Healthier food with umami
Soya sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, Parma ham, and shiitake mushrooms are some of the ingredients that are rich in the basic taste umami. Nofima researchers are currently aiming to identify the umami taste at the molecular level and develop healthy products based on natural ingredients.
“In this project application, we have focused on the umami taste in Norwegian ready meals, with pizza being one of the model products,” says researcher Gro Kleiberg at Nofima in Stavanger.
Umami instead of salt and fat
Umami is a taste quality that consumers appreciate. Increasing the umami taste in a product can reduce the use of salt and fat to provide flavour, something that will positively impact both health and taste.
While the industry has primarily used a synthetically produced umami taste up till now, the aim of this research is to discover natural umami sources that can serve as taste enhancers. The first step is to identify the umami taste at the molecular level, which is to be accomplished via sensory methods and protein analyses. When umami has been identified molecularly, the next step is to relate the taste to individual components in food items. A test product will thereafter be developed for consumer testing.
“We have already conducted the first preliminary studies in connection with consumer tests,” Kleiberg explains. “During Taste Week, 180 pupils were served pizza with four different concentrations of umami taste. We used pizza ingredients, such as tomato sauce and cheese, with different natural values of among other things glutamic acid. The data that were registered are currently being processed.”
Initial goal of developing a healthier pizza
Nofima is developing the test product in collaboration with recognized culinary experts and industry partners. Pizza is the market leader in the ready meal sector and has therefore been chosen as the model product. In Norway alone over 120 million units of pizza are sold annually in the supermarket and restaurant sector.
“Knowing as we do that consumer interest in health and naturalness is increasing, also in regard to ready meals in general and pizza in particular, it is natural to start developing a healthier pizza by using natural umami components,” Kleiberg concludes. “It is nonetheless important that the natural umami taste components we develop are easily transferable to other ready meals and products. The overarching aim of the research is namely to increase the potential of using ingredients from Norwegian agriculture as natural ingredients in ready meals.”