While Cargill always made it clear to customers that sea salt did not contain less sodium than table salt, gram for gram, many consumers were still laboring under the misconception that it did, the firm’s marketing manager for salt, John Franklin told FoodNavigator-USA.com.
“I think consumers do have that perception, although we try and be clear that sea salt does not have less sodium. It’s still sodium chloride, just like table salt."
61 percent of consumers think sea salt is lower in sodium,
His comments follow a recent survey by the American Heart Association revealing that 61 percent of US consumers agreed that sea salt represented a “low-sodium alternative" to table salt (which is mined from underground salt deposits, processed to eliminate minerals and usually contains anti-caking agents).
While some suppliers argued that the intense flavor of sea salt meant manufacturers could use a little less – thereby reducing sodium – this was not necessarily the case, said Franklin.
“It’s very subjective, and you’d have to look at this on an application-specific basis, while you will also get different results in topical applications versus in soup for example. But generally, you can’t really use less [sea salt vs table salt].”
The wholegrain of salts?
Sea salt naturally contained beneficial minerals that were stripped out of table salt such as magnesium, calcium and potassium, but its biggest USP was its unprocessed image, said Franklin.
“Consumers perceive it as healthier, more natural, more premium and better tasting because it’s less refined. It’s just evaporated by the sun and the wind. It’s seen as the wholegrain of salts.”
He added: “We don’t break down sales segment by segment, but our sea salt sales are up strongly. More than 5,000 new products have been introduced to the US in the past five years according to the Innova New Product Database
“Chips are the biggest market, but we’re also supplying it to firms making soups, crackers, pretzels, breakfast cereals, pasta and breads, and seasoning blends.”
Dr Rachel Johnson, professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont in Burlington, said: “Sea salt and regular table salt contain about the same amount of sodium chloride. Regardless of which you prefer, high intakes of sodium increase your risk of high blood pressure.”
She added: “Although there are minerals in sea salt, there are other sources of foods that can provide a great deal more calcium, magnesium and potassium that don’t also contain high levels of sodium.”
Where are the studies into sea salt?
But Linda Szymanski, president of Ohio-based Salt of the 7 Seas, which supplies sea salt to high-end retailers, expressed frustration that firms had not invested more into researching the health benefits of sea salt.
“The salt studies never address the value of an unrefined natural salt and the minerals it offers that work in synergy with the sodium to help maintain a healthy heart function. This is a critical point and needs to be addressed.”
While these nutrients were at trace levels, the cumulative effect would be meaningful if sea salt were more widely used in processed foods, she argued.
“I would love to see things like butter seasoned with sea salt, not just gourmet chips. However, it is good to see firms as big as Wendy’s [which introduced new ‘natural cut’ fries seasoned with sea salt last November] raising awareness.”
Flake Select reduced sodium range
While particle size and shape did affect salt perception, this applied equally to all kinds of salt, said Cargill’s Franklin, who was speaking to FoodNavigator-USA.com at the IFT show in New Orleans last month where the firm was promoting its new Flake Select sodium reduction lines.
“That’s what we have been looking at with our Flake Select range, where we have combined potassium chloride [a salt replacer] and sodium chloride [either from sea salt or table salt] and homogenized them into flakes, which have a bigger surface area to volume ratio so deliver a more intense, salty taste with less sodium.
“We also supply flakes of just potassium chloride or just sea salt as well. The compacted flake means you get greater solubility, low bulk density and superior adherence for topical applications [it ‘sticks’ to chips and snacks].”