In the world of dairy, savory is best described as not sweet. When you look at the five human tastes - bitter, salty, sweet, sour and umami - savory is closest to the fifth taste: umami.

In the world of dairy, savory is best described as not sweet. When you look at the five human tastes - bitter, salty, sweet, sour and umami - savory is closest to the fifth taste: umami.

Umami has only become accepted as a basic taste in recent years, and still many scientists have not embraced its inclusion. The reason is that, for the most part, umami can, at best, be described as not salty, not sour, not sweet and not bitter. So, if it’s not one of those four, by default, the taste is umami.

Umami has been understood in China and Japan for more than a millennium. There is no simple definition for umami, but it’s generally recognized as being the meaty or brown tastes that round out other flavors and taste sensations. It has been linked to specific amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein – hence, the meat connection.

Savory is all of this and more, as savory is not a taste; rather, it’s a flavor profile. And though it is mostly umami, it can possess some salty, bitter and sour, just never sweet. It also can include other flavor sensations, including astringency and heat.

Other definitions
TheMerriam-Webster’s Dictionary describes savory as “pleasing to the taste and smell.” In the culinary world, savory is an aromatic herb from Southern Europe that is a cross between mint and thyme. Its name comes from the Latin word satureia (satyr’s herb) that refers to its reputation as an aphrodisiac.

Fresh or dried savory is a popular flavoring for salads and grilled meat; dried savory is used to flavor soups, pâté and a number of center-of-plate dishes. Savory is regularly found on Bulgarian tables, next to the salt and paprika. It is these uses for savory that have resulted in the “by default” definition of simply not being sweet.

These associations and definitions has ingredients such as herbs, vegetables, peppers and cured meats being classified as savory in the world of dairy. With most of these ingredients, it’s all about their amino acid content. Some ingredients are cooked, and their inherent reducing sugars and amino acids undergo chemical modification through the Maillard reaction, resulting in caramelized and sautéed notes. Vegetables such as asparagus, garlic, mushrooms, onion and tomato all contain large amounts of glutamic acid, which contributes to that umami sensation.

Non-sweet flavors from abroad
Savory dairy foods have not been very common in the States, aside from French onion dip, cheddar with bacon bits and maybe the occasional dill cream cheese spread. However, times are changing.

Population shifts, including the rapid growth of minority populations, have contributed to the globalization of foods in the United States, and this includes the introduction of creative savory sensations. Consumers are exploring what’s new, focusing on ethnic, global and unique foods and are seeking extreme bursts of flavor and flavor combinations, and these are not typically sweet. This interest in savory is fueled by a well-traveled generation that has been influenced by Asian, Caribbean and Middle-Eastern cuisines, as well as the impact of the growing Hispanic population with its array of peppers.

To conclude, savory dairy foods today are generally hotter and more complex than in the past. The opportunities are infinite, and dairies should be seeking out savory flavor combinations from abroad in order to make them domestically available.

Research tidbit
German scientists have reportedly cracked the secret of gouda cheese’s complex, long-lasting flavor, which some consider to be umami. This could lead to developing more flavorful cheeses and other dairy products. Writing in theJournal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry(Volume 57, Issue 4), German scientists report that six gamma-glutamyl peptides appear to be primarily responsible for the so-called “kokumi sensation” behind gouda.

“As these gamma-glutamyl peptides might have important implications also to the taste profile of other dairy products, studies on the biogeneration of these kokumi peptides during cheese ripening are currently in progress,” wrote the researchers, led by Thomas Hofmann from the Technical University of Munich.

The researchers used molecular sensory science to show that a 44-week-matured gouda cheese had a more pronounced “mouthfulness” and long-lasting taste complexity than a 4-week-old gouda. Further analysis using a combination of high-performance liquid chromatography, mass spectroscopy and gel permeation chromatography enabled the identification of two classes of protein, one of which imparted an enhanced kokumi sensation to the matured cheese. This knowledge could be used to enhance the flavor of dairy products by technological means, the researchers said.

Moody savory flavorsWixon Inc., St. Francis, Wis., takes savory flavors one step further by creating unique combinations and attaching a mood to them. “Our research indicates that as consumers get more adventurous in their tasting experiences, they also want flavors that recall a certain experience or trigger an emotion,” says Mindy Edwards, flavor chemist. “The connection between food and mood is well documented, and whether people are feeling a little down, or whether they are celebrating, it’s natural to turn to food for a lift.”

Featured moods and their savory flavor/seasoning blends include:
  • Naughty: Chipotle flavor and pepper combined with sour cream and buttermilk, touched with pepper, onion, garlic and parsley.
  • Excited: A combination of mustards enhanced with the sweetness of honey and brown sugar and topped with bacon flavors and spices.
  • Angry: Blend of mustards and wasabi powder enhanced with pepper and parsley.
  • Playful: Combination of onion, garlic and peppers with lime and tomato flavors.
  • Adventurous: Maple flavor combined with several peppers and a touch of smoked paprika.
  • Sassy: Mixture of mustard powders, bacon flavors and spices.