A new approach to umami: Delivering the “fifth taste” the affordable way

A “toolbox” strategy for umami taste creation can help food manufacturers in Asia find alternatives to MSG, and create healthier and more affordable products.

Umami is an elusive character. Translated literally as the “essence of deliciousness”, it is the taste of amino acid glutamate sometimes defined as “the fifth taste”, and sometimes as a pleasant savoury flavour that is hard to pinpoint. Moreover, there are several aspects to the perception of umami, including the onset of its taste, its long-lastingness, and its impact on the performance of other flavouring ingredients added to food products.

“What has increasingly become clearer now is that umami has long been a crucial component of a range of food dishes across the Asia-Pacific region,” said Jos Muilwijk, global innovation marketing lead for culinary and snacks at IFF. Umami can be derived from meat, mushrooms, salmon, soy or green tea.

He further stated: “In recent years, of course, the main commercial source of umami has been monosodium glutamate (MSG) – the sodium salt in glutamic acid – of which China now is both the world’s largest consumer and producer.”1

The umami effect of MSG is enhanced by the addition of ribo-nucleotides – or I&Gs – found also in food ingredients from Asian cuisine. However, growing numbers of food manufacturers in Asia are now seeking to reduce or remove MSG content, and there is a clear need for new approaches to create umami taste.

Health and affordability: The twin drivers for glutamate reduction

While MSG is a familiar ingredient in Asian food products, there is a growing impetus to deliver umami in different ways. This is being driven by two broad concerns: cost and health.

“The cost of the ingredients necessary to produce glutamate have soared since the pandemic, as have the costs of yeast and other sources of savoury flavours such as yeast, onion and tomato powder,” said Muilwijk.

Meanwhile, globally governments and regulators are taking tougher approaches, such as Turkey announcing MSG to be harmful and not to be used in food production, or MSG being banned in children food in 50 European countries. Along increasing numbers of health-focused consumers in Asia, Mintel also shared that in South East Asia, more than 177 new launches in seasoning and sauces were described with MSG reduction between 2019-2022.

“This is a particular concern in the growing market for plant-based products, where a healthy positioning is often the key. These two very relevant market needs have accelerated activity in IFF Umami taste creation capabilities to enable our customers to respond successfully,” Muilwijk remarked.

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