Elaine Watson asks Mel Mann, director of flavor innovation at seasonings, flavors and spice specialist Wixon, for his take on where things stand right now.
Have there been many significant technological developments in sodium reduction/replacement in the past five years?
There have been a lot of developments with yeast extracts that provide flavor enhancement, and companies that are strong in this area are getting very good at fractionating yeast extracts so they can boost the front, the middle, or the back end of a flavor profile. It’s getting much more sophisticated.
But they don’t replicate the technical functionality of salt, so for significant reductions, you still need a metallic salt such as potassium chloride.
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 by maximizing surface area relative to volume, but these would seem to work best in topical applications such as snacks.
As soon as you use them in an application where they totally dissolve, such as in a broth, then the only thing that matters is the total level of sodium, so products that work by physically manipulating salt crystals have limited applications.
What about companies such as Senomyx that are looking at salt taste perception. Will they change the game?
I think it’s interesting that companies are looking at how we perceive salt at a fundamental level - why some things send signals to our brains that something is salty. But the challenge is that many of the ingredients I’ve seen from companies like this cannot be declared as natural. The question will be what do they look like on the label?
And anything that sounds even remotely like a chemical can be a challenge. Even salt would be perceived differently if you had to list it as ‘sodium chloride’ on the label.
The number of ingredients also matters. On a prepared meal where you might have an ingredients list that’s 27 lines long, it’s less of an issue, but if you’ve got an uncured bacon with five ingredients in, that’s a different matter.
A lot of companies supply potassium chloride based salt replacers, what’s special about yours?
A lot of other products in this area just blend dry ingredients together, but Wixon's KCLean Salt [a 50:50 mix of sodium chloride and potassium chloride with a proprietary blend of botanical extracts offering a 50% sodium reduction] embeds the masking agents within the crystals, which is why it is so effective. It's also clean label, as it only uses natural flavors.
We also sell a product called [Mag-nifique] Mimic, which reduces the metallic character of potassium-based salt substitutes, or you can buy potassium chloride with Mimic blended in.
Have consumers - and food manufacturers - lost interest in sodium reduction?
I think sodium is diminishing in the minds of some consumers, who have moved onto other things such as increasing protein, or reducing sugar, although I’d say it's still important.
Our customers are still interested in sodium reduction, but a lot of the work is being done by stealth.
Has all the low-hanging fruit been plucked now when it comes to sodium reduction?
A lot depends on the product. There are bigger opportunities in products where you have multiple components such as frozen dinners. You can make reductions in each of these components - protein, sauce and breading - without significantly impacting the overall product, whereas on something simpler like a potato chip, it’s much harder.
However, you are seeing more snacks now where the salt is not topically applied but the products are internally seasoned and you can use less and still get a salty taste.
Many bakery products are challenging because a lot of the sodium in it is not from salt but from other sodium-containing ingredients such as leavening agents. But that creates opportunities as well.
I think there are also opportunities to develop sports beverages that have less sodium.
If manufacturers have made such big progress on sodium reduction, why does NHANES data show that intakes are still as high as ever?
I think a lot of the work has taken place in the last 2-3 years and the NHANES data we’ve looking at doesn’t reflect that, it’s out of date. If we were to look at the very latest dietary intake data I think you’d see some significant decreases.