The umami effect

by Joanie Spencer
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Today’s consumers are all about balance, whether it’s in their diets or on their product labels. Oftentimes, producers of snacks and baked foods are faced with a balancing act of their own: formulating with less sodium while naturally boosting flavor. And that’s no easy task.

“There is no easy, single ingredient solution to sodium reduction,” said Joseph Leslie, national industrial sales manager at Kikkoman Sales USA, Inc., San Francisco, CA. However, the more bakers and snack producers can increase flavor in natural ways, the more likely they are to avoid the scrutiny that comes with ingredients like excess salt or MSG.

To help achieve this balance, Kikkoman’s Natural Flavor Enhancer (NFE) line is advancing the science of natural flavor enhancement through umami by using amino acids in the right amounts and ratios to enhance the savory appeal of foods. “Umami adds richness and depth to foods without adding its own flavor,” Mr. Leslie said. Through a proprietary brewing process of its original soy sauce, Kikkoman created the NFE line by reducing the soy sauce flavor, color and texture while maintaining the amino acid profile that generates the umami effect, the so-called “fifth taste.”   

Umami can also bring out the flavor of other ingredients such as cheese, butter or salt. “These ingredients will be more pronounced in the final product, without having to increase their usage,” Mr. Leslie explained. With a strong umami component, baked foods such as pizza crusts, flavored bagels or cheese snacks can achieve sodium reduction of up to 30 to 40% without a significant change in flavor, he added.

Flavors can be enhanced in sweet baked foods as well, as umami can also boost the flavor of chocolate. “Kikkoman NFE will make chocolate more pronounced by providing a richer flavor with more depth,” he said.

NFE comes in both liquid (NFE-L) and dehydrated (NFE-P, NFE-PY) forms. Both products function similarly, but when a formulation cannot take on additional liquid, the dehydrated version is the option. “We have found that liquid NFE is best used when there is a water component that can be slightly reduced,” Mr. Leslie said, adding that there are minimal issues with formulation adjustments. NFE is usually used in very small amounts, 0.5 to 1.0% of the formulation.

Kikkoman’s NFE-L is available in 55-gal drums, while the NFE-P and

NFE-PY are available in 50-lb boxes. For more on Kikkoman’s NFE line and its other flavor solutions, visit

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