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Forget the salt and put flavour first

Published: 23-05-2017, | Member: Yama Products

Salt is irreplaceable – but other ingredients can give foods a full, rich taste and allow for lower salt content, according to Chih-Sung Ma, Managing Director of Yama Products.


The company has been developing and distributing umami ingredients for 50 years and offers a range of savoury-related ingredients for producers of snack foods, ready meals, soups, sauces and dressings, among others. In 2013, all member states of the World Health Organization signed up to a target to reduce salt intake by 30% by 2025, and this goal is the reason many food companies seek Yama Products’ expertise.

“We say that sodium chloride as such is actually not replaceable,” Ma said. “However, we need to find ingredients which enhance the existing sodium chloride, meaning it gives this full, rich taste in the total product, which is more than only sodium chloride. If you look at the palatability of savoury foods, this has to do with protein level and the total amount of amino acids. That’s the way we approach it.”

While there are some very good alternatives to salt, there is nothing that tastes or behaves exactly like it in a finished product. Although potassium chloride is widely used, potassium’s metallic taste presents another challenge.
Instead of focusing on replacing the salt, Yama Products works with its customers to create the best possible flavour, using ingredients like yeast extracts, fermented wheat gluten sauce, seaweed extract, fermented yeast sauce, or customised blends to enhance the existing salt content and add the full, rich taste to which Ma refers.

It is an approach that seems to work: the company is a private label manufacturer of stir fry sauces for leading supermarkets, for which it has finalised a 30% salt reduction and a 25% sugar reduction.

For salt, the WHO’s 30% target sets the bar. Yama Products is active in frozen snack foods like meatballs, nuggets and spring rolls, which are a big market in The Netherlands and Belgium in particular. “The request from retailers is to reduce salt by 30%,” Ma said. The approach, and how easily this can be achieved, is highly dependent on the food category.

“You create a different flavour profile, which the consumer needs to get used to,” he said. “In products that have a higher protein level, like a chicken nugget, it’s easier to do. You can increase the amount of chicken meat and you still have the glycerides from the oil, so there the salt reduction is less noticeable.

“However, in a vinaigrette, if you take out 30% you need to add something in return. You could increase sugar, acidity or the oil level, or you do a combination of everything.” In some products, like Cajun foods, for example, spices can also contribute to a richer flavour where lower salt content is less obvious.

The company may have a treasure chest of established ingredients, but it is also on the lookout for its next innovation. “When it comes to research, we are participating in programmes on how to find new amino acids from natural sources which are rich in flavour,” said Ma.

Its latest product is extracted from pure seaweed sourced from Japan, which contains very rich flavour compounds that enhance saltiness, and is allergen-free. Yama Products is now participating in a government programme to grow the seaweed locally. Its intention is to work with Dutch universities and local manufacturers to translate its research into products that enhance foods here in Europe.

“Everything we create and develop for our customers starts with the right taste,” Ma said. “Taste comes first.”

Yama Products


Food Valley Summit: Reformulation Salt Reduction

Innovation insights and new developments. Sharing opportunities, challenges and market experiences. Meet Yama Products during the Food Valley Summit on 8 June 2017 in the Netherlands.  More information