New method could speed natural salt enhancer discovery

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Sodium reduction Taste

Redpoint Bio Corporation says it has developed a new method using rodents to detect natural salt enhancers, which may speed the introduction of alternative sodium reduction ingredients.

The company says it has trained rodents to discriminate very accurately between salty tastes and others in complex natural product extracts. The results are then analyzed using a proprietary computer model that allows high data throughput, a process which Redpoint Bio hopes will enable the discovery of natural elements that enhance saltiness – and increase understanding of how salty taste is perceived.

The food industry has been under increasing pressure to slash sodium from its products as most Americans consume more than is recommended – around 4,000mg a day compared to a maximum of 2,300mg – and it is estimated that 70 to 80 percent of US sodium intake comes from packaged foods.

Recently that pressure has become even more intense as the US Department of Agriculture looks set to reduce the recommended maximum daily amount of sodium from 2,300mg to 1,500mg in its upcoming 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, in order to better reflect dietary requirements of the majority of the population.

Redpoint Bio CEO Raymond Salemme told “What’s happening now in the world of salt is that people are progressively pulling salt out of products, but they are getting to the point where it’s having a significant impact on taste.”

He claims that there are relatively few options available to food manufacturers for sodium reduction largely because – unlike sweet taste, for example – we still don’t have a very clear idea of how salty taste works.

“Despite all the tools of modern biology, it’s not clear that we have found the salt receptor in people,” ​said Salemme.

Exploring umami

What does seem clear, however, is a connection between umami, or savory taste, and our perception of saltiness.

“But the science isn’t there,”​ Salemme said. “We have got a way to investigate this connection and if we can find a specific ingredient that’s produced by fermentation, or something like that, then we ought to be able to make enriched forms of that.”

He added that the company’s new discovery program allows it to test hundreds of samples in a relatively short time frame.

“It is a fundamentally very simple idea and a very old idea in that taste has been studied using animals for 50 years,” ​Salemme said. “…By putting it under computer control, the net result is that we can do a huge number of experiments.”

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