Processors trying to shorten the manufacturing process can use savory flavors that taste like they have been slow-cooked.
Rick Bayless, world-famous chef, recommends making food more flavorful by advising cooks to: “Brown food. Cook it a little more slowly and a little longer. Everything has more flavor.”

Such advice is difficult to follow in industrial settings, however, where an increase in production time translates to an increase in product cost. Armed with an understanding of the basics of savory flavor development, formulators must look to industrial options to help replicate gold standards created by chefs.

Brown type savory flavors begin with traditional cooking methods such as roasting and sautéeing. Flavorful bases and dishes result from soup stocks cooked for hours and meats slow-roasted in the oven. This results in richer flavor and headier aromas. Sauces make the difference between ho-hum meals and knockout dishes. Soups that are robust and flavorful can act as part of the meal or the main course.

In today's fast-paced world, instant flavor is highly desirable. Processed meat flavors, savory brown flavors, broth and stock flavors, vegetable flavors, and even roux flavors are staples of the culinary flavor larder.

The fat from sources such as chicken, beef, turkey and bacon helps give a product better mouthfeel and depth of flavor.

Taking Stock of Flavor

While adding meat flavors, spices, and other savory notes can greatly impact overall flavor, sometimes food technologists need to go back to basics—cooking basics.

Traditional French cooking involves creating sauces starting with a roux and a brown stock. “The basis of French sauces is built around the caramelization of flour and fat, which is a building block of the mother sauces,” says Eugene Wisakowsky, Ph.D., chief technical officer for a roux supplier. White or brown sauces both begin with a roux. Cooking the flour with oil or fat coats the starch and prevents it from lumping when added to a liquid such as stock. While the greatest flavor is derived from pan drippings in brown sauces, butter and oil can be used for lighter sauces (white or blond sauces). A roux provides some thickening and adds opacity to soups and sauces. During the process of slowly cooking a roux with or without vegetables, unique flavors develop.

Brown sauces include the classic Espagnole and demiglace, as well as pan sauces and reduction-style sauces based on a brown stock (e.g., veal or beef) and a brown roux (browned fat). A basic brown sauce that serves as the foundation for other flavors and variations involves browning bones and meat trimmings, adding mirepoix (a flavorful blend of sautéed onions, carrots, and celery), spices and, perhaps, tomato sauce. Brown stock is added to the mixture and then it is simmered for two to four hours to extract flavor and reduce the volume of liquid to concentrate the flavor. The sauce can be thickened by using a roux (as in Espagnole); utilizing both roux and reduction (demiglace); or making a starch slurry (jus lié).

Cajun brown roux can be made with lard, vegetable oils, bacon fat or even duck fat that is cooked to a dark brown. This is the “secret” ingredient in Cajun cooking that gives it a deep, rich nutty flavor.

Today's food processors do not have the time to develop sauces by classical French techniques. However, they can take advantage of flavor bases that are meat and/or vegetable based—these include flavors based on roux, stocks, broths, meat extracts, and animal fats.

Wisakowsky, trained as a food scientist, considers roux an important savory building block. If a roux based on a plastic fat is used (such as beef tallow or chicken fat), or a plastic cottonseed oil, the end result is a paste or semi-solid. If hydrogenated soybean oil is used, the finished product can be made into flakes that can be used in dry blends.

Roux bases plus hydrolyzed vegetable proteins (HVPs) can be used to smooth out HVP flavor while using less of this ingredient in a product, says Wisakowsky.

“Food scientists need to research and understand the formulation history of the sauces they are trying to copy or create—this will enable them to produce better quality sauces,” he notes.

Many flavor houses are well-equipped to provide a variety of flavors with meat and vegetable notes.

Savoring Savory Notes

From roasted meat flavor to sautéed onion flavor, flavor houses provide customers with any type of meat and vegetable notes possible.

Various sweet and savory notes round out flavor profiles. A hint of bacon, smoky notes, soy sauce, wine flavorings, herb and vegetable extracts, even vanilla and cocoa can add “signature” flavor notes to savory items.

“We have a little bit of cocoa in one of our flavored beef stocks—typically, in French cuisine, chefs add a little cocoa in their meat type glacés to bring out more of the beefy notes,” says Lisa Selk, manager of technical services for an ingredients supplier.

Roasted coffee also can enhance meat flavors. Many brown flavors such as meats, roasted coffee, cocoa and nuts obtain their flavor, color and aroma nuances from the Maillard reaction where proteins and sugars (i.e., pathways between amines and reducing sugars) lead to a complex mixture of products with varying degrees of “brown” flavors. The brown flavor is a function of the types and amounts of proteins and sugars present, length and temperature of heating, water activity and pH.

Typically, flavor chemists react amino acids with sugars to form various meaty flavors.

Common ingredients used in process flavor reactions to develop meat-like flavors include beef extract, animal fats, chicken egg solids, thiamin, cysteine, glutathione, 5'-ribonucleotides, yeast autolysate, HVP, MSG, and the sugars glucose and arabinose. Generally, the flavors are available as pastes and powders.

Pure meat flavors and extracts suit culinary needs as well as bases containing these flavors. A meat stock with or without added meat flavors can be customized to any savory application. Taking a meat stock base and adding mushroom and sautéed onion notes with a hint of sherry should not be an obstacle to most flavor houses.

Meat-based stocks and broth flavors enhance meaty notes in a variety of soups and sauces. For example, concentrated beef stock is derived from the cooking and processing of beef bones with adhering meat. The protein-rich broth is concentrated into a paste and frozen. These products also smooth out harsh flavors, improve mouthfeel and increase body and flavor, says Selk. Considering some stocks simmer for about 18 hours, this flavor-rich base is quite a time-saver.

Frozen beef and chicken stocks are an economical option—generally, they are available in either 40 or 56% solids (protein). Typically, chicken and turkey stocks are available in either 16 or 32% concentration.

“With higher concentrations, less water is shipped. However, lower concentrations are less viscous and may be easier to work with in some instances,” says Selk. Higher concentrations can have labeling advantages when declaring “chicken stock” instead of water as the primary ingredient. Meat stock flavors also are available in pastes or powders from most suppliers.

Broth, the water-soluble juices simmered from slowly cooked meat or poultry, is available in various formats and flavor strengths. The protein-rich juices impart a full-bodied, smooth mouthfeel. Meat or poultry flavor can be increased when meat fat is included in the formula.

Chicken and beef fats, turkey and bacon fats enhance savoriness. “Adding chicken or beef fat provides mouthfeel and rounds out the flavor profile—they also add authenticity to the label.” Animal-based fats are available in frozen and powdered forms.

“Customers are asking for more complex flavor notes now,” says Selk. “They are requesting more robust type flavors to be included in the stocks so they don't have to add all the flavors themselves. This is a big time saver for the industry.”

For more information:
The Maillard Reaction, edited by Raphael Ikan. John Wiley & Sons. 1996.
The Professional Chef, 7th edition. Culinary Institute of America.
Part Three: Stocks, Sauces & Soups. 2001.

Website Resources

www.cooks.com — Recipes and basic cooking information
www.wileyeurope.com/cda/cover/0,,0471382574%7Cexcerpt,00.pdf — Discussion of sauces including brown sauces
www.kitchenproject.com/html/kpencnz.html — Cooking terms/reference dictionary