Yeast extracts could reduce sodium and sugar levels while also boosting the savory flavor — known as umami — of soups, sauces and meats, according to Food Business News.
The extracts contain naturally occurring amino acids, which provide the rich and savory taste in foods, especially those that are high in protein, the publication reported.
"Due to the yeast extracts natural composition of protein, amino acids, carbohydrates and others, it is possible to complement, intensify flavors or balance aromas from neutral to strong savory taste, also to bring a taste like meat and to deliver a diverse umami character to food products," Maria Helena Manhão Branco, a food application specialist for Brazil-based Biorigin, told the food publication.
Most people love to eat salty, savory food, but consumers are wary of high levels of sodium in their favorite products. Including yeast extracts in product formulas could maintain the savory flavor and lower the sodium level at the same time. They also may reduce the need for sugar, as well as act as an alternative to caramel coloring.
It's not easy for manufacturers to find the right balance between savory, sweet and salty tastes in their processed food products. Removing or reducing one or more ingredients could cause problems with taste, consistency, texture and/or mouthfeel, leaving consumers wondering what happened to the brand and potentially causing them to turn to a competitor instead.
Still, many global food producers are doing what they can to meet the demand. CPG companies limited salt and sugar in about 20% of their items in 2016, reformulating 180,000 products that year, which was double the amount from a year earlier.
Nestlé recently said it reduced sodium in its products by 20% since 2005 and plans to cut another 10%, while it has limited sugar by 34% since 2000 and aims to reduce it by another 5%. Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo's CEO, warned at Beverage Forum in 2017 that companies need to be careful not to move too quickly and instead embrace a gradual step down.
Yeast extract makers are targeting a number of applications for their products. Israeli-based Salt of the Earth said its Mediterranean Umami product is capable of reducing sodium use by as much as 45% and sugar by up to 25%. Primary applications are savory sauces with a high sugar content, such as ketchup, barbecue and cocktail sauces, as well as dressings, chutneys, pizza and pasta sauces and sauces for ready-to-eat meals.
Whether consumers will accept yeast extracts in lieu of higher amounts of sodium, sugar and caramel coloring in food products isn't clear, although many might want to cut back on those ingredients. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 90% of Americans exceed the recommended dietary guideline for sodium.
Since yeast extracts usually appear on food labels as "baker's yeast extract," "yeast extract" or "natural flavor," their presence is unlikely to cause shoppers much alarm. Manufacturers are producing organic and non-GMO varieties, and the extracts are acceptable for vegan and vegetarian recipes, Food Business News noted. Manufacturers also say formulations don't need a lot of yeast extract, which can impart a strong taste. The concentration in most food applications is typically less than 1%.