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Reducing salt in imitation cheese: Study

By Nathan Gray , 15-Dec-2010
Last updated on 15-Dec-2010 at 13:25 GMT

Imitation cheese with 60 per cent less sodium may be just as accepted in terms of sensory and functional properties compared to full salt versions, according to new research.

Imitation cheeses, made from dry protein ingredients such as casein powder rather than through the traditional cheese making process, were tested for their textural, rheological, and sensory properties with varying levels of sodium chloride (salt).

The study, published in Food Research International, reported that a 50 per cent reduction in sodium chloride resulted in more than a 60 per cent lowering in overall sodium content of the cheese. The Dublin based researchers said that such reductions in total sodium content had little impact on sensory characteristics, with panellists preferring the properties of a 50 per cent reduced salt version to standard levels of sodium chloride.

Salt reduction

The authors, led by Mamdouh El-Bakry, from the University College Dublin, Ireland, stated that from a nutritional viewpoint Western diets contain approximately three times more salt than is needed.

This level of excessive intake has been claimed to be one of the main causes of strokes and hypertension, therefore, in recent years a trend to reduce sodium in processed foods has emerged.

Imitation cheeses are produced for a variety of functionality reasons, including reduced fat content, enhanced nutritive value (through the addition of vitamins and minerals), reduction of production cost by using plant-based ingredients, and sodium reduction.

The production of such cheeses requires the use of emulsifying salts, and also the addition of sodium chloride, which acts both as a preservative and a flavour enhancer.

The researchers said that decreasing added sodium in imitation cheese through the reduction and altering the ratio of emulsifying salts used has been studied previously, and was shown to be feasible in reducing emulsifying salts by around 20 per cent. However, they noted that due to the critical role of emulsifying salts in the manufacturing process, such alterations led to prolonged processing times and altered texture profiles.

They suggested that a more feasible means of reducing the level of sodium in imitation cheese could be through the reduction of added sodium chloride, which accounts for more than 60 per cent of the total sodium content.

The effects of reduced salt on the manufacturing functionality – in terms of texture profile analysis, flowability, dynamic rheology and microscopy, and microbiological stability – and sensory acceptance of imitation cheese were investigated in the new study.

Study details

The authors reported that reductions in salt (sodium chloride) concentration decreased processing times and energy required during mixing and manufacture, and noted that post-manufacture cheese hardness was decreased, and fat globule size increased.

The imitation cheeses were reported to have similar functionality for all batch sizes.

From a nutritional perspective, El-Bakry and colleagues said the reduction of sodium chloride allowed for a lowering in the total sodium content of the cheese by more than 60 per cent, without negatively impacting on functional or sensory characteristics.

They also reported that sensory panellists preferred a 50 per cent reduced sodium chloride cheese to the standard full salt version.

The researchers said the study also suggests that altering the level of added salt may be a further means of manipulating the functional properties of imitation cheese. For example, they said that very high hardness values associated with low-fat cheese may be manipulated through decreasing sodium chloride levels.

Source: Food Research International
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.foodres.2010.12.013
“Reducing Salt in Imitation Cheese: Effects on Manufacture and Functional Properties”
Authors: M. El-Bakry, F. Beninati, E. Duggan, E. D. O’Riordan, M. O’Sullivan

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