Donna Berry, Contributing Editor

September 29, 2009

17 Min Read
Sodium Reform

The past decades trans fatty acid revolution proved that federal and state regulators control whats for dinnerjust ask any New York chef. Many in the food-formulating industry believe salt is the next target, despite conflicting opinions among medical and nutritional authorities regarding required daily intakes.

Sodium and salt (sodium chloride) are not the same. Because sodium is a smaller molecule than chlorine, sodium chloride is 39.34% sodium and 60.66% chloride on a molecular-weight basis. Both FDA and Codex standards allow table salt to contain up to 2% additives, such as anti-caking agents and processing aids.

Compared to other minerals, the human body needs sodium in relatively large amounts, but many believe not as much as currently consumed. Federal guidelines say the average American should consume about 2,300 mg of sodium daily, while some population segments should consume closer to 1,500 mg. According to the American Medical Association, Dallas, most Americans consume more than 4,000 mg each day. Studies suggest that this excessive consumption is a contributing factor to hypertension, heart disease and even certain cancers.

Not all scientists believe universal sodium restriction is the answer to improved health, as many other variables influence ones predisposition to disease, and restricting sodium intake for some individuals may cause more harm than good. For example, just like sugar helps the medicine go down, salt makes a glass of vegetable juice much more palatable. And dont forget sports enthusiasts who need to replenish and rehydrate for electrolyte balance. In fact, a study published in The American Journal of Medicine (2006; 119(3):275.e7-275.e14) states that sodium intake of less than 2,300 mg was associated with a 37% increase in cardiovascular disease mortality and a 28% increase of all-cause mortality.

A methodical approach

Consumer awareness of the issues surrounding dietary sodium and the continued push from public health organizations and consumer advocacy groups is driving modified-sodium food formulatingand its even more complex than mere salt reduction, although taking out salt from certain formulations can be difficult enough.

We started a sodium-reduction initiative a few years back, but at the time, most of the U.S. food industry was busy with trans fatty acid elimination, says Barbara Heidolph, principal, technical service, food phosphates, ICL Performance Products LP, St. Louis. Today, the packaged-food and foodservice industries, especially manufacturers of products going into school lunch programs, are looking at ways to reduce sodium levels.

Food manufacturers are doing so very methodically, according to Heidolph. With individual products, such as biscuits, sausage or processed cheese, product developers are looking at all the sources of sodium, she says. Once they identify a reduction target, they are experimenting by reducing one or more sources of sodium in the formulation. They are doing the same with multi-component foods such as hand-held sandwiches and prepared pasta entrées. By looking at all the sources of sodium, not just the direct addition of sodium chloride, it is often possible to make multiple adjustments to achieve the finished product target.

Linda Kragt, technical services manager, Morton Salt, Chicago, says: Theres no direct substitute for sodium chloride in any formulation, as sodium chloride does so much more than provide saltiness. It is an excellent flavor modulator and it rounds out flavor in a way that no other ingredient can.

Sodium chloride also lowers water activity in products so that it is unavailable for microorganisms, Kragt continues. We are finding that, in some foods, when the salt level is decreased, shelf life is reduced. To compensate, it may be necessary to modify the packaging, change the processing technique or add other ingredients. Many formulators have taken for granted sodium chlorides functionality in certain applications, and when they reduce it, product quality is compromised.

Labels can be deceiving

Ingredients labeled salt have a number of derivation, processing and composition variances. Any salt, regardless of the way it is produced or harvested, is technically sea salt, says Darryl Bosshardt, sales manager, Redmond Trading Company, L.C., Heber City, UT. Some salt is dehydrated from current oceans, some harvested from dead seas and some is mined from ancient sea beds, but sea is constant with all sources. Time is really the only difference.

Although sea watercurrent, dead or ancientusually contains more than 60 essential trace minerals, most table-salt producers today remove them first and sell them at a nice profit to other companies as stand-alone minerals, Bosshardt adds. They then simply sell the remaining sodium chloride as table salt or sea saltusually with an anti-caking agent and/or other processing aidsto consumers and the food industry. Unfortunately, not only does the lack of trace minerals in processed salt impact flavor, but without them, the remaining sodium chloride can throw off the mineral balance in the body. According to several published studies, this is what can negatively impact health. Its not just the sodium. Furthermore, the added chemicals can also negatively impact flavor.

The fact is that an all-natural, mineral-rich salt is essential for optimal health, continues Bosshardt. In this natural form, the body has the ability to process the salt, because it contains trace amounts of minerals that occur in just the right amounts to keep the body and its minerals in balance. The companys salt, mined near Redmond, UT, is pinkish in appearance due to the trace minerals it contains. It averages about 98.3% sodium chloride, but instead of additives, the other 1.7% is minute amounts of 60-plus trace minerals that give the salt its unique flavor-enhancing abilities and health properties, he says. Compared to table salt, our salt has about 10% less sodium per serving.

