Frost & Sullivan Market Insight   Published: 22 Mar 2002
Flavor Intensifiers: The Food Technologist as Chef
Date Published: 22 Mar 2002
by Ivan Fernandez

A food product designer is nearing the end of his ‘labor of love’. The new product he has developed scores well on most counts: it looks tantalizing, tastes delicious, possesses nutritional balance, and has perfect texture and excellent mouthfeel. But, it falls short on flavor! So what does he do? Does he resort to adding extra quantities of base flavor? Wouldn’t that upset the delicate balance he has strived hard to achieve?
The remedy lies in flavor intensifiers - a group of ingredients that are increasingly being used to solve precisely this problem in the food industry today.
Flavor intensifiers help enhance the flavor of foods without the necessity of adding more of the actual base flavor. They do this in several ways: by sharpening the attributes of the base flavor, complementing the base flavor so as to accentuate the desired note, enhancing, smoothening, or rounding off specific notes in the flavor, minimizing undesirable aftertastes, or even extending the duration of flavor perception on the tongue. The most common flavor intensifiers are sodium chloride (salt), monosodium glutamate (MSG), nucleotides, and soy sauce.
Sodium Chloride: Its role does not end with its saltiness. It works as an effective flavor intensifier by enhancing the perception of flavors in foods. However, any use of sodium chloride as a flavor intensifier should take into account the sodium content of other ingredients in the food, the final form of the product, the maintenance of a safety threshold of total sodium content in the food (especially with regard to sodium-restricted diets), and taste preferences that vary across cultures.
MSG: The sodium salt of glutamic acid, MSG is produced by fermenting starch, sugar beet, or sugarcane. In 1908, Dr. Kikunae Ikeda identified glutamic acid as the flavor source of the traditional Japanese kelp, used in Japanese cuisine for centuries. His discovery was commercially marketed in the following year as the flavor intensifier Ajinomoto - Japanese for ‘the essence of taste’. Today, the Ajinomoto brand is synonymous with MSG, and despite negative publicity over health risks and reported adverse reactions, the brand is sold in over a hundred countries, and is the most preferred flavor intensifier currently in use. Apart from its ubiquitous role in Asian cuisine, MSG is used to intensify flavor in processed meat, canned fish, soups, salad dressings, frozen entrees, ice cream, and yogurt. Temperature as well as pH levels of foods impact the efficacy of MSG. In most cases, labeling does not accurately indicate the amount of MSG in food products, since much of it is included as part of other ingredients such as potassium glutamate, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP), autolyzed yeast, and sodium and calcium caseinate.
Nucleotides: Organic compounds such as disodium inosinate (IMP) and disodium guanylate (GMP) have been used either as replacements for MSG, or to complement MSG in enhancing flavors. These compounds, called nucleotides, are most commonly used to intensify flavors in sauces, gravies, soups, meats, vegetables, flavored rice, noodles, stuffing mixes, and snacks. The most successful instance of commercialization of nucleotides has been Ribotide, introduced by Takeda in 1961. To enhance flavor five times over, Takeda’s general recommendation is a combination of 5 percent Ribotide and 95 percent MSG.
Soy Sauce: Brewed from soybean, wheat, and salt, soy sauce is normally associated with Asian cuisine. However, it is capable of adding depth and enhancing the flavor of a much wider variety of foods, such as meat, pies, hamburgers, vegetables, soups, sauces, stews, gravies, dressings, dips, barbecues, and snacks. In fact, soy sauce is increasingly being used to enhance the cocoa flavor in chocolate. Globally, the largest soy sauce manufacturer is Kikkoman, a company that prides itself on a rich heritage of soy sauce brewing that can be traced back three centuries. Despite growing recognition of the beneficial properties of soy, soy sauce has been tainted by a few health concerns, with certain studies claiming that some soy sauce products contain carcinogenic substances at unsafe levels.
High Growth Areas
Apart from the primary objective of improving the palatability of foods and beverages for the mass market, flavor intensifiers can also lend themselves to special applications with potential for high growth:
Dieting That Works: For obese consumers who have tried unsuccessfully to reduce weight by following strict dieting regimes - which meant bland and insipid food - flavor intensifiers are truly a dream come true. By inducing a sense of fullness through enhancing flavors in foods, flavor intensifiers can help dieters eat less without feeling deprived.
Spicing Up Old Age: Flavor intensifiers can also help prevent malnutrition in aged people who lose their appetite because of their diminished ability to taste and smell, on account of aging, declining health, medication, or surgery. The presence of these intensifiers significantly enriches the eating experience for the aged without the danger of health risks through over-indulgence in seasonings or sweeteners.
A Pet’s Best Friend: Flavor intensifiers also play a significant role in the pet food industry by increasing the palatability of therapeutic diets such as low fat, low-sodium, and low-protein meals for dogs and cats.
As the growing market for Asian foods is driven by greater demographic diversity and the more adventuresome spirit of consumers in the EU, North America, and Australia, flavor intensifiers that deliver bolder flavors will enjoy increased demand. These ingredients have also stepped way beyond the boundaries of Asian cuisine. Even as these changes present lucrative opportunities for the industry, there is also the challenge of health concerns, accentuated by the consumer’s heightened priority for food safety. Success is likely to go to those companies who consistently deliver that desired savory note while ensuring safety at all costs.
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