When it comes to crafting that “just right” flavor, a processor needs to know why each ingredient is in the mix and what it brings to complete the product’s flavor profile.

As in many areas of life, first you have to master the fundamentals. When it comes to formulating the perfect ingredient blend, that begins with a foundation of salt, a sweetener and black pepper, said Bruce Armstrong of LifeSpice. Speaking during the “Building the Perfect Processed Meat Flavor” workshop as part of the recent American Association of Meat Processors’ 83rd American Convention of Meat Processors & Suppliers’ Exhibition in Des, Moines, Iowa, Armstrong said getting the salt right is key.

“First — and most important — you have to get the salt correct,” he said. “If you don’t get the salt correct, I don’t care what you do with anything else, it’s going to be wrong.”

Sweeteners, particularly dextrose and corn syrup, help accentuate the smoke flavor of a product while offsetting any bitterness, Armstrong said. Sweeteners also are comparatively inexpensive and will help extend yields in meat. Ham and bacon always use sugar, he said, bacon because it cooks at a higher temperature than other sweeteners are suitable for.

Armstrong said pepper is instrumental in formulating sausage. “Every good sausage product is going to have black pepper in it,” he said. “It’s going to have about 4 ounces of black pepper for every 100 pounds of meat.”

He said these three flavors are up front, and if they aren’t right the product’s overall flavor will be weak.

Armstrong said that for hot dogs and bologna, nutmeg and coriander are the primary flavors and should be used at a half-ounce to one-and-a-half ounces of nutmeg per 100 pounds of meat.  An alternative is to use mace, which comes from the same plant as nutmeg and is aromatic but not as pungent as nutmeg. Coriander serves as a lighter, rose-like complementary flavor to nutmeg and can used at 2 to 6 ounces per 100 pounds of meat. Commercial smoked sausage often is lower in nutmeg and high in coriander.

Armstrong said that if a product has a term like “jalapeno” or Hatch Chile” in its name it better deliver.

The “savory twins” — garlic and onion — are complementary flavors, with onion pairing well with poultry and garlic “absolutely necessary for beef,” Armstrong said. He said use garlic and onions at a half-ounce up to 2 ounces per 100 pounds of meat.

Armstrong said a mix of one-and-a-half ounces of onion and a half-ounce of garlic strikes a good flavor balance.

To hit that flavor-defining umami note without using ingredients such as MSG, Armstrong suggested using roasted garlic powder or toasted onion powder.

Red pepper of course can bring the heat, but used at lower levels it helps carry the flavor to the different tasting points in the mouth without being overtly spicy, he said. Add a half ounce of ground red pepper to a formula to help carry the primary flavors all the way to the back of the throat.