‘Plant-based food often misses what people naturally crave’: The Finnish company showcasing new tech to extract umami from cereal side-streams
Buoyed by total of €3.1 million in funding to date, Finland’s Nordic Umami Company is looking to scale its fermentation-based technology and answer the challenge of bringing umami taste to plant-based foods in a closed loop system.
In 2021, the company launched fermentation-based technology to extract umami from plant-based industry by-products, followed by the company's first commercial product, the Meatless Umami Bouillon, which it claims is one of the first all-natural and sustainable umami sources.
Now the company aims to scale the technology into an industrial-sized pilot plant and further develop its products and portfolio for the food industry.
While the Nordic Umami Company focuses on the industrial umami market, it has also made its first three products available for retail sale as proof of concept.
“The emission-reduction benefits of shifting to a plant-based diet are well documented. Yet many people are still deterred by the taste of alternative proteins. Or rather, their lack of taste. Plant-based food often misses what people naturally crave: umami, the deliciousness,” said Nordic Umami Company CEO Eetu Viuhkonen.
“We found the original idea for natural umami through a real-life problem,” added Reetta Kivelä, the Nordic Umami Company CIO and co-founder. “We realised that the options for bringing umami to plant foods were limited. All alternatives had health, naturality or sustainability challenges. However, vegan food must also have the fifth basic flavour, umami."
With two patents pending, the company develops and manufactures what it calls all-natural, sustainable umami from circular ingredients, aiming to accelerate the shift towards a fully sustainable food system.
Its mission, it says, is not just to make vegetarian food delicious but to upcycle edible food that otherwise would be wasted.
“The need for clean-label umami is increasing globally," said Viuhkonen. "The driver for the growth is the shift in diets: companies must investigate alternatives to traditional animal-based umami, e-codes and soy.”
The company claims its technology is a new take on the traditional fermentation processes that create flavours and alter food's chemical and physical structures. “The magic behind our process is that it’s not performed with machinery, but by nature’s own workers: microbes,” explained Viuhkonen. “Our technology is based on nature enhancing nature. Our innovative take on fermentation allows us to use a wide range of raw materials with different texture and taste features. In this way, multiple kinds of base flavours are used to create umami-rich liquids and solids. Unlike many other technologies, we can use a wide variety of plant-based ingredients in different formats and flavours – both fresh and dried.”
The company uses a wide range of by-products such as vegetable processing and packaging side streams, different cereal side streams and brewer's spent grain.
This makes it sustainable and all-natural process, Viuhkonen told FoodNavigator. “We use natural fermentation to produce our products and utilise food industry by-products as raw materials instead of pristine food. This approach helps to prevent food loss by redirecting otherwise discarded edible food grown for human consumption back to the food system and human consumption.”
The company has so far secured ‘multiple’ clients in Finland and abroad with its first application produced at the company’s pilot plant in Espoo, a city close to Helsinki.
It is now developing and building its own unique pilot line with a planned maximum monthly capacity of 30 tonnes a month.
“This allows us to enter into the B2B segment and create proof of concept before A-round industrial investments,” Viuhkonen told us.
"Our main focus on the product side is solid and liquid B2B umami ingredients and foodservice,” he stressed. “However, the company has also launched B2C products as proof of concept in Finland. When further scaling the production Nordic Umami Company will be partnering with raw-material suppliers whose by-products will be utilized in production."