We tested the hypothesis that because of their flavor-enhancing properties, mushrooms could be used as a healthy substitute for meat and a mitigating agent for sodium (salt) reduction without reduction in sensory appeal among consumers. In a fully-randomized design for each product, 147 consumers evaluated blind two carne asada and six taco blend recipes in which beef had been partially substituted with mushrooms and/or salt had been reduced by 25%, for overall liking, liking of appearance, flavor, texture and mouth feel on the 9-point hedonic scale, and adequacy of level of saltiness, spiciness and moistness on 5-point just-about-right (JAR) scales. Overall consumer acceptance of the carne asada, and liking for its appearance, flavor and texture/mouth feel decreased significantly when half the steak was substituted with mushrooms. The taco blend recipes with full sodium were also liked more overall than those with 25% less sodium. But there was no significant difference in overall liking among the three full-salt recipes, nor among the three reduced-salt recipes, indicating that across the consumer population we tested, acceptance of the mushroom-containing recipes was on par with that of the 100% beef recipe. The preference mapping analysis of the overall liking ratings of the taco blends uncovered four preference segments, two of which, representing a majority of the consumers, gave higher acceptance scores to the mushroom-substituted recipes. Furthermore, the largest preference segment liked the full- and reduced-sodium recipes equally, and another liked the reduced-sodium recipes significantly more. This research demonstrates that through their flavor enhancing properties, mushrooms can be used successfully to substitute for beef and even possibly mitigate sodium reduction without significant change in acceptance for a majority of consumers.
Keywords: Consumer research; Culinary strategies; Dietary guidance; Mushrooms; Umami.
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