Meat Processors Look for Secret Ingredient to Provide Wholesome and Affordable Products to Consumers

Meat, poultry and seafood products maneuver a herd of challenges, from flavor and trend fulfillment to food-safety practices.

By David Feder, RD, Technical Editor

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"Manufacturers are responding to consumer interest in low-sodium and MSG-free products," confesses Emil Shemer, director of food solutions at Sensient Flavors LLC (, Indianapolis. "The challenge this presents to ingredient suppliers is to develop high-performance systems that deliver sodium reduction and MSG replacement while still delivering the high-quality taste consumers expect." Sensient's R&D teams developed a portfolio of natural flavor solutions for sodium reduction which allow for up to 35 percent or greater reductions in sodium per serving.

"Sensient's comprehensive approach to sodium reduction includes working with manufacturers to develop reduced-salt products that mimic full-salt versions and creating custom solutions that account for other taste changes that may occur due to the reduction in salt," explains Shemer. "We recently assisted a manufacturer with a health and wellness initiative to replace sodium and MSG. We were able to provide a consolidated flavor solution that delivered the same taste of their product with less sodium and no added MSG. With the cleaner ingredient deck and uncompromised flavor profile, the reformulated product has been a great success in the marketplace."

Not yo mama's umami
While many processors feel sodium reduction will stay an issue for a while, whether or not to enhance meat flavors with MSG remains an important trend in meat & poultry products. Two things are keeping MSG in the toolbox for meat product processors. First is lack of clarity on the science; allergic-like reactions to the ingredient remain largely anecdotal. The second is cost reduction.

"Ingredient-wise, processors are looking for products that will help replace the flavor and texture provided by salt and other sodium ingredients" without incurring ingredient cost spikes, notes William Fields, manager of application innovation for Ajinomoto Food Ingredients (, Chicago. "Ajinomoto provides ingredient systems that can help with flavor enhancement, and enzyme products that can improve texture in most products wearing health-oriented labels."

Alternatives to MSG exist. "Using natural umami and kokumi ['full-body'] flavors are among the hottest trends as the industry seeks ways to achieve full flavor profiles while managing to attain 'clean' labels, reduce sodium and drop less healthy flavor-contributing ingredients," says Sam Bernhardt, director of new food ingredients for LycoRed Group Inc., (, Orange, N.J. Bernhardt notes many companies are challenged in attaining full-flavor products that are natural and have a "clean" label. "Of course," he adds, "these flavors also must be cost effective."

To assist processors in attaining just this target, LycoRed developed Sante, a patented, natural tomato concentrate that enhances taste and flavor in place of artificial flavors or enhancers. Sante can be used for salt taste and reduction of other expensive components in a variety of products such as soups, sauces, baked goods, snacks and protein-based formulations.

"By replacing artificial flavors and removing ingredients such as MSG and yeast extracts, we can offer food manufacturers a superior choice for flavorful, clean-label natural products," says Bernhardt. "At the same time, Sante can create cost-saving opportunities due to the reduction in traditional formulary ingredients, such as spices, artificial flavors or tomato paste."

Lori Evans, senior director of technical services for ConAgra's Spicetec Flavors & Seasonings (, Omaha, Neb., notes another challenge in sodium reduction. "In reduced-sodium meat-based items, the removal of salt affects functionality and sometimes results in lower cook yield," she explains. "We help processors maintain equal cook yields at up to 30 percent reduction of sodium in their meat products. We achieve this by optimizing the application – not just adding more binding agents.

Consumers are increasingly selecting foods that are manufactured with the 'less is more' approach — fewer ingredients and a label that is simple to read, including ingredients that one may find in their own home pantry.

– Kelli Wilson

"For example, a customer was running 25 percent reduced sodium in fully cooked chicken strips and having lower cook yield, which increased costs," she continued.

Spicetec was able to reduce the sodium from the control level of 500mg per 100g down to 300mg per 100g — a 40 percent reduction — while maintaining equal yield.
Another example Evans cites involved creating a seasoning blend and a turkey flavor for use in a customer's turkey breast product. The team was able to develop a blend that gave greater than 20 percent reduction of sodium with the same taste performance as the original product and with a neutral cost factor.

Clean and savory
Umami can be enhanced most simply through the addition of spices and other seasonings. "From a sensory mega-trend perspective, manufacturers continue to innovate and evolve product lines for the changing palates of American consumers," says Evans. "Consumers are open to more bold and exotic flavors that have a familiar appeal. They're looking for succulent meats and poultry and flavorful seafood. For example, they're becoming more accustomed to varietal chili flavors and flavors inspired from bold spice blends."

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