Savory Savior

Savory flavors, exotic salts can add the variety lacking in foods for dieters

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Whether the war on obesity is fought with products that are low in carbohydrates, low in fat, low in salt or high in fiber, Americans demand good taste. They also are well-traveled, so they're seeking flavors from all over the world. Both challenges demand high-impact flavors, and high-impact often means savory.

"Low-carb diets lack mouthfeel and satiety. Low-fat diets have some of the same characteristics. Both require good, strong flavors that replace the effect of some of the ingredients we're used to," says Charles Manley, vice president of science and technology at Takasago International Corp. (www.takasago.com), Teterboro, N.J. Some flavors are removed, some are affected by viscosity changes and some by the mouthfeel of fats. "As diet products may lack salt [salt elimination is high on the list of priorities for nutrition-conscious dieters], the flavor system must make up for the lack of impact."

Low-carb foods are a new headache for the flavorist, adds John Matchuk, corporate chef at T. Hasegawa USA Inc., (www.thasegawa.com), Cerritos, Calif. He says the carbs removed from traditionally carbohydrate-heavy foods, such as pasta and breads, often are replaced with proteins, fibers or resistant starches, which often have off-flavors and may require special flavors to mask or overlay them. Savory flavors also are needed to overcome a lack of variety in these diets.

"So we're using smoky flavors to enhance meat products, as well as grilling notes," he says. "The smoke can be added as a brush-on or even in the package to add the flavor. There's a wide variety of smoky flavors: hickory, mesquite, smoked cheese, peppers."

For excitement, Matchuk recommends the flavor boost from tropical and exotic fruits. This year some of the exciting flavors have included blood orange, yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit that is "magical" in its top notes), mango and white peaches. He's also formulated some shellfish dips that include chimichurri and other herbals, fruits and capsicum. The dips had only a trace of fat and a little vegetable gum.

Savory flavors are a godsend to restaurant chefs, who need to change their menus frequently. "We're selling to companies that make sauces, glazes, marinades and other products for chains of restaurants," notes Manley, who says the products are handy solutions for new products with the bold or exotic flavors being sought by restaurant patrons.

Savoring market growth

The do-it-yourselfer's way to enhance low-carb options is through condiments, a subset of savory flavors. Condiment sauces sales were more than $7 billion in 2003 and were found in 98.2 percent of American homes, according to Progressive Grocer's 2003 Consumer Expenditure Study. Sales in 2003 were up 2.7 percent, according to ACNeilsen. Sales of salad dressings were up 3.2 percent. Up more than 30 percent are meat sauces, glazes and marinades.

Dietetic foods are not the only products that can be reinvigorated by savory sauces. Two new condiment products, hailed as winners by the Assn. of Dressings and Sauces at the group's convention last fall, are aimed at waking up standard fare that has become ho-hum.

Dieters eat lots of salads, and lavish application of dressing to a salad can make fat, calories and carbohydrates skyrocket. Not so with Renee's Extreme Salad Dressing. This dressing includes six different cheeses -- Parmesan, Romano, Asiago, Blue, Cheddar and Feta cheeses on a Caesar dressing base, adding lots of flavor but only 0.3 grams of carbs per serving.

Syd Pell, retail market manager for Renee's, describes the new dressing as "very flavorful. It includes garlic, Dijon mustard, a little cayenne, a touch of anchovy -- a classic Caesar, but with a real cheese kick."

It's part of a line of 14 dressings each with less than 1 gram of carbs per serving. All deliver a flavor punch while remaining healthful.

"We use 100 percent canola oil, good spices, and we're working on reducing additives that don't contribute good flavor," continues Pell. "It differentiates chicken or steak Caesar salad from a boring meal and makes it very special." Despite being based in Toronto, and being the No. 1 refrigerated dressing in Canada, Renee's ships dressings to the 48 states and is entering Wal-Mart stores.

"Horseradish is making a comeback," interjects Paul Novitzke, marketing manager for Silver Springs Gardens, Eau Claire, Wis., the other company honored by the Assn. of Dressings and Sauces. For its new take on the pungent root, Silver Springs added the cool tang and color of pineapple and apricot fruit purees to the heat of horseradish, calling the result simply Pineapple Apricot Horseradish.

Another version contains cranberries, and its ruby red color makes a nice addition as a glaze for ham, turkey, chicken or roast pork. Novitzke notes that sales are better than projected, possibly because the sauces are low in carbs and fat.

Phil Meinrich of meat processor Hormel Foods, Austin, Minn., doesn't think Atkins and other diets necessarily have made a big difference in the push for more savory flavors. "Consumers [for some time] have wanted superb flavor, great texture and extreme convenience. They want more intense flavors, and they're interested in ethnic flavors," says the director of product and process development and packaging R&D at Hormel.

He does, however, acknowledge consumers are eating more meat with the low-carb trend, and Hormel's savory chili has been a noteworthy beneficiary.

