The company could not reveal details on the exact nature of the process as it is patent-pending, but said that reducing sodium without the need for salt replacers or flavor maskers responds to consumer preferences. Sargento said that in its research work, it had found that consumers wanted ‘natural cheese taste’ in reduced sodium products and was keen to learn lessons from the low-fat cheese market, in which it quickly became clear that consumers would not buy products that they see as unacceptable in terms of taste and texture.
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA.com at the IFT show in Chicago last week, Sargento’s director of marketing Jane Gapinski said: “Reduced sodium cheese is not new. There’s product out there but it does not taste good…One of our chefs said that the trend was coming about five years ago. Then over the past two years there has been more and more in the press and government.”
She explained that cheese presents specific challenges in terms of sodium reduction, as salt does not only play a role in terms of flavor, but also has an important functional role in increasing the product’s shelf life. In addition, due to the maturation process for cheese, Gapinski explained that every time there is experimentation with a new formulation or procedure, it is necessary to wait for four to eight weeks before testing is possible.
“It is patented processing for reduced sodium, involving a change in the make process rather than in the ingredients,” she said. “We tried both ammonium chloride and potassium chloride and neither of them worked…We have a very stringent panel process with sensory groups.”
Technology principal R&D at Sargento John Brody said in a company statement: “We knew in our heart and soul there was no point in putting a cheese on the market that didn’t taste good…We were able to successfully reduce sodium levels with salt replacers, but the cheese never passed our stringent sensory hurdles. In the end, we gave up on salt replacers and just removed 25 percent of the sodium.”