Food manufacturers are under increasing pressure to reduce sodium, but surveys suggest many shoppers are, well, not that bothered. So where does this leave firms plugging sodium reduction solutions? Elaine Watson asks Mariano Gascon, R&D chief at seasonings, flavors and spice specialist Wixon for his take on it.
What will the next generation of sodium reduction ingredients look like?
If you are trying to reduce sodium by 10-15%, there are a lot of options. But if you want to make a serious reduction – say 50% - at the moment, you really have to use potassium chloride (KCl).
There was some resistance to it a few years ago because it sounded too much like a chemical on the label, but attitudes have changed as people realized it was the only real alternative for many products.
There are some other interesting products out there that manipulate the size of the salt particles to deliver a more intense salty taste with less salt. I have tasted [one such] product and it is very interesting in topical applications. But I’m skeptical of its functionality in a real application in liquid media where the crystals are dissolved.
There are also some interesting new salt enhancers out there, but again if you want to make serious reductions, they are often used in combination with KCl.
There is no one answer. People are developing application-specific solutions because salt performs a different function in every product. There are also other sources of sodium in many products such as baked goods, so even if you reduce the salt by 50%, you’ve still got sodium from other ingredients to deal with.
Whatever you use, you may have to make changes to processing steps, times or recipes. If you put KCl into cheese or a meat brine it dissolves more slowly than salt; if you use it in a soup, you get a different boiling point.
Where does Wixon fit into this market?
There are a lot of salt replacers out there that combine sodium chloride (NaCl) and KCl and then use something to mask the bitterness of the KCl.
But KCl also has a different mouth feel than salt and it dissolves more slowly in the mouth. It lingers. So just addressing the bitterness isn’t enough.
We developed KCLean Salt [a 50:50 mix of NaCl and KCl with a proprietary blend of botanical extracts offering a 50% sodium reduction] about seven years ago so we were ahead of the curve on sodium reduction. The extracts take away the bitterness of KCl but they also stop it lingering in your mouth and make it feel more like salt.
The botanicals are actually embedded within the KCl crystals, which is why it is so effective.
How would you characterize the sodium reduction challenge facing food manufacturers?
The wider roll out of front of pack labels may make some companies look at this harder, but the low sodium train has already left the station. Every manufacturer we speak to is under pressure to reduce sodium and I don’t think there is anyone that hasn’t either already made reductions or is looking very hard at it. They want to do the right thing.
But the major hurdle is that salt costs 7 cents/lb and potassium chloride costs 70-80cents/lb. And it’s not always the case that manufacturers can pass this cost on.
Most consumers are not prepared to pay more for low-sodium products and a lot of companies are spending a lot of time and money doing something they can’t even talk about on the label because it might actually harm sales, so it’s a challenge.