BY: Kay Marshallsay, PhD, leader of Kerry’s savoury taste division
Brands delivering products in the savoury category can win consumer preference by striking a balance and synergy between umami and kokumi.
The complex, rich and succulent taste sensations of a delicious savoury dish are the result of well-balanced umami and kokumi.
Umami—also known as the “5th taste”—elevates, enriches and improves succulence while kokumi brings depth, fullness of the mouth and richness. Pair them together well, and you’ll make a memorable, magical food experience.
To do so, the attributes and intricacies of umami and kokumi combinations must be understood at a molecular level and applied through cooking technique and ingredient selection.
Brands can break new ground in this umami and kokumi harmonising space to deliver authentic, complex tastes from kitchen cupboard ingredients and create cost-effective, sustainable and differentiated solutions. In addition to sharing my perspective as a leader of Kerry’s savoury taste division, I also include insights from my global colleagues in taste and sensory science.
Learning from traditional umami and kokumi preparations
Umami taste is associated with naturally occurring amino acids and peptides, such as those in meat, dairy and vegetables. Although it’s only been discussed by scientists in recent years, using umami to optimise taste is a practice firmly rooted in cooking tradition.
Exploring the possibilities of umami and kokumi ultimately begins on the ground, with a look at traditions, ingredients and cooking methods that exist across cultures and global markets. One recent examination of umami took us from Osaka to Kyoto, Jakarta and Seoul.
The mission was to uncover traditional applications of umami and kokumi. We experienced the umami-elevating attributes of katsuobushi, a dried and fermented tuna served in Japan, and learned about the principles of temple cuisine with a Chef Priest at Ryokusen-ji temple in Tokyo. Going deep into inherent umami and kokumi knowledge is paramount to creating taste complexity and ultimately delivering taste preference.
Adding to umami and kokumi with fermentation and yeast
Balancing umami and kokumi wouldn’t be possible without an in-depth understanding of fermentation and, within that, yeast. Yeast extracts are one of the more common sources of umami in cooking. The naturally present amino acids in yeast extracts appeal to the taste receptors and are a natural way to boost taste.
In this way, yeast isn’t a generic system. Due to the many varieties of yeast extracts that are available, each should be considered for its specialised culinary attributes and layered onto a recipe as if working with a palette of yeast extracts—almost like you’re painting different colours but from a taste perspective. This allows for the tuning and tweaking of umami and kokumi to create a consumer preferred solution that is clean label, sustainable and cost-effective.
Building insight-backed umami and kokumi applications
Once a foundational understanding of umami and kokumi is developed, building on a breadth of insights, technology and processing capabilities within umami and kokumi is critical. This allows for a wider range of experiential opportunities and product possibilities.
Strong sensory and analytical capabilities are a requisite for quickly developing new tastes and methodologies. With this expertise, a base ingredient can be built around, creating countless opportunities to intervene and create taste authenticity and complexity.
Alexandre Matos, technical director of Taste for Kerry Latin America says, “Within the realm of umami and kokumi, we pull from all areas–from our 95 global flavourists, our extensive natural extraction and distillation know-how and our global technologies and raw materials. From there, we can combine extracts, yeasts, top-notes of flavours themselves, flavour modulators, biotechnology and more to deliver a wide range of types of umami and kokumi configurations with different combinations, traits and intensities.”
Fine-tuning umami and kokumi for sensory success
Within umami and kokumi there are nuances and tones. To help teams better identify deficits and create impactful solutions, it’s important to utilise a specific sensory lexicon as well as a taste lexicon created just for umami and kokumi. At Kerry, we’ve developed our own language around the umami and kokumi space with unique terminology and descriptors. This allows our teams and our customers to articulate and differentiate between the full spectrum of umami and kokumi effects and characteristics.
The possibilities are exciting. Rajesh Potineni, vice president of Taste Innovation, Sensory and Analytical Sciences for Kerry North America says, “Our knowledge and understanding about this interplay between umami and kokumi is developing at pace, driving constant ideation and innovation. We’re aligning resources and fixated on striking an umami-kokumi balance to deliver authentic, complex, multidimensional, preference-driving taste in the most memorable way possible.”