Hitting the Right Flavor Note
By Lynn Petrak, special projects editor
Savory profiles used for value-added fresh meat and poultry and prepared foods evoke familiar, hearty tastes.
People may talk up their sweet tooth, but it is the savory flavor profiles that are perhaps the most evocative. When it comes to savory foods, meat and poultry products are often associated with irresistible tastes and smells, whether it is a succulent pot roast pulled from a slow cooker, a row of sausages sizzling over the coals or a golden-brown, herb-crusted chicken breast ready to be ladled with gravy.
“Savory” is one of those terms that is bandied about a lot these days in culinary circles and is a descriptor that often turns up on menus and recipe cards “I think it is a greatly misused term — everyone uses it all the time, especially to describe food,” observes Andrew Bosch, senior creative flavorist for Kraft Food Ingredients, Memphis, TN.
Essentially, savory flavors are a class of flavors that are more salty than sweet or sugary, more piquant and full flavored than merely spicy. Bosch offers up his own interpretation of the word, and one that is linked to the basic human senses. “When I think of savory, my first thought is the anticipation of something delicious that I am about to take part in — something mouthwatering and flavorful,” he says, adding that consumers’ understanding of savory flavors tends to vary. “When some people think of roasted flavor, for example, they think of a Sunday roast with vegetables. Others, though, think of a Thanksgiving turkey.”
Marcy Epstein, director of research and development for the Long Island City, NY-based First Spice Mixing Co., Inc., offers her take on the meaning of the word. “Savory flavors in meat and poultry usually describe the signature flavor components derived through cooking methods such as grilling, frying, sautéing, and others. The different temperature and time variables break down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates creating reaction flavors perceived as savory. These reaction flavors can be described as making your mouth water and enhance the meaty notes of the product,” she explains, echoing the common notion that savory is somewhat the opposite of sweet. “Savory flavors are also associated with what they are not — sweet, bitter, or sour — and usually more in line with salty characteristics.”
From a technical standpoint, savory flavors also can be linked to basic chemistry or, for that matter, biology. “Savory is the finishing note that provides some of the Unami flavor notes – these are flavors which are picked up in the center of the tongue,” notes Bruce Armstrong, research and development manager for Waukesha, WI-based Kerry Ingredients.
According to Armstrong, such flavors are memorable because they can be considered unique. “Few other flavors are picked up in this area. Sometimes this is referred to as 'filling the hole in the donut'. Many of the non savory notes are picked up on the edge of the tongue or are aromatic. Savory flavors are pungent and focused in the center of the tongue,” he says.
Those taste buds continue to awaken in many Americans’ mouths. Indeed, behind the demand for more savory food products is a changing consumer lifestyle. It is a lifestyle that can be of two minds when it comes to food: Americans love their comfort food classics like roasts and chops, but they also embrace bold new flavors with a global or ethnic flair.
The result, according to flavor professionals, is a market that continues to open up to new savory-style products. “The demand is growing as the United States population is experiencing these savory cuisines through travel and dining,” remarks Armstrong. “The consumer is looking for ways to enjoy these new flavor experiences at home and the processors are providing the opportunity.”
Bosch also points to the often-discussed concept of a more discriminating consumer. “Two words I use nowadays to describe flavors are sophisticated and authentic. It’s gone to a whole new level,” he says.
As an example, Bosch notes, there is a greater splintering of the market and a focus on more specific flavors. Grilled is one thing, but many consumers want the flavor of meat grilled over a certain type of wood, be it hickory or mesquite. The same is true for ethnic flavors. “Asian has always been a popular flavor profile. Now, it’s not just Asian, but a region of Asia, like Thailand,” he says.
Ingredient to savory success
To be sure, meat and poultry cuts have a distinctive flavor of their own when they are prepared unseasoned by roasting, grilling, sautéing, or other methods. And although at-home users and foodservice operators have traditionally added herbs, spices and other flavorings to enhance meats, seasoning companies are increasingly providing savory flavor ingredients to processors and prepared foods manufacturers, from traditional flavors associated with meats to more exotic notes.
The wave of value-added, convenience-oriented and boldly-flavored products has contributed greatly to the higher profile role that ingredient companies are playing in the research and development and production of meat and poultry products with a savory note. Some companies are comparatively new to the meat and poultry arena, while others have provided seasonings as basic as salt, pepper, paprika, garlic, onion, and the like for decades.
According to Armstrong, the trend toward more savory profiles works in processors’ favor, since savory flavors happen to marry especially well with proteins. “Savory flavors are natural for meats. Simply grilling meat provides savory flavors from the reaction of the meat protein with high grilling heat. Adding flavors and seasonings which compliment this natural savory note builds the total flavor,” he observes.
Savory ingredients are applied to meat and poultry items in different ways. For raw products, savory ingredients typically are sold to meat and poultry in a powder or liquid form to be made into a brine or marinade that is then applied by hand or injected into the product. Prepared food manufacturers and foodservice operators also use savory ingredients, commonly in powdered form, as they prepare meat-based entrees.
Many “spice houses,” as they are called, offer an array of products to meet the changing demands of industrial customers. “We have powders, we have some liquids, and we have flavor delivery systems,” reports Bosch, adding that some processor customers will buy one savory flavor to use in their own custom blends, while others will invest in broader flavor systems.
