By Peter Schlagel (Final Part of a Four Part Presentation)
Why Umami Matters
So what role can umami play in the new and different kinds of food consumers are starting to demand now? Why does umami matter?
Let’s review what today’s and tomorrow’s consumers are asking for and willing to buy:
- Consumers want food that is healthy and tasty
- But given a limited forced choice between healthy and tasty, they overwhelmingly choose tasty. Even when they know it isn’t good for them.
- However, incorporating umami into food production, preparation and manufacturing can facilitate offering consumers a third choice: Food that is both tasty and healthy.
Let us examine how umami can help correct America’s imbalanced diet.
The benefits of incorporating umami include:
- Lower Salt (no need to add salt to boost dull flavor of processed foods)
- Lower Sugar (no need to compensate for reduced flavor in “heart healthy” foods with lower saturated fat, cholesterol and salt by boosting sweetness with added sugars)
- Lower Saturated Fat (umami can help maintain a rich satisfying flavor profile with less oil and fat than conventional product recipes, especially in canned products)
- Improved Taste & More Authentic Flavor (since umami both enhances and synergistically boosts flavor intensity, natural flavor richness can be maintained without artificial chemical additives)
- Convergence of Good Flavor, Good Nutrition, and Sustainability (these three circles currently often have very little overlap with yummy snack foods far from good nutrition and not made from sustainable or environmentally friendly ingredients. But these three circles can be brought closer together towards total convergence with natural umami)
Recent research has shown that much of the conventional wisdom and expert advice about the need to avoid fat in the past few decades is wrong. In fact, the avoidance of all fat in our diets and the consequent shift to increased consumption of carbohydrates and additional sugars has proven to be even worse for our health than the claimed dangers of eating fat.
Eggs, butter and meat are not bad for you. And yet a high protein diet based around meat is not sustainable and has a high environmental and energy cost.
Enter seafood and shellfish – they are high in protein, healthy with high nutritional value, and are very sustainable and efficient in energy use to produce.
Marketing Applications: “Modern Alchemy”
So what are the marketing applications of the “modern alchemy” of umami for shellfish?
- Healthier Food (a diet with shellfish is more nutritionally balanced and tasty, and is already naturally high in umami. Cuisine incorporating shellfish and enhanced with other umami ingredients to boost natural flavors tastes better with less salt, sugar and saturated fats)
- More Sustainable (shellfish are much more sustainable than meats such as beef)
- Supports Contemporary Culinary Trends (satisfies emerging preferences in all 3 groups)
- Supports Long-Term Values (such as Environmental Protection and good Stewardship of Nature; the public perception of our Brand is what we stand for, our promise to our customers, versus short-term tactics such as targeted sector advertising or single topic appeals or catchy sales offers or marketing pieces)
In short, the shellfish industry is today at the forefront of future culinary and consumer trends, and the informed inclusion of umami into its marketing strategy is natural, tasty, healthy and effective.
Dollars and Sense – Ethical Capitalism
So how can one run a business, and sustain it over generations, selling food products as fragile and perishable as shellfish, to a public that likes fast food, convenience snacks, sweet desserts, and wants instant gratification of cravings with no thought about consequences for others, for the environment or long-term health? How can you make a buck and still be ethical?
By bringing the three circles of Great Flavor, Good Nutrition, and Full Sustainability closer together towards convergence through incorporation of the modern alchemy of umami in cuisine.
The result is a better and closer correlation of business values with an inclusive sustainability.
Recent efforts by leading consumer food product businesses such as Starbucks and Whole Foods to define ethical business values and practices, such as Conscious Capitalism (led by Jeff Klein of Working for Good), have tried to nudge business practices in an ethical direction.
They promote four central principles of 1) a defining value Purpose, 2) an orientation that includes all affected Stakeholders, 3) Conscious harmonizing Leadership, and 4) a Conscious Culture that nurtures the social fabric and connects stakeholders to the company.
Others have emphasized and advertised their commitment of resources to corporate social responsibility and charitable contributions to local communities. Sometimes these campaigns have attempted to put a good public face on not-so-ethical realities of business practices.
For example: BP after the offshore oil platform blowout disaster in the Gulf which devastated the surrounding regional shellfish industry. BP portrayed themselves as “friends of the people who live and work there” and as committed to restoring and nurturing the environment.
