditional elements of national cuisines while adding some unique twists.

Savory flavors can serve as a delivery vehicle for ethnic spices and seasonings.

“Consider Asian cuisine,” said Howard Cantor, corporate research chef. “There is endless debate over just how many culinary styles there are. Each of them developed over the centuries as a result of many factors like geography, climate and the social history of the various regions. We’ve drawn inspiration from all sorts of ingredients and flavors that are traditional elements of Asian cuisine – ranging from ginger, onion and garlic to pungent chiles, vinegar and soy. The end result is bold, new flavors that are sure to add zest to menu and prepared-food offerings.

“Latin cuisine is packed with flavor,” Cantor said. “It’s a veritable explosion of taste sensations ranging from basic to complex, derived from chilies of all types plus distinctive herbs like cilantro, various spices, and foods like onions, garlic, lemons and limes. We’re capturing the true depth of flavor that characterizes the cuisine of Latin America’s coastal regions as much as its interior deserts and mountains. The taste is savory and earthy, but also subtle in flavor.”

In many ready-meal applications, visual cues are important in flavoring ingredients. “Spices can go a long way to improve visual appeal,” said Meredith Bishop, principal development scientist at Spicetec Flavors & Seasonings. “Spices come in a dizzying array of shapes and sizes, from fine grinds to cracked or whole spices. Pieces of spice, as compared to powdered versions, can provide authenticity to a ready meal.”

Outdoor flavors

Authentic, hot-off-the grill taste is a highly craveable savory flavor. This is the flavor profile developed on the old-fashioned charcoal barbecue or fire pit not the modern gas grill. For most commercial prepared meat manufacturers, neither of these preparation methods is a viable option and outdoor-grill flavors are simply unattainable using traditional indoor grilling systems. Savory flavors that layer in the taste of outdoor grilling are an economical and consistent solution.

Such desirable outdoor-grill flavors develop when juices from the food drip down onto the hot coals or wood. The drippings are pyrolyzed by the heat, creating fumes that are reabsorbed into the meat. Flavorists have learned how to reproduce these flavors, even taking them an extra step by adding the flavor of a wood fire, such as apple, cherry, hickory or mesquite.

Just like charcoal and fire pits are not realistic in commercial manufacturing, nor are traditional smoke houses or open-fire restaurant ovens. Fortunately, savory-smoke flavors are readily applied to meats either topically using a sprayer or atomizer or added via a marinade or injection system.

McCormick, Hunt Valley, Md., recently added three new flavors to its savory grill seasoning line. The hamburger seasoning is a peppery blend of black and chili peppers with the robust flavors of roasted garlic and onions. Barbecue starts with a base of rich brown sugar layered with smoke and warm notes of hard spice, with hints of creamy garlic and onions, while mesquite contains hints of sweet garlic, onions and red bell peppers with savory mesquite smoke and a touch of heat from black pepper and chili.

Wendy’s Steakhouse Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe

This is exactly what’s going on with the new limited-time Wendy’s Steakhouse Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe.

The new product features steakhouse-inspired flavors, “such as savory seasoning and garlic aioli, bringing premium ingredients you wouldn’t expect to find on a value menu,” said Liz Geraghty, vice president-brand marketing, Wendy’s Co., Dublin, Ohio.

On the retail side, savory barbecue flavors are the secret to the new Farm Rich Smokehouse BBQ line from Farm Rich, St. Simons Island, Ga. Offerings include hickory-smoked chicken breast in an apple wood barbecue sauce and pulled beef brisket in a sweet, smoky sauce.

With so many savory-flavor options, there are no limits as to the types of ready meats that today’s busy consumer can serve for dinner.