Adding flavors to provide or supplement high-roasted flavor notes allows processors to make seared, roasted and deglazed flavors for products on a commercial scale, without overcooking them.
Exotic, savory flavors are entering the marketplace in home cooking, restaurant food and food manufacturing. Popular savory flavors may originate from various cooking methods, authentic global cuisines, spices and seasonings, or other traditional ingredients. One way to describe a high-quality savory flavor is that it is a good compilation of flavors. Savory flavors, even the more exotic, are showing up in high numbers in new products.

New Ideas for Savory Fruits and Vegetables
Although fruit or vegetable flavors may not always be considered savory, they often are used to add flavor to savory sauces, marinades, glazes and entrees as auxiliary ingredients. Grilled and roasted flavors are a savory sensation and can (at least partially) replace salt in vegetables. Natural fruit flavor enhancement is being used to create new food flavors. Acai, mango and guava are now more mainstream flavors, but there still are more exotic fruits and fruit flavors on the market used in savory sauces and other products. 

A Mintel GNPD search of the top 50 flavors for new foods launched in North America in 2009 shows many savory-type flavors appearing on  this list. Of the new products launched, the following flavors appeared: 97 had a Cheddar flavor; 92 a general cheese flavor; 78 chicken flavor; 64 butter flavor; 50 garlic; 58 beef; and 41 onion-flavored products. Other savory flavors showing up in new products launched in 2009 included 20 new products with chipotle flavor, two with seafood, five miso and 30 mushroom-flavored products. (See chart “Selecting Savory Flavors.”) A recent survey of food and ingredient manufacturers by one seasoning supplier indicates up-and-coming savory flavors may include piquante pepper, mushroom and maracuya (passion fruit).

Piquante pepper (the variety has been given a brand name by one supplier) is a breed of Capsicum baccatum, grown in South Africa, resembling the size and color of a cherry tomato. The pepper is sweet, with a touch of heat, which can enhance cheese flavors or be added to many other dishes.

Yuzu is a sour citrus fruit about the size of a tangerine, commonly used in flavoring Japanese cuisine. Yuzu fruit are grown the U.S., but are not common, so they may be a challenge to find. However, yuzu juice is more available and may be used as a substitute for the fruit. Also available is yuzu vinegar; it is used for Japanese marinades and salad dressings. Yuzu paste may also contain chili peppers, which adds a kick. Yuzu paste is a traditional accompaniment to sushi and is also added to Japanese noodles or soups.

Traditional Japanese miso is typically made by fermenting soy, but rice or barley can also be used. A thick paste, it is used for flavoring sauces, spreads, pickled vegetables, meats or soup stock for miso soup. Miso is high in protein and contains several vitamins and minerals. Salted mirin, another authentic Japanese ingredient, is made from sake (Japanese rice wine). A sweet, golden syrup, salted mirin can be used in flavoring soups, sauces and salad dressings. Many ingredients that can contribute the umami taste, such as konbu powder, are often a trend in savory flavors used today. Konbu, an edible sea kelp, is a staple Japanese ingredient used in making soup stocks; ponzu is a citrus sauce made with various citrus fruits and seasoned with mirin, vinegar and other Japanese flavors. 

Kevin McDermott, technical sales for a savory flavor supplier, states, “Recognition of the umami flavor has grown in recent years, and consumers are learning to seek natural versions of this meaty flavor in yeast extracts, yeast extract spreads in cooking, soy sauce and HVPs. Many of our products provide a base flavor profile derived from the free amino acid profile of the original protein.”

Various processes can affect the flavor profile of a finished product, so ingredients can be used to combat off-flavors or improve missed flavors. McDermott adds, “Adding flavors can work well to provide high-roasted flavor notes, allowing processors to not over-cook their proteins and to make products on a large scale, while still maintaining the seared, roasted and deglazed-type flavors.”

In a Monell Center Study published in The American Journal of Clinical Science, umami flavor is a result of the glutamic acid (G-protein) tasted by a combination of T1R1-T1R3 taste receptors. This umami flavor is enhanced with the glutamic acid combination with 5’ nucleic acids. Both glutamic acid and nucleotides exist naturally in protein compounds. Flavors and flavor enhancers are developed to increase and focus specifically on this flavor, or to enhance this flavor in combination with other proteins and ingredients. The T1R3 receptor also is used to taste sweetness, and many have experimented with sweet-and-savory combinations.

Merging Sweet and Savory
A growing interest is to finish a full meal with savory desserts, such as savory cheeses, savory cheesecakes and even vegetable-based dishes, rather than purely sweet desserts. Savory flavors can work well to improve flavor in these applications, a tactic that is generally accepted by the food industry, as shown by respondents to “Prepared Foods’ Savory Survey,” conducted through its E-dition e-newsletter. (See chart “Surveying Savory.”)

Savory, combined with sweet flavors, adds a complementary touch to desserts. However, people can have strong likes and dislikes for a specific mixture of sweet-and-savory flavor notes. Spices like cinnamon, cardamom and ginger are good examples that go well with savory flavors. Peppers are making their way into any number of products, such as chocolate with jalapeño. Mango and chili are also popular flavor combinations.

Vegetable and fruit flavors, such as mandarin orange, pineapple, fig, avocado and cranberry, are being used to enhance food flavors without use of sugar. The combination of savory with sweet flavors is found in ice cream, breads, rolls and cakes. Caramelized sugars and caramelized milk are considered savory flavors; going a step further, creamers and whipping cream flavored with smoke flavoring are in development.

Beverages stored in oak barrels obtain an “oaky” flavor from the barrel that would be difficult to match. The barrels can also function to filter out some of the undesirables from wine, vinegar or whiskey and add a smoked, oaky note. In other beverages, savory flavors are handy, when building products with profiles that are difficult to match.

