INTERVIEW: Kombu Seaweed Powder to Serve as a Natural Umami Alternative

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19 Apr 2016 --- Netherlands-based Yama Products has expanded its range to include a new seaweed powder, based on the Japanese kelp named Kombu. The Kombu powder, with its light color and strong Umami properties, is suitable for, for example, stocks, savory flavor enhancement, sauces and ready meals. The product is described as being 100% natural, vegetarian, non-GMO and allergen free.

Chih-Sung Ma, Managing Director of Yama Product (pictured) tells FoodIngredientsFirst: “The Japanese consume a bouillon made from Kombu, called Wakame. Sea kelp is a natural source for a vegetarian base note. In Europe, we would use meat and meat bones and cook them into a broth. In Japan they use sea kelp: Kombu. It is said that in Japan, Kombu has a tradition of being used for over 4,000 years.”

Click to EnlargeYama describes itself as being a specialist in the area of Umami, offering Japanese products, sauces and technical ingredients. With a manufacturing plant for high viscosity sources in Holland, they offer a full range of Umami ingredients. Existing products include WBR 210, an oven-roasted soy sauce, Springarom RCK, an allergen free, natural yeast extract with a chicken flavor profile and NFE-PN, a fermented wheat-gluten sauce with a high glutamate content. A family company since 1966, Yama is specialized in, among others, customized food solutions, while serving as a distributor for BioSpringer and Ajinomoto, as well as being an exclusive Kikkoman soy sauce distributor. The mid-size company with a solid and steady annual growth of 10% is active in the food industry, restaurant, wholesale and retail markets.

With this new product offering, Yama is following the trend towards natural ingredients. “The market is changing, in the last 50 years monosodium glutamate (MSG) has been a constant issue, coming and going every five years or so. We have always been a promoter of MSG, because it is a natural amino acid which is produced in Europe. We find it strange that there is such an antipathy towards MSG,” Ma says. The naturally-grown Kombu is described as having many different amino acids. It therefore offers a wider spectrum of applications compared to MSG, a fermented sugar form converted into glutamic acid and then with salt into MSG. “Yeast extract is a natural ingredient and has a slightly different functionality from MSG. This Kombu extract has a different function again from both yeast extract and MSG. So we consider them as being complementary to each other.”

The seaweed is cultivated in and sourced from open seas in South Japan. “We have tried to find a manufacturer who is very knowledgeable of how Kombu has to be grown, at what age the Kombu should be harvested, and so on. We have tried to find the right quality in age, determining at what thickness the Kombu has a certain amount of amino acids,” Ma says. The savory flavor is obtained by cooking the Kombu in water for several minutes. It is then concentrated, ground, sterilized and turned it into a powder. 

The Kombu powder’s natural positioning provides a valuable market opportunity for Yama. “This Kombu powder presents a new generation of food ingredient, having salt reduction properties as an application and providing a flavor enhancement system coming from the naturally present glutamic acid.” Ma explains that the last five years have seen a growing trend towards negative opinions around E-numbers, which are considered to be less healthy. “Now, we offer a new alternative, which is allergen free and natural. What you see is what you get. With this Kombu powder, we are following up on the trend in the market by being able to offer natural ingredients.”

As this powder is created purely from seaweed, Ma says there are no regulatory considerations, such as novel foods to consider. For now, Ma says they will market the product to small- to medium-sized producers of marine-type products, such as fish soup, salmon paté and tuna burgers. “These companies are in a way more open, faster, with an eye on culinary flavor solutions and declaration. Rather than large multi-nationals who have a much longer list and procedures for new ingredients,” Ma says. Seafood products are the most suitable for enhancement through this product. “It has a certain profile of the ocean. To enhance a chicken nugget, for example, would not be suitable. So we stick to the savory flavor industry, the spice companies and spice blenders and mainly fish-oriented ready meal producers.”

By Liesbeth Thijssen & Robin Wyers

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