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Special edition: Meat substitutes

Bring back the meat: How flavours can boost product quality

By Jess Halliday , 20-Aug-2010

Meat flavours can be give an intense meaty note to products made with meat substitutes and instant foods, as well as provide a more authentic and intense taste in meat-containing products, says Symrise director.

Over the last few years the major flavour houses have been revamping their meat flavour ranges to mimic authentic flavours for different cuts and cooking processes.

Marek Muenstermann, category director for the savoury business unit at Symrise, told that there has been a shift in culinary meat preparation techniques. Chefs no longer tend to serve up meats that have been fried quickly in a pan, but they are more likely to braise them then cook them slowly in a pan with the lid on to allow more intense flavours to develop.

This tendency has led to the development of flavour ranges that replicate the results obtained by culinary techniques, and which are seen as more authentic for higher quality food products.

Muenstermann are three contexts where meat flavours are useful:

In products containing meat substitutes, such as soy proteins, a full culinary meat flavour is required – as well as flavour maskers to counter any off notes or aftertaste from the raw material.

A full culinary flavour is also required in instant products such as soups and ready meals. In the UK, gravy is an especially important product for culinary meat flavours, as it is expected to be “dark, brown and juicy,” he said.

Finally, meat flavours play an important role in convenient prepared products that contain a certain percentage of meat to comply with labelling rules. The real meat might provide a basic meat taste but not the process note that develops from a long-time simmering. In this case, meat flavours improve the quality of the prepared food.

Muenstermann said it is very easy to produce meat flavours from non-meat raw materials. “All the flavour houses can mimic the complete meat flavour with nature identical flavours,” he said, as they huge libraries of flavour ingredients they can draw on.

Making natural meat flavours with all the nuances of real meat cooked over a long time is another matter, however.

“It is not impossible to make vegetarian and natural meat flavours,” he said, “but it is challenging.”

New developments

Recent research has thrown up some interesting new possibility for vegetable-based meat flavours.

Last year researchers from Henan University of Technology in China and RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, reported that the enzymatic treatment of proteins from Brassica vegetables, such as broccoli, may yield thermal processing flavourings that taste like meat.

They found that different flavour nuances could be obtained by adjusting the temperature of the process. The range 100 – 120ºc was seen to produce cooked meat flavours, while processing at around 140ºc gave off a roasted meat aroma.

In 2008 Lambert ten Haaf, director of sales and marketing at Dutch flavour firm Exter explained that his company’s vegetable-derived meat flavours are created by direct conversion of the plant protein into amino acids via an oven-based process. This is a similar to process to that which takes place within an animal, when it consumes vegetable protein, he said, and the resulting amino acids are transferred to the flesh, giving it the characteristic flavour.

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