The funding is being provided by food chemistry consultant Louise Slade, PhD, who told FoodNavigator-USA that the big question is identifying the reward mechanism (psychobiological/ neurophysiological) that links human salty taste to excessive sodium intake.
The fundamental research aims to fill the current knowledge gaps in our understanding of salt tasting, and ultimately aid food and beverage reformulation.
“Monell’s broad collective approach to science produces knowledge that can benefit lives on a daily basis,” said Dr Slade.
“Moreover, the basic scientists at Monell communicate directly with the food industry, which is essential if industry is to successfully reduce the amount of sodium in processed food, by far the greatest source of sodium in our diets.”
The $1 million gift will underwrite the expansion of Monell’s ongoing interdisciplinary research program on the mechanisms and functions of salty taste. World-renowned experts in molecular biology, human sensory perception, developmental psychobiology, and other fields work together with the goal of achieving a complete understanding of this complex and elusive topic.
To watch an interview with Monell’s Dr Leslie Stein about low sodium food research, please click here.
Salt is of course vital and is necessary for the body to function, but the average daily salt consumption in the western world, between 10 and 12g, vastly exceeds recommendations from WHO/FAO of 5 grams per day to control blood pressure levels and reduce hypertension prevalence and related health risks in populations.
And with 80% of salt intake coming from processed foods, many countries have initiated salt reduction program. It has been estimated that reducing sodium intakes could prevent more than 100,000 deaths annually and save billions in medical costs in the United States alone.
The industry has attempted, with varying degrees of success, to produce reduced sodium versions of established favorites. In general, the call has not been totally successful, in part because humans like the taste of salt.
“My overarching question is: how can we make food healthier? This is why it is so important for us to understand how salty taste works,” said Dr Slade. “And no place is better able than the Monell Center to address this vital problem from a scientific perspective.”
Gary Beauchamp, PhD, director of the Monell Center, added: “The development of practical and successful methods to reduce salt intake likely will not be possible without a more thorough understanding of exactly how humans detect salty taste and the factors that modify salty taste acceptance.
“Louise’s support underscores both her appreciation for the value of basic scientific research and her deep-rooted interest in human nutritional health and quality of life.”
Not just about taste
A newly published paper in Nutrition Reviews (Vol. 71, pp. 52-59, doi:10.1111/nure.12006) by John DeSimone, Gary Beauchamp, Adam Drewnowski, and Guy Johnson notes that the role of salt goes beyond taste, and contributes to the safety and functionality of many foods.
Sodium chloride helps to maintain microbiological stability of foods, which is an important property for foods such as bacon, bologna, deli meats, processed cheeses, smoked fish, cheese spreads, poultry cuts, pickles, olives, butter, hard cheeses, and salad dressings.
Sodium chloride is also superior to other salts, like potassium chloride or magnesium chloride, for microbiological stability.
In terms of functionality of foods, sodium chloride is known to contribute to texture in processed meats, hard cheeses, and bread, aid color development in processed meats and bread, and control ice-crystal formation in frozen products, to name but a few.
The $1 million gift from Dr Slade to Monell is not her first to the Center. In 2008, she also donated $1million. Under her direction, a major portion of the funds was used to purchase a multi-photon microscope, a piece of equipment needed for Monell scientists to advance their work on taste receptor function in living cells.
Dr Slade retired in 2006 after an illustrious 27-year career in the food industry. She is the author of over 240 papers and holding 35 patents for novel food ingredients, products and processes, and she now is a principal of Food Polymer Science Consultancy.
Dr Slade currently holds an appointment as an Affiliated Scientist at Monell and serves on the Center’s International Advisory Council.