In those formats, Kraft Food Ingredients has heeded the trend for savory tastes. “Our flavor profile is really a foundation around the flavors of cooking – grilled, roasted, sautéed and fried. We’ll do meat variations on those profiles,” says Bosch, noting that grilled and roasted profiles have been particularly popular lately. “People really gravitated toward those feel-good, homestyle flavors. I think it’s borne out of growing up – everyone had roasts or grilled foods of one form or another.”
Another large flavor supplier is Baltimore-based McCormick and Co. Inc. In addition to its broad range of spices for which it is known, the company provides herbs and seasonings for food production applications. For meat and poultry in particular, McCormick supplies flavors such as garlic and onion, mushroom and vegetable, roasted and grill types, and ethnic inspired flavors. The company’s SavorySelect® line of meat and seafood flavors provide an adjustment level of poultry, pork, seafood or beef flavor profiles to any dish, and are available without added MSG, nucleotides, yeast, or HVP.
For its part, First Spice Mixing Company markets a range of savory profiles that can be paired with meat and poultry. “We provide the gamut of flavors and ingredients used to create and enhance savory notes, including salt, herbs, monosodium glutamate, nucleotides, yeast extract, hydrolyzed soy protein, smoke, and sugar-based marinades that either mimic reaction type flavors or work synergistically to create a more powerful savory impact,” Epstein says.
Kerry Ingredients also offers products that accentuate the savory notes associated with meat and poultry. “These include hydrolyzed proteins, particularly soy and wheat, which give much more intense, savory notes,” explains Armstrong.
Because the term savory also encompasses savory spices, Kerry Ingredients also includes its bolder spice profiles under its savory umbrella. “The savory flavors Kerry supplies are driven through ideation sessions and customer requests,” relays Armstrong. “Some of the savory flavors that are currently being delivered are Caribbean flavors based on jerk-inspired ideas, Sub-Asian flavors such as Tikka and Tandoori, and Southwest flavors.”
Meanwhile, as consumers’ palates are evolving at an even greater pace than they did in the 1980s or even 1990s, ingredient suppliers are continually developing new profiles that can be incorporated into main-dish meat and poultry items. Kraft Food Ingredients, for instance, has a line of ‘pan drippings.’ “We started with a flavor we called chicken pan drippings and have added pork, turkey and beef,” says Bosch, describing the taste in more detail. “It ends up being an enhancer to any protein dish. It adds a bit of a fatty note, a bit of a sweet character.” Although pan drippings is typically used for prepared foods, it can also be applied to fresh value-added products as well, according to Bosch.
As with other ingredient suppliers, Kraft Food Ingredients is also working on new ethnic flavors that can be considered savory. Bosch cites a new line called Cuisine of Paris. “That is a very complex flavor profile. We offer authentic flavors of that region’s cuisine,” he says.
Challenges and opportunities
Although meat and poultry products tend to marry well with savory flavors, that doesn’t meat there are not some challenges in mixing ingredients with proteins. Armstrong, for his part, says that the biggest challenge is in using low pH flavors such as barbecue sauce, buffalo wing sauce, pizza sauce, and hot sauce. “Acid-based flavors will denature meat proteins. Denatured meat proteins do not hold water or encapsulate fat, and the resulting products are dry and tough,” he explains. According to Armstrong, barbecue sauces and buffalo sauces are hence normally applied to meats after cooking.
Within the meat and poultry category, each species also has its own interaction with certain spices. “Chicken is probably one of the greatest mediums for carrying flavors, because it doesn’t have as much flavor of its own. Beef really has more flavor that can be overwhelmed by other flavors. Pork still has a meatiness to it, but it is not as flavorful as beef and you can do quite a lot with it,” says Bosch.
To choose the right savory seasoning for the right protein and, within each species, the right cut, ingredient companies like Kraft Food Ingredients, Kerry Ingredients, First Spice, McCormick, and others work closely with meat and poultry customers to determine what their desires and needs are, and then do product testing. Interpretations of flavors, after all, can be personal. “If some say they want a good roast flavor, I’ll say, ‘Give me your thoughts on what a good roast is.’ That is how I start off and go in that direction,” says Bosch, adding that beyond taste variances, processors also have different way of applying spices, by hand or by sophisticated machinery.
As for savoring the possibilities, so to speak, of the future, this corner of the market will continue to grow, flavorists predict. “Comfort food will always have a market. It reminds consumers of Mom and home. It is a flavor that most consumers know,” says Armstrong, adding that hot savory flavors and rich flavors of the Sub-Asian cuisine will also propel growth in savory profiles.
Bosch, too, says that the increasing demands for savory flavors will not abate much. “I think it will continue on that same path. That is the beauty of the food industry,” he says. NP
Ingredients companies featured in this article include:
• First Spice Mixing Co. Inc., phone (800) 221-1105, fax (718) 361-2515, e-mail info@firstspice.com, or visit www.firstspice.com
• Kerry Savory, (800) 31-0135, fax (262) 785-6858, or visit www.kerryamericas.com
• Kraft Food Ingredients, phone (800) 323-1092, fax (901) 381-6524, or visit www.kraftfoodingredients.com
• McCormick & Co. Inc., (410) 527-6283, fax (410) 527-6337, or visit www.mccormick.com