Their real actions indicated otherwise, earning their efforts the infamous adjective “greenwashing”.
Others have gone well beyond the “resource management” viewpoint of corporate social responsibility and embraced a longer-term more inclusive vision of stewardship of the entire ecosystem of nature (land, sea, air, flora and fauna) and human community.
It encompasses a long-term commitment to taking care of it all, to best practices for farming and harvesting and fair share trade of the value created and consumed. Thus generation after generation could continue to enjoy the fruits of their labors and constantly improve on the precious legacy they receive and pass on to others.
The Northwest’s own Taylor Shellfish Farms is an example of this inclusive vision.
This more inclusive vision of sustainability, in nature and community and business, shows a deeper understanding of the entire complex dynamic system of natural ecosystems plus people and culture which comprises bioregionalism.
In the tradition of Wendell Berry it incorporates best local farming and organic permaculture practices. Like the wisdom and practices of indigenous native peoples in coastal regions for hundreds of years, it encompasses locavore, farm to table, and hand harvested sustainable cuisine.
It also integrates these long-term regional farming best practices with “third plate” total-use cuisine, to borrow the term used by Chef Dan Barber. He describes the advances of the local food movement, or “Second Plate” over the older traditional “First Plate” cuisine of meat, vegetables and potatoes with lots of salt and pepper and butter.
While the ingredients became fresher and used less energy to produce and transport, there was almost no change in eating habits by consumers.
The new “Third Plate” is the shift that would integrate good farming with good cuisine and make full use of what can be sustainably grown and harvested in a bioregion.
Guess who’s been doing this for decades without fanfare? The shellfish industry, which learned early on that good farming and harvesting and good cuisine go together.
Now, as other movements and trends in cuisine are highlighting the need for these principles, practices and shifts in our eating habits, the shellfish industry is poised to be leaders in transforming how we think about the relationship of cuisine to environment, health, business, community and deliciousness.
And umami offers a natural and cutting edge way of shining a new light on its value and future potential. You are about to become the head of the parade.
Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute talks about three models of social change.
First is the “Pearl Harbor” model (in which a public disaster motivates social change which may come too late).
Next is the “Berlin Wall” model (in which many underlying factors give rise to a social tipping point, and unanticipated change comes rapidly but usually after a long buildup).
Third is the “Sandwich” model (in which grass roots change combines with top-down leadership for policy and value change, and thus gives rise to fast effective social change).
We may now be witnessing a period when all three models come true as many underlying processes converge with leadership calls for change, and the real possibility of a global calamity becomes ever more likely, such as a breakup of the West Antarctic ice sheet which melted could raise the sea level 2-3 feet in only a few years.
The enlightened vision of inclusive bioregional sustainability nurtures the entire community and sustains the full ecosystem of nature, people and culture. The shellfish industry is an accurate and sensitive indicator of the overall health of this integrated dynamic bio-system including natural and social ecosystems.
Shellfish are a modern holistic "canary in the coal mine" where today’s coal mine is our entire fragile world in all its complex interdependent beauty. It is your vision, your commitment and calling to be stewards of our shellfish aquaculture who take care of our tidelands and oceans and thin biosphere.
Doing the right thing for shellfish, both for today and future generations, not only promotes food products that are healthy and taste good, but nurtures our healthy humanity, and is in good taste. The future is truly in our hands today. What choices and actions will we take?
As Pope John Paul II once said, “The future starts today, not tomorrow”.
This idea is echoed by Alan Kay who said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”.
Or as Yogi Berra put it, “The future ain't what it used to be”.
Perhaps the famous French writer Albert Camus said it best, “Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present”.
Thank you, all of you, for giving your all every day.
Post-Presentation Sample Tasting
And now, for those of you who want to directly experience the umami effect, we have a limited number of tasting samples available at the table below in front. You can stop by after your lunch (and before the next session) and experience for yourself the difference umami makes in enhancing the flavor of a classic clam chowder. It was made from a major national brand’s canned clam chowder marketed as “heart healthy” with reduced salt and fat content. The umami additive has been provided by Nikken Foods USA.
If you would like additional information on umami you can come by and leave your business card and we will email you a Bibliography on the topics we have talked about today. Also, if you have any questions on these topics, you are invited to come by and discuss them with us.
Your Culinary World Copyright Ana Kinkaid/Peter Schlagel 2014