Exceeding Taste Expectations

by Kathie Canning
Product Development Editor
Modern grill and roast flavors add depth and authenticity to meat and poultry products.
Picture steaks sizzling on the backyard grill — or a turkey roasting slowly in the oven. These scenarios likely call to mind the pleasing aromas and mouth-watering flavors produced through specific, and often time-consuming, grilling or roasting methods.
Thanks to advances in the flavor arena, however, meat processors now can create meat and poultry products that deliver authentic- tasting grill or roast notes. That’s good news to the time-pressed consumer who is loath to fire up the grill or dirty the roasting pan.
Deeper and cleaner
Today’s grilled and roasted flavors boast much more depth and body than their relatives of just four or five years ago, notes Andrew Bosch, senior creative flavorist for Memphis-based Kraft Food Ingredients Corp. “It’s not just one singular thing — you’re getting the juiciness; you’re getting the sweet; you’re getting maybe a fatty note,” he says.
In addition, many of the bitter aftertastes have disappeared. “That’s where I think we’ve made some huge improvements,” Bosch stresses.
Developing an understanding of the “chemistry of cooking” has been essential to the creation of authentic, high-flavor-impact roasted and grilled flavors, says Adam Anderson, director of savory R&D, North America for Rosemont, IL-based Mastertaste, a division of the Kerry Group. “If you can understand what’s happening in real life when you cook and then take that to small scale in the lab and control your ingredients,” he says, “you’re still using the same things in the original meat to create the new flavor profile, but doing it at a more concentrated level to get a high flavor impact.”
Going for grilled
Meats advertising a grilled flavor stir up taste expectations associated with a one of a variety of high-temperature cooking methods, from the smoky notes conveyed by a restaurant’s wood-fired grill to the slight astringency created by a backyard charcoal-fueled barbecue.
Today’s grill flavors have a more natural grill profile with fewer kerosene notes, says Gregory Yep, Ph.D., director of flavor creation for Hunt Valley, MD-based McCormick & Co. Inc. “Sweet grill products such as teriyaki grill are becoming popular,” he says. “Roasted vegetable flavors are also used in many applications.”
Many of the new grill flavors merge smoke and grill technologies, notes Dwight Grenawalt, vice president and general manager of Middlesex, NJ-based Summit Hill Flavors. Popular combos include mesquite grilled, hickory grilled, and applewood grilled.
Summit Hill Flavors recently developed a technology that combines grill flavors with the actual flavor of the processed meat or poultry products, notes Grenawalt. The technology not only produces a “more authentic grilled meat flavor,” he says, but also boasts a trans-fatty-acid content much lower than that of many more-traditional grill flavors. In addition, it mimics the searing process that occurs on an outdoor grill — essentially the flavor that results when the meat protein juices and the fat drippings are exposed to a high-heat wood- or charcoal-fueled grilling surface.
Although hickory and mesquite are popular smoke profiles for grill-flavored products, some traditional flavor formulations have been rather “harsh and objectionable,” says Eileen Simons, director of applications for Chr. Hansen Inc., Milwaukee, WI. To tackle this problem, the company created a line of Gourmet Wood Smoke Flavors with the more-subtle, sweet flavor profiles associated with restaurant wood-smoke grilling, she says.
Excalibur Seasoning’s latest offering in the grill flavor arena, Grill-B-Q Patty Magic, serves up a multidimensional grill flavor. “This product has a sweet barbecue base with grill flavor overtones, and the base is encapsulated salt,” says Jay Hall, president of the Pekin, IL-based company.
The encapsulated salt is a “must” for pork and other meat patties, notes Hall. “When regular salt is introduced to ground meat, then mixed, the meat gets very sticky,” he says. “The encapsulated salt helps prevent any protein extraction, allowing the meat to run through a patty machine without any sticky mess.”
Replicating Roasted
When a processed meat promises a roast flavor, consumers typically expect it to be savory and juicy and to bring with it the caramelized sweet flavor associated with the Maillard chemical reaction. They also look for the blended flavors of onions and other vegetables that typically accompany the meat in the roasting process.
“Roasted flavors are surface flavors formed from intense thermal processing such as convection oven cooking, typically involving meat and vegetables,” says McCormick’s Yep. “Consumers expect flavors resembling those of the surface layer of roast beef — a very dark, almost nutty character. They also are looking for the fatty components such as pan-dripping notes.”
With modern flavor systems, it’s now possible to get “a full embodiment of a roast flavor,” says Kraft Food Ingredients’ Bosch. “You get a nice little top note; you might get a little char; you taste the sweet fatty characteristics throughout; and it will finish very pleasantly.”
