After making that first fire, it probably didn’t take long for our ancestors to get a bit curious and place their latest catch on a nearby stone so they could enjoy the smoky, tasty result.
Whatever way smoked foods actually originated, the flavor profile has been pursued and perfected ever since. Indigenous cultures in the United States, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe and Central Asia have each developed distinct smoking techniques to not only preserve food but to unleash the incredible umami taste that elevates their favorite cuisines.
As a reminder, Umami is a fifth taste profile that represents a remarkably savory flavor which creates a meaty, satisfying taste in foods and vegetables. It is certainly the driving factor in the popularity of smoked foods due to the savory fullness it produces.
Since the early days, smoking food has been a preferred cooking method to create a flavorful meal by using a “low and slow” cooking technique that many consider the heart of traditional BBQ. It started with drying and cooking meats on wooden frames above hot charcoal. Now, it’s evolved into a celebrated craft with a symphony of sauces and ingredients that showcase the skills of grillmasters who can be found in backyards as easily as local and national competitions.
And while smoking foods has traditionally been reserved for meats, that is no longer the case.
Today, smoking is being used by chefs to enhance the flavor of non-meats as well. Vegetables like cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, zucchini, squash and bell peppers are smoked to balance their natural taste with an umami note.
Additionally, condiments are getting in on the action. By smoking neutral-flavored oils, you can use it to make smoked mayonnaise, salad dressings, pesto or other sauces. Another popular (and easy) option is smoked butter that produces a premium, spreadable umami taste to anything.
So, how do you capture the smoke-infused flavors without the fire?
As our ability to synthesize specific flavor notes evolved, the woodsmoke flavor that triggers that savory, meaty sensation can also be achieved without charcoal or a grill. The smell and taste of smoke works on a chemical level to help satisfy certain flavors, specifically umami.
Flavor is made up of taste – what hits your taste buds – along with physical stimulation – what textures, sounds, look and even pain you experience – and finally, smell. Most of the appeal likely comes from the fact that smoke’s flavor is primarily driven by smell (which is how most flavors are identified). And now, powdered ingredients make it possible to replicate.
Smoky flavor alternatives are possible without actually smoking the food by using specific blends of ingredients that produce umami notes, including smoked paprika, chipotle peppers, smoked olive oil, black cardamom, smoked salt, etc.
And while our passion for smoked foods may be a nod to our ancestry and its fledgling beginnings with that food over a fire, our ability to engineer that smoky smell and taste has led to incredibly popular culinary creations.
At Nikken Foods, we recommend taking your cooking skills up a notch by incorporating our all-natural, roasted ingredients to deliver the perfect grilling notes to your food.
Our favorite umami-inducing ingredients include:
2115 Shiitake Extract Powder – This vacuum-dried shiitake extract gives off an incredible smoky shiitake aroma and flavor.
5320 Roasted Soy Sauce Powder – This naturally fermented soy sauce is spray dried on a maltodextrin carrier and helps add the perfect amount of savory to your dish.
To learn more and create the perfect smoky flavor for your next dish or product, contact the food scientists at Nikken Foods today.