“Savory tomato-based drinks are common and can benefit from the addition of a flavor enhancer. A high nucleotide yeast extract works well at enhancing and rounding out the overall flavor in tomato-based drinks, without adding any off-notes,” adds McDermott.

Savory flavors are sometimes added, when a specific flavor cannot be isolated, or its profile is difficult to match in a processed product. For example, states Charlie Baggs, chef and flavor consultant to the food industry, “A savory flavor profile is created when other flavors or ingredients are added, such as with mirepoix (a mixture of diced carrots, celery and onion used to flavor dishes in French cooking). In French cooking, the carrots, celery and onion are not really tasted, but they add a savory note to a dish.”

Fusion foods with exotic mixes, such as the California sushi roll, are becoming popular flavors. Rice, with Japanese-style vinegar, shrimp, jalapeños and avocado, makes a delicious savory mix between Asian and American foods.

One way to cut costs in a formulation is to add a savory flavor. For example, “Caramelized onions are almost im-possible to make in a manufacturing setting. Purchasing caramelized onions is expensive, and one way to cut costs is to add a caramelized onion flavor,” advised Baggs. Autolyzed yeast extract is a savory building block that, in a meat loaf-type product, can be added to enable other protein fillers to be used, rather than meat. Not only can this cut costs, but the fillers may improve the nutritional profile of the product.

Savory flavors have been commonly used in frozen entrees, canned soups, sauces, marinades, seasonings, snacks, cheeses and packaged goods, but they also can be used in many fresh applications and are added to shelf-stable products, such as savory and salty snacks.

Increasingly useful for convenience foods, savory flavors impart authentic flavor and restaurant quality. Using savory flavors can enhance or replace authentic flavors lost during processing, freezing, thawing or reheating. Adding signature flavors can save preparation time and contribute to consistent-tasting products--often at more consistent prices than agricultural products.

Savory flavors often originate from basic culinary cooking techniques and represent specific global cuisines. For example, Southwestern chipotle and smoky flavors continue their movement into mainstream products. Some spices and savory flavors have even been included as Superfoods.

Indian, Cuban, Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines reflect the specific savory flavors of curries, peppers, tamarind, ginger, soy sauce or sesame. Flavor suppliers have seen a growing interest in flavors based around Indian cuisine, focused on curry spice blends combined with non-traditional spices, ingredients and flavors, as well as an interest in the slow-cook, clay-pot-built flavor profiles.

Savory flavors are most useful for a large-scale food manufacturer trying to mimic a home-cooking technique. At the very least, they may end up with a similar product to the home-cooked version. For instance, when making meatballs at home, more of the flavor is retained. In a large facility, due to equipment and scale differences, flavor is typically flashed-off during cooking, so it needs to be added back.

Replacing Sodium
Savory flavor ingredients are often added to food products, not only to enhance flavor and shelflife, but also to help reduce sodium. Some 52% of respondents to Prepared Foods’ E-dition’s savory survey felt savory flavors could replace salt (i.e., sodium chloride) “to a great extent.” The following question was asked: “Can savory flavor notes reduce or replace the taste of salt (sodium chloride)?” Some 52% of respondents (of a base of 175 people) answered, “Yes, to a great extent,” while another 34% responded, “Yes, but not to any great extent.” Some 11% replied, “Yes, completely,” while 3% said, “No.” The survey was featured in the December 7 and December 31, 2009, issues of Prepared Foods’ E-dition newsletter. Savory flavors and flavor enhancers can also be used to mask other off-flavors in vitamin-fortified products, for example.

Savory flavors and seasoning ingredients can bring out the authenticity of a dish or product, with little or no salt. Adding simple spices can make it easier to reduce added salt in home-cooked foods. For processed foods, other flavors or flavor enhancers are often required. One survey comment to the “Prepared Foods’ Savory Survey” suggested a combination of Asian and Hispanic savory flavor profiles may assist in salt replacement. In fact, the availability of ethnic foods in grocery stores has expanded widely, due to their flavorful qualities without dependence on salt, sugar or fat. Instead, they typically rely on traditional flavors and seasonings.

More in-depth, natural-tasting savory flavors can assist in replacing fat, sodium and simple carbs in the diet--all major public health goals. The public needs much education in utilizing savory flavors and seasonings to enhance foods that are typically bland. Sautéing with fresh herbs, shallots and garlic, and adding lemon, vinegars and other flavors go a long way in reducing sodium. Cooking is on the upswing, often with necessary shortcuts, but many people still do not cook to any extent. But, with the help of the Food Network and a trend in “back-to-basics” cooking, this is changing.

The end goal of adding savory flavors is to make the end-products delicious, while still providing other desires of the consumer, such as nutrition. Both consumers and government are pressuring manufacturers to reduce sodium in processed foods. This has been a growing interest and will continue for both the retail and foodservice markets, especially with dietary guidelines recommending a daily value of 2,300mg of sodium and 1,500mg for some populations.

Clean labeling is the trend, so food companies are looking for ingredients that contribute savory flavor with clean labels. A wide variety of profiles come with using natural or artificial flavors. Flavor enhancers and sodium are being replaced with clean-label ingredients. At times, there is an advantage in using yeast extracts over other flavor enhancers, because of the natural clean label, as well as the ability to smooth out the finished flavor of the product and enhance other ingredients used. Yeast extracts are often a good alternative to salt, MSG, I+G or KCl.

Traditional or exotic, savory flavors offer comfort, convenience and cost-efficiency to foods. For specific product and processing needs, flavor suppliers are a good source of information to assist in choosing the best custom savory flavor profiles. pf