"With the umami we produce, the rich taste of vegetarian dishes and the ease of familiar food products can be combined in the kitchen. The more familiar the product, the easier it is to grasp," says Nordic Umami Company's Chief Design Officer, Tytti-Lotta Ojala. Photo: Evelin Kask.

Food is a source of passion – and new innovations

Our dinner plates will look different in the future. Our environment cannot support the current lifestyle, where everything is available all year round from all over the world. The consumption of meat must be reduced, and even though there are plenty of vegan options available and upcoming, not all of them are free of issues. There is a massive demand for food-related innovations, so we can enjoy nutritious food in the future without compromising on quality and taste.

Food is part of all our lives at some level. It carries such great importance that it is often perceived as a very personal matter – no wonder it raises big emotions. Food is also culturally bound: tastes and ways of enjoying it vary greatly. It is a necessity that every breathing creature needs in one form or another.

Since food spices up everyone's life, it is also a big business. Because food also has a significant impact on health, there is a vast range of different diets. Naturally, the food industry wants to be on the cutting edge of trends and participate in development. New food trends emerge at regular intervals, strongly linked to current phenomena: vegan cheeses, plant-based meat substitutes, and imitations of dairy products made from oats respond to the rise of veganism. More and more often, food also reflects personal values.

In food trends, especially the environmental aspect is more than topical. The environment can no longer support our current consumption habits, and the food industry is believed to be one solution to this.

Food innovations as problem solvers

According to research, a more environmentally sustainable diet is strongly plant-based. However, it is also important to remember that not all plant-based proteins are automatically environmentally friendly.

Different food trends have given rise to numerous new food innovations in which food technology plays a key role. The most familiar innovations are, for example, dairy-free cheeses and meat-free vegetable proteins. When familiar products are not sustainable from an environmental point of view, food technology can be used to develop new production methods that solve problems – without compromising familiar favorite tastes.

Nordic Umami Company is a business that wants to develop the food industry with its activities and impact consumer choices.

"We have a mission bigger than ourselves, and we want to be involved in developing a more sustainable food ecosystem. We see that we have a twofold role in that. We receive plant-derived side streams from other food industries, which others may no longer be able to utilize. From these, we produce umami, which we can return to the use of the rest of the food industry," explains Nordic Umami Company's Chief Design Officer, Tytti-Lotta Ojala.

Umami is the icing on a cake

Only for a few people, eating is just a mandatory refueling moment to meet energy needs: it also consists of loads of expectations and emotions. For many, eating is enjoyable, including aromatic smells, delicious-looking ingredients, and a taste that melts in your mouth.

In Finnish food culture, meat products have not always been commonplace, but with the increase in the general standard of living, meat has become part of almost every dinner table. Consequently, people are used to the taste of meat, and many seek its fullness in their dining experiences.

"The characteristic taste of meat is distinguished from plant foods by the strong umami taste. Along with salty, sweet, sour, and bitter, umami is the basic taste perceived by humans. Umami occurs naturally especially in meat, but also in vegetables such as mushrooms, tomatoes, and garlic. Umami is also a taste that does not work on its own. It needs salt as a friend so it can be tasted. Umami also emphasizes the taste of salt, so thanks to this, the amount of salt can also be reduced," says Ojala.

When committed meat eaters, who say they enjoy meat precisely because of the taste, should be encouraged to eat vegetables, it is easiest to prefer familiar user interfaces. Fish-free sauce, meat-free broth. Anyone can make use of these - like a grandma making the classics.

The idea of plant-based umami was born as a byproduct

The idea behind Nordic Umami Company was born almost by accident. Ojala says that initially, the idea was to test whether making environmentally sustainable soy sauce from oats was possible. It soon dawned on the team that environmentally sustainably produced soy-free soy sauce is not the only thing needed, but that there is a demand for sustainably produced umami in general.

Umami can be used to add flavor to many plant-based foods. The flavor is often produced with soy sauce, but soy is not problem-free from an environmental point of view.

"With the umami we produce, the rich taste of vegetarian dishes and the ease of familiar food products can be combined in the kitchen. The more familiar the product, the easier it is to grasp," says Ojala.

Nordic Umami Company's umami production process is based on fermentation. In the process, the microbes work, creating liquid umami. Meatless broths and soy-free sauces that are easy to use in the kitchen are then made from this.

The process of making umami also produces umami salt, which can be used like regular table salt. When the liquid umami and umami salt resulting from the process are utilized, no extra side streams are generated in the production, but everything can be used without wastage. 

Bad aftertaste of a good meal

Recently, several studies have shown that one of the biggest factors affecting the environment is specifically people's food. It takes a lot of land, energy, and natural resources to produce it. The carbon dioxide emissions it produces are also considerable.

Ojala believes that in the future food trends, healthiness and the environment are still growing.

"Vegan food as a trend has survived on the surface for a long time just by being vegan. Now, however, consumers have become more interested in what is in the food and its environmental effects. For example, vegan food is not always the most environmentally sustainable option, as can be seen with soy." 


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