What is Umami and How Can Food Manufacturers Feature this Fifth Sensation?

What Is Umami.jpgAsk anyone what the familiar tastes are in most foods and you’ll get the same response, “Sweet, sour, bitter and salty.” In recent years, however, chefs and foodies have been putting an emphasis on the fifth taste sensation: umami.

Although umami has only recently gained international popularity, it was first identified in the early 1900s by Japanese chemistry professor Kikunae Ikeda when he noticed a flavor profile he couldn’t attribute to the four traditional tastes. He went into his Tokyo research lab and determined that the unique savoriness could be attributed to the naturally-occuring combination of the amino acid glutamate and inosinate and guanylate. He named his discovery “umami,” derived from the Japanese word “umai,” meaning delicious.

Common Umami-rich Foods

Food manufacturers have a major opportunity to incorporate umami into their formulations to attract the growing segment of consumers seeking this “new” sensation in flavor profiles. Making the list of umami-rich foods are mushrooms, soy sauce, cured meat products, seafood, green tea and many others.

Also ranking high is Parmesan and other cheese varieties, and manufacturers are especially honing in on the savory flavors that can be highlighted in soups, sauces, dips, gravies and dressings containing umami-rich foods. Creamy mushroom soup or gravy, tomato sauce, cheese dip and more are staples in many entrees and, after many years of avoiding indulging in rich, savory condiments, a growing number of consumers are reaching for them in grocery aisles and seeking them out on menus.

Old Habits Die Hard

While umami-rich foods have allowed chefs to improve nutrition by lowering sodium content without compromising palatability, consumers still read labels, and their continued concerns about fat and calories inevitably influence their purchasing decisions, as do their desires for natural ingredients and clean labels.

A savory sauce that is big on umami flavor but lacks the nutritional qualities a consumer is looking for will not be as successful as a competitor’s product that fulfills both needs.

Formulation Tips for Maintaining Umami Flavors with Better Nutrition

There’s a reason that dishes such as fettuccine Alfredo, cheddar mac & cheese, garlic Parmesan encrusted chicken and other savory recipes practically have a cult following. Though these classic entrees have been around for centuries, it wasn’t until recently that their addictive flavor profiles were attributed to umami. These and similar dishes are notoriously laden with fat and calories, however.

Improving the nutrition of these dishes can be accomplished by reformulating recipes containing cheese, butter, cream, eggs, oil and various dairy products with an alternative ingredient that features a lower fat and calorie content.

However, while there are many starches and gums on the market that can help lower costs compared to traditional ingredients, most will alter or compromise the umami flavor profiles and desired mouthfeel of the original ingredients, and most contradict consumer demands for clean labels and recognizable natural ingredients.

One alternative can achieve the goals for lowering cost, maintaining flavor and mouthfeel and provide the ability to clean up labels as an all natural ingredient. Functional whey protein, such as Grande Bravo®, is the optimal solution for improving sauces, soups, dips and other creamy applications. It also can maintain or enhance the umami, along with texture and mouthfeel, in many formulations due to its unique water-holding capabilities.

Incorporating this shelf-stable ingredient often requires minimal adaptations in production lines and can significantly improve an original formulation. There are many compelling reasons to consider using whey protein ingredients in your applications in addition to those noted above, and we’ve outlined our top 10 in the tip sheet below. Check it out!

Better yet, to learn more about Grande Bravo functional whey protein and its vast application possibilities, reach out to the expert food scientists at Grande Custom Ingredients Group. They’re eager to help you overcome your greatest formulation challenges.

Top 10 Reasons to Use Whey Protein - Tip Sheet