“Historically, sodium reduction was taken with a ‘cook-and-look’ approach: Change the formulation to reduce sodium and measure the effect on sensory (e.g. taste, texture, visual, etc.). This is an effective method, but can be time consuming,” she told Food Navigator USA.
New sensory and analytical techniques, however, can expedite the process, she said.
For example, electron microscopes and x-ray tomography can help scientists better identify the role salt plays in finished foods and, therefore, better predict the impact of sodium reduction on products, she said. Salt plays several roles in grain products that scientists need to monitor, including the development of gluten, control of yeast fermentation, the formulation of color and flavor and water activity, which can impact shelf life.
If these technologies reveal that “removing salt from the formulation causes a change in structure, the question becomes what other ingredients can be used to build back functionality?” she said.
Ostensibly, manufacturers could add the other ingredients at the same time as when they removed the salt to protect against sensory changes, she said.
“Ideally, if a correlation between structural changes and sensory can be made, these advanced techniques can be used as predictive tools in determining the success of a reduced sodium solution” and potentially eliminate the need for multiple rounds of trial and error, she said.
“These advanced techniques can also be used to understand the interaction between salt crystals and other ingredients,” she said. “For example, using scanning electron microscopy can be used to see the interaction between oil and salt sitting on the surface of a potato chip. This leads one to wonder if too much oil coats the surface of the salt particle, will the salty sensory eating experience be compromised?”
In this case, salt could be reduced if the amount or dispersion of oil also was reduced or altered and the taste would not be changed.
Low-tech sodium reduction options
“Taste is one of the most important critical attributes that can’t be compromised in any formulation change,” which is one reason “Cargill has salt replacement systems that can be used at moderate levels of 30% to 40% replacement without changing the overall consumer preference or flavor of the final product,” Johnson said.
Compared to electron microscopy and x-ray tomography, these options may seem low-tech, but Cargill’s FlakeSelect and SaltWise still are effective.
FlakeSelect is a potassium chloride product that is “homogenous, low in bulk density, highly soluble and provide[s] superior adherence for topical applications as compared to dry blended or granulated products,” according to the firm’s website.
SaltWise is a blend of ingredients launched in 2010 that can reduce sodium up to 50% while still delivering the flavor and ease of use of salt, the firm says on its website.
Cargill has worked with customers “very successfully” to use these ingredients to replace salt in different baked goods, Johnson said.
Many of these efforts are “stealth initiatives” and not advertised on products so as not to turn-off consumers who associated reduced salt with reduced flavor, Johnson said. As a result, “it is difficult to accurately measure the amount of sodium reduction within the food industry, including the grain product category.”
However, Walmart claims to have successfully reduced sodium within the bread category 13%, Johnson said.
Overall reduction in this category is important to public health because “according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the bread and rolls category is the highest source of sodium in the American diet,” Johnson said, explaining: “The higher daily frequency of consumption is one of the contributing factors to bread and rolls receiving the highest score.”