Sweet plus Umami – the next great flavour sensation

It’s no secret that we humans have a sweet tooth, but it’s been some time now since sweetness as a flavour was something solely reserved for dessert. A little sugar (or other sweetness-imparting ingredients) can enhance the flavours of many a savoury dish, but now our taste buds are craving a serious kick of sweetness in combination all the other main flavour groups.

Sweet and salty has been a fairly recent phenomenon in the West that blew up over the last couple of years, from sweet and salty popcorn, to salted caramel everything, we simply couldn’t get enough of the two extreme flavours combined.

Sweet heat has been around for many years in the form of sweet chilli and sweet mustard – expect to see this trend take off into fiery barbecue, Korean sweet and spicy flavours, and many more.

Likewise, sweet and sour has definitely had a moment recently, from the craze for pickling and fermenting to sweet drinks that also offer bitter notes to satisfy the more sophisticated palate.

And now, as consumer taste buds become more and more adventurous, seeking out ever more new flavour sensations, a new combination is emerging – one that has been wholly unfamiliar to most of us in the West: sweet and umami.

What is umami?

Recognised in the West as ‘the fifth taste’ since 1985, umami is a Japanese word meaning ‘pleasant savoury taste’. There’s no literal translation (hence our pinching of the Japanese word), but it is often described as ‘meaty’ or ‘brothy’ – although meat needn’t be involved, and often isn’t.

Umami foods have a deep, savoury flavour, which is recognised as distinct from saltiness, bitterness and the other established tastes. Foods that are high in umami flavour include beef, pork, gravies, broths, tomatoes, mushrooms, seaweed, soy sauce and yeast extract. Fermented and aged foods such as parmesan cheese, fish sauce and miso are some of the more potent sources, and they are usually foods that contain a high level of the amino acid glutamate.

Umami flavours go hand in hand with salty notes – in fact, the addition of umami can bring out a richer flavour that means you can reduce the amount of salt you need. And now umami and sweet notes are forming a perfect partnership that makes for an exciting eating experience.

Keeping it sweet

While miso and bacon are finding their way into all kinds of sweet treats from cookies to ice cream, you can harness the powerful combination of sweet and umami in your next savoury food product or dish.

Often it’s the trifecta of sweet, salty and umami that makes for the winning formula. Innovative fried chicken restaurants are offering salted caramel chicken wings. Combine red meat flavours with maple or sugar for a highly crave-able flavour – think maple burgers or candied/ caramelised bacon.

Aside from ‘meat and sweet’, there are many ways to add this winning flavour combination to any substrate. Chinese sauces such as hoi sin and oyster are very high in umami, and make a deliciously sticky and moreish marinade for plant-based faux meats. If you’re working with vegetables, such as in a bean burger or veggie nugget, many root veg already combine the two flavour notes. Adding beets, carrots, onions and yams will bring a sweet umami hit. Toasted, smoked and nutty notes also up the umami, from deeply smoky barbecue sauce to toasted honey sesame seeds and caramelised peanuts.

Bring sweet and umami to your range

Bowman Ingredients can work with you to develop the food products that your customers will love. Discover dry mix marinades that impart heaps of sweet and savoury flavour or subtly introduce a little sweetness through our clever coatings, be it breaders, batters or breadcrumbs. From quick service restaurants to freezer aisle favourites, top brands around the world turn to Bowman Ingredients to bring out the best in their food. Talk to our New Product Development team to see how we can help you too.