Industry shakes off sodium with better-for-you reduced salt offerings
26 Apr 2023 --- Boosting the umami effect, maintaining taste and texture and building a savory profile is crucial when formulating salt reduced products. But this can pose challenges for formulators who have to consider flavor and mouthfeel perception, food preservation and ingredient costs as well as ingredient availability.
FoodIngredientsFirst speaks with representatives from IFF, Kerry, Scelta and ofi, who detail the ways the companies are slashing salt while maintaining taste benefits consumers desire.
Slimming down sodium
In the pursuit of sodium reduced solutions, developing new products that do just this is important but targeting reformulation is an equally valuable strategy. Reformulation allows products to retain all the benefits that come with a well-established brand.
Madeline Bills, cocoa innovation manager at ofi, speaks to us about salt reduction within the chocolate space.
“The challenge for manufacturers is delivering on salt reduction targets as well as the quality tastes and textures consumers expect – something that’s doubly important in indulgent chocolate products. To achieve this delicate balance of health and consumer happiness, we’re seeing producers go back to basics by choosing cocoa powders with a more attractive nutritional profile,” she explains.
Jill Houk, director of culinary at ofi adds that “spices are food producers' best friends when it comes to sodium reduction.”
“We follow the reduce, replace, enhance model to support our customers by crafting lower-salt products consumers love, as the ultimate flavor enhancers, spices form an integral part of this strategy,” she details.
“Producers can create a feast with the right blend of umami-boosting ingredients such as garlic, red pepper and onion, alongside bitter-blockers like oregano, rosemary or cayenne pepper for the senses without a corresponding spike in sodium,” continues Houk.
Meanwhile, Hugo Leclerq, global portfolio director, fermented products and salt reduction at Kerry, says that reducing salt “has clear physiological and taste perception challenges.”
“Slimming on sodium suppresses the overall saltiness of the food and distorts the balance of the overall savory taste. This includes characterizing tonalities decrease, sourness and bitterness increase, and umami intensity is negatively impacted. Some solutions include mineral salts, e.g., potassium chloride, yeast extracts and flavors that stimulate cross-modal answers,” he explains.
Whole and natural approach
Jos Muilwijk, global innovation marketing leader culinary & snacks at IFF, says that salt reduction is all about boosting salt and taste perception holistically.
IFF modulates salt at different points of what they have dubbed the “salt taste curve” – the initial impact on the body and tongue to lingering saltiness – to impact flavor in the entire taste cycle.
“Umami is a key attribute in building a savory body that is otherwise lost through salt reduction. Overall flavor can also be enhanced by supporting the backbone of the dominant taste tonality. For example, if we work with beef, we may support that flavoring with onion, garlic and smoke & grill flavorings,” notes Muilwijk.
Another important angle, due to its prevalence in industry and consumer’s minds, is clean label.
“Product developers are forced to look at natural solutions to create healthier products, reduced in salt, by using clean label solutions,” says Erik Bongers, marketing & new product development manager at Scelta.
He also flags the potential of umami ingredients as natural alternative ingredients. Scelta uses umami from glutamate, inosinate and guanylate.
“The synergy between these compounds creates an intense, full umami effect that is a perfect natural solution for salt reduction.”
Salt reduction demand
According to Bongers, salt intake is still too high and industries and governments are mostly engaged in voluntary reductions.
“Trends such as Nutriscore are forcing companies to continue reducing salt and improving their Nutriscore. Consumers are becoming more critical about what is in their products and looking for healthy and clean labels.,”
Salt is definitely an issue here,” he highlights.
“Local governments heavily influence the desire for reduced salt across the globe. We can see this, for example, in Latin America, where many local governments now require that products have labels explicitly calling out if there is a high level of salt, sugar or saturated fat.”
“Additionally, EU governments are implementing regulations that will impact in-store visibility and promotional activities surrounding unhealthy ingredients,” Muilwijk continues.
According to Kerry’s consumer research, 30-41% of European consumers state that they are reducing salt intake as part of an improved diet.
In the US, he flags that American Heart Association research shows that a 12% sodium reduction can prevent 450,000 cases of cardiovascular disease per year.
According to a study by Queen Mary University London, salt reduction could save over US$2 billion per year, in the UK alone.
“The market for sodium-reduced products, first and foremost, is driven by people who have been told by their doctors to reduce their salt consumption for health reasons. These people must buy products that don’t always taste the same as traditional salted products,,” Leclerq explains.
According to Leclerq, it is “fully possible” to reformulate for sodium reduction while keeping final product costs down by using less expensive ingredients. He explains that the challenge is that sodium performs several fundamental functions in meat products. It is not just for enhancing savory taste but also provides texture and acts as a preservative.
He continues that there have also been supply disruptions and shortages in lactic acid, used for preservation, that are “inevitable and not expected to end anytime soon.”
“The possibility also exists for rising prices in the future that will make lactic acid increasingly less economical,” says Leclerq.
The most common alternative for sodium reduction is potassium chloride (KCl). Potassium chloride is a naturally occurring salt derived from the ground or sea.
“Food manufacturers use KCl to reduce the presence of sodium chloride by as much as 50%. So, what’s the problem? Well, this ingredient provides a metallic taste and bitterness which needs to be masked,” Leclerq explains.
“Most consumers complain about the metallic taste of potassium chloride. And so it begins - a delicate balancing act of salt perception, re-balancing of taste and flavor intensity to try and re-configure complex signaling pathways to re-create acceptable consumer taste,” he continues.
Another solution is acetates, which are produced as an organic salt from acetic acid and are highly effective at inhibiting microbial growth in meat. Acetate solutions are up to five times more efficient than lactates, saving in manufacturing, transportation and storage costs.
The culinary director of ofi, Houk, agrees that “It’s certainly possible to balance affordability with reformulation for lower salt content,” but she details that “as with any recipe change, this requires careful management.”
“The first big consideration is that salt is more than just a flavor enhancer. Sodium chloride performs several roles in a recipe, from solubilizing proteins to adding thickness, but the function most relevant to the affordability conversation is its preservative properties,” Houk explains.
“Extending shelf life and reducing unnecessary food waste is a huge topic right now, both on a sustainability and cost-saving front. As brands embark on their salt reduction missions, they must find alternative strategies to maintain food freshness and safety – for the sake of their bottom lines, the consumer and our planet,” she continues.
Meanwhile, Muilwijk says that “the truth is that salt reduction does often bring added cost, however, it really depends what perspective you are coming from.”
“In 2022, the WHO named reducing salt intake as the most cost-effective measure that countries can take to improve population health. So, while there are costs incurred with salt reduction, it is certainly one of the less expensive ways to increase overall consumer health,” Muilwijk explains.
“Because of the potential increase in product formulation cost per unit, though, it is crucial to balance sodium reduction with the product’s final value.”
“Healthier products can be more attractive to consumers, even at a higher price point,” concludes Muilwijk.
By Marc Cervera
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