One of the surprise stories, notes Meinrich, is bacon. All of a sudden the bad boy of breakfast is hotter than the skillet. As sales have grown, so has interest in flavorful variations, including maple, honey, brown sugar and fancy smoke flavors.

Even cheese gets bold

Not all the action is in meats. "The number of cheese-flavored snacks introduced in 2003 was more that double the number introduced in 2002. And 2004 is on pace to eclipse that number," says Abe Sendros, marketing manager for McCormick & Co.'s Industrial Flavors Div. (www.mccormickflavor.com), Sparks, Md.

Cheese is imparting new and exciting flavor to a number of consumer products, and cheese itself is being imbued with unusual new tastes.

"Consumers are wanting more than the typical cheddar," says Sendros. "They are experimenting with asiago, emmenthal and other varieties. Then there is the big and bold flavor appeal. For example, a few years ago, a three-cheese blend was the big thing. Now, three is no longer enough. We are seeing requests for five, six, even seven-cheese blends. This speaks to the big and bold flavor phenomenon that is occurring across the food industry, and especially in snacks."

Cheese isn't the only big, bold trend. "Hot has taken on a new dimension," Sendros continues. "When hot foods first caught the attention of consumers, the goal was to make your product hotter than the next guy's. Products that promised 'so hot you will wish you were dead,' were flying off the shelves. Now, people are still looking for hot, but they want flavor behind the heat."

So McCormick and other companies are adding chili peppers, which impart smoky, earthy and sweet flavors. "Chipotle is a current, trendy example seen on a lot of menus. Others, such as ancho, guajillo and Anaheim are slowly making themselves household names," he adds.

Improving the delivery

McCormick and others have labored not just to provide more flavor but also better delivery systems that keep the flavor where it belongs until consumed. One recent patent provided a major advance in encapsulating flavor compounds so the flavor -- especially pungent flavor -- stays intact.

Some technology leading to reacted flavors was described in a recent patent assigned to Kerry Ingredients UK Ltd. (www.kerryingredients-eu.com). A sulfur source (which could be shallots or eggs or a sulfur-containing amino acid) is reacted with a reductone (such as a ketone, aldehyde, isomaltol or cooked vegetable concentrate, soy sauce or other such ingredient) to produce a cooked flavor when heated. The resulting flavor remains in the final food. The patent is one of several new technologies for producing reaction flavors in final foods.

Enzymes, sugars and proteins that produce new reacted flavors complicate the rules but broaden the horizons for newer, stronger, truer flavors. But flavors that help mask protein flavors or add layers to change off-notes may not be totally acceptable if the label suggests the resulting foods are not what they seem to be.

There are many complexities in labeling reaction flavors and quite an amount of technical data required for just one sample, notes Margaret Lawson, who heads up T. Hasegawa's global regulatory affairs. Labeling and traceability of bioengineered ingredients along with accurate allergen declaration has made the record-keeping requirements for new flavors critically important.

Unfortunately, there is no universally acknowledged list of flavoring ingredients or accepted labeling standards, making it critical to do due diligence while investigating each individual country's specific regulatory requirements when preparing technical data.

Even salt gets a makeover

In the pursuit of savory flavors, even salt has become a weapon for product developers.

Chicago-based Morton Salt (www.mortonsalt.com) this summer introduced Hot Salt, a product flavored with several types of hot peppers, including smoky chipotle peppers. Morton also sells seasoned salt (no MSG), with traces of garlic, onion, pepper and other spices.

In addition, Morton's Kosher Salt, a flaked salt used for processing kosher meats and for pickling, has been on the market for at least a couple of generations. A full range of salt of different particle size and shape is offered, including extra fine salt, coarse flake salt, and dendritic salt sold especially for spice and seasoning blends. Morton's Lite Salt is a salt and potassium chloride mixture with iodide and a freeflowing agent, which contains 50 percent less sodium than regular salt. It is available for commercial use.

Not to be outdone, Cargill Salt (www.cargillsalt.com), Minneapolis, offers fine and coarse grinds, flake salt, extra-fine salt and other forms for use in pickling, meat processing, baking and snack foods.

Sea salt is a top flavor and comes in a variety of specialty natural versions. Saltworks (www.saltworks.us/salt_info/si_gourmet_reference.asp) offers Celtic salt (it contains trace minerals and is harvested with wooden rakes off the coast of Brittany), Fleur de Sel ("flower of salt," harvested young crystals from the surface of salt evaporation ponds in the Guerande region of France), Black Salt (an unrefined mineral salt with a pearly, pinkish tone and a strong sulfuric flavor used in Indian cooking), Grey Salt (a moist, unrefined sea salt harvested by hand in the coastal areas of France).

Other gourmet salts include Grinder Salt, large crystals for use in salt mills, and Hawaiian Sea Salt, which includes a mineral called Alaea, a volcanic baked red clay which turns the salt pink.

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