Umami - A Clean Label Flavour Booster

November 13th 2018

Umami - A Clean Label Flavour Booster

We’re hearing about umami more often in this era of specialized diets and increased consumer scrutiny of labels.

Product Development Director for Canada Flavour Solutions, Christine Rush, talks to us about what umami is, where it comes from, and how it can make your food or beverage application taste incredible.

Umami has always been there - we just didn’t know it

In the quest for superior flavour, certain ingredients seem to keep cropping up. As Christine Rush, Product Development Director for Canada Flavour Solutions tells us, “Think of all of the natural ingredients that contain umami like tomatoes, parmesan cheese, mushrooms, seaweed, cauliflower; the list is really very long. We gravitate towards these ingredients, adding them to multi-component dishes recognizing that they add something, but often not fully understanding it is umami.


Chefs turn to inherently umami-containing ingredients to build complex flavour profiles, and to bolster other tastes. In time, umami was isolated and its sources identified. For the sake of convenience, this led directly to the creation of products like MSG, derived from umami sources for the enhancement of flavours.


Fast-forward to 2018. Consumers still want delicious food, of course, but they are increasingly concerned about what’s on the label and what’s going in their bodies. Therein lies the challenge for food product manufacturers and flavour developers – how to make flavours taste incredible without muddying the label with things like, “monosodium glutamate”?

It turns out the future of bolstering flavour lies in the past. “If you say “flavour enhancer” it kind of sounds controversial,” says Christine. “But, there are foods that really bring out and compliment others in combination.” Umami to the rescue once again!


Consumers want food that tastes good, naturally

“It’s gotten to be important to us in product development,” according to Christine. “As we gravitate towards clean label food development, we’re looking for natural ways of enhancing that the flavour of food without having to rely on MSG or salt. We want to provide that same kind of deliciousness with other types of naturally occurring food.”

Some examples? Christine continues: “So maybe we’ll use a little bit of parmesan cheese or tomato powder in the seasoning where we might not have before. You might add a little Worcestershire sauce when you work with beef. Without adding too much of that particular flavour, it really adds depth to the dish.”


For anyone tapping into the plant-based meat substitute market, which is hotter than ever right now, umami is the key to flavour intensity you can’t get any other way. “We’re getting into an era where they’re creating types of plant-based products that function like chicken or beef,” according to Christine. “Salt doesn’t always add enough body to a dish, whereas umami will give you that full-bodied flavour.”


And umami isn’t just for meat substitutes. “It will pretty well work anywhere. For example, if I was working with a sweeter product or a beverage, I might go with a green matcha tea powder as an umami provider,” Christine says. “It’s similar to adding a little bit of salt, with less overall sodium. For the sweeter dishes; it actually brings out and enhances the sweetness.”


It’s the flavour additive that looks good on a label

When it comes to your label, an umami flavour solution will resonate with wary consumers. “We have generic umami seasonings. They’re composed of natural vegetable products,” she tells us, ”and a little bit of parmesan. We have developed umami-rich seasoning blends that contain yeast and one that doesn’t. It’s real food, and there’s a trend towards natural ingredients that I really believe is here to stay.


What it boils down to is this: umami can be your secret weapon. Whether you’re after the ultimate “I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-meat” vegan dinner product, or you want to make a nacho chip that’s exploding with flavour, we have the umami blend for the job. In the end, your customers might not be able to pinpoint why your product tastes so good, but that’s ok.


As Christine quite rightly concludes, “It doesn’t have its own particular flavour that you’d say, ‘That’s umami.’ The average consumer would just say, ‘Wow, that tastes terrific!’, and that’s what you’re after.”