Non-traditional vegetable notes increasingly are being added to roast flavors, says Renetta Cooper, market director, culinary for Quest International, Hoffman Estates, IL. “Roasted and grilled vegetables such as roasted peppers and grilled tomato are interesting profiles that we see being added to meats, as well as to ready-to-eat meals, either in the sauce or in the protein,” she says.
Pouring it On
No matter how innovative or advanced the flavor system, processors must apply it correctly if they are to truly duplicate the taste and aroma of a grilled chicken breast or a pot roast.
Because flavors interact with the unique proteins and fat in the meat, says Cooper, “a flavor may be designed differently depending on whether the flavor is for poultry, beef, or pork.”
Processors also must clearly define the desired profile, stresses Mastertaste’s Anderson. “A grilled flavor can be anything from one of the smoky notes — your mesquite wood chips — to some of the more butane or gas-type of notes,” he says.
Other important considerations include the fat and water content of the meat and the processing method, says Anderson. By sharing this information with the flavor company, the processor will help ensure the flavor system is a perfect match to the application.
Roast and grill flavors can be applied through a number of methods, says Chr. Hansen’s Simons. “The flavors could be supplied via a very basic or neutral injectable marinade, created to focus on the grilled or roasted flavor, with minimal additional enhancement,” she says. “The flavor also could be incorporated into a rub or glaze, whereby it would serve more as a background note to complement other flavors or spices in creating a total flavor concept.”
Somewhat heat-sensitive in nature, grill flavors work best in marinade systems, contends Grenawalt of Summit Hill Flavors. “Injecting the poultry or meat with a grill-flavor marinade protects the grill flavor from volatizing when the meat surface is exposed to high-heat cooking or processing,” he explains.
Color also plays a role in overall flavor perception.
“Customers expect a natural look — roast beef intensely colored dark brown to black at the surface and gradually changing to pink or even red in the interior,” says Yep. “Expectations for grilled chicken are grill marks and browned skin at the surface, but white in the interior.”
Reducing sugars, browning agents, and/or reaction products can help create a brown, caramelized color, notes Simons. “Where appropriate, our colors help to support the overall sensory experience associated with processing,” she adds.
In this area, Mastertaste is combining its expertise in the smoke arena with its roast and other savory flavors to help processors create flavorful products that cook up to a golden brown. The carbonyls in the liquid smoke react with meat protein to help color formation, Anderson explains.
Too much color can be a problem, too. For example, some roast and grill flavors can cause streaking, or a striated appearance, in lighter-colored meat and poultry products when used in injection-marinade systems. To help in this area, says Bosch, Kraft Food Ingredients recently introduced roast flavors that are low in color.
Averting Disasters
By avoiding some common mistakes, processors can forestall flavor failures — and significantly boost a product’s quality and market appeal. One widespread blunder is over-application of the grill or roast flavor.
“Grill flavors can be polarizing, and it is very easy to use too high of a level,” says Quest’s Cooper. “Roast flavors need to be carefully chosen to give a nice roast profile without giving burnt or bitter notes.”
Processors tend to “create an upfront flavor release or impact that is clearly identifiable by the consumer,” says Simons. “Unfortunately, too much initial flavor can lead to a quick buildup or saturation that may be a negative to the consumer. Processors need to work closely with their flavor and seasoning suppliers in creating the ideal release of flavor that is pleasing initially and slowly builds, but provides the balance that consumers will find appealing.”
Some applications do call for higher usage levels. For example, freezing can neutralize a grill flavor, and processors must ramp up the flavor a bit to compensate, says Excalibur Seasoning’s Hall.
Processors also can spend more money than necessary to get a desired flavor, says Grenawalt. “Although meat and poultry processors are adverse to using liquid flavors due to the long history of using dry spice blends,” he says, “liquid flavors can provide significant cost savings by eliminating spray-drying costs and yield losses.”
Finally, processors must remember that flavors are application-specific, stresses Susan Ismail, director, flavor applications for McCormick & Co. Therefore, they should “work closely” with supplier development teams to identify the “most appropriate flavor system” for their products and processing requirements.
Ingredient suppliers in this article include:
- Chr. Hansen Inc., phone (800) 343-4680, or visit www.chr-hansen.com
- Excalibur Seasoning, phone (800) 444-2169, or visit www.excaliburseason-ing.com
- Kraft Food Ingredients Corp., phone (901) 381-6500, or log on to www.kraftfoodingredients.com
- Mastertaste, phone (847) 823-9300, or visit www.mastertaste.com
- McCormick & Co. Inc., phone (410) 771-7500, or visit www.mccormick.com
- Quest International Flavors & Food Ingredients Co., phone (847) 645-7000, or visit www.questintl.com
- Summit Hill Flavors, phone (800) 352-8675, or visit www.summithillflavors.com