Many product designers have found that using specialty sea salts high in trace minerals enables them to lower the sodium content of foods, because less sea salt is required to achieve a flavor profile that is as good as, or better than, when refined salt is used.

Recently, for example, Campbell Soup Co., Camden, NJ, rolled out a 32% less sodium version of its classic condensed tomato soup. The company achieved this reduction by using a naturally flavorful, naturally lower sodium sea salt that reduced salt without compromising the classic flavor, according to the company.

Oceans Flavor Sea Salts, Asheville, NC, identified a location in Baja California, Mexico, that yields a natural, less-sodium sea salt. This sea salt has a great taste, because it contains the oceans many minerals, which are required for a balanced diet and healthy body, says Al Kirchner, co-owner and CEO, Oceans Flavor. The company relies on an evaporation process to harvest natural sea salt that contains 45% less sodium than table salt. Its composition is 34.9% chloride, 22.6% sulfate, 21.1% sodium, 8.6% potassium, 1.9% magnesium and 10.9% other trace minerals. An even lower-sodium option is our blend of 45% less-sodium sea salt with potassium chloride, he says. This ingredient contains up to 70% less sodium than table salt.

When sodium chloride is included for functionalities beyond flavor enhancement and saltiness, not all sea salts may be applicable, as they vary in mineral content and water activity effects.

Replace or substitute

In addition to modifying the type of salt used in product formulations, some product designers opt for sodium chloride alternatives, including potassium chloride, yeast extracts and various flavor systems.

Partial sodium chloride replacement with potassium chloride is the most-common approach to lower sodium contents, says Kragt. Many formulators prefer to customize potassium chloride levels rather than use a suppliers blend, but both are viable options. For many applications, other ingredients must be considered when using potassium chloride. This includes ingredients present in minute amounts, such as flavors, herbs and minerals. Its more about optimizing flavor than cutting out the sodium.

Chris Kelly, director of technical services, Advanced Food Systems, Somerset, NJ, explains: Salt replacers contain some sodium, while salt substitutes do not. We offer two salt replacers, both of which provide a 50% reduction of sodium when they replace all of the table salt in the formulation. They contain potassium chloride and either standard table salt or sea salt. Natural flavors are included to provide a clean flavor that minimizes the metallic and bitter notes that often accompany potassium chloride.

We also offer two salt substitutes that may be substituted for 25% to 50% of the sodium chloride added to a variety of foods, adds Kelly. These are a combination of potassium chloride and natural flavors, and are labeled as such on ingredient statements. These ingredients are used by manufacturers of food-system components and ingredients, such as companies who make cheese sauce, pepperoni, filled pasta and even diced and sliced vegetables. Prepared-foods manufacturers also use these ingredients to reduce the amount of sodium added to sauces, gravies and dressings.

One line of salt replacers allows up to a 30% reduction of sodium, but delivers the same amount of flavor impact, according to David Michael & Co., Philadelphia. Available in powder form, in most cases it is listed on ingredient statements as natural flavor with other non-flavoring ingredients, and can be used in any product that is formulated with salt.

We also offer natural potassium blockers, which can be used to decrease the bitterness and metallic off notes often associated with potassium-based ingredients, says Benjamin Jones, senior flavor chemist, processed flavors, David Michael & Co. The potassium blocker appears to function by blocking receptors for bitterness. It, too, is usually listed as natural flavor.

Flavor enhancement

Flavor-enhancement systems are not a direct replacement for sodium chloride. Sodium chloride should be reduced, while the products flavor is simultaneously enhanced, in order that the finished lower-sodium product tastes the same as the original full-sodium version, says Emil Shemer, director of food solutions, Sensient Flavors LLC, Indianapolis. With our portfolio of natural flavor systems, we have been able to reduce sodium contents of a range of foods by 25% to 35% per serving. In many applications, we have achieved much greater reductions in sodium.

The natural flavor systems are a combination of ingredients, including various natural-flavor compounds, minerals and yeast extracts, adds Shemer. Though we have a core line of offerings, there is no magic equation. Sometimes the solution requires customization.

Another range of flavor-enhancing ingredients focuses on umami to enhance the flavor profile of reduced-sodium foods. We discovered molecules associated with umami when analyzing traditional fermentation processes, cooking techniques and artisanal ingredients from around the world, says Andreas Haenni, global head of savory, Givaudan, Dübendorf, Switzerland.

Matthew Walter, group leader, culinary center of expertise, Givaudan, adds: It is important to understand how the balance and harmony of taste affects the eating experience. Understanding the contribution that other taste ingredients make, and using them in the right balance, is essential to creating deliciousness.

This is the next step after umami, according to Joe Formanek, associate director, business development, application innovation, Ajinomoto Food Ingredients, LLC, Chicago. It is adding a blend of initial flavor impact, continuity and roundness to the modified-sodium food, he says. This deliciousness is possible by incorporating the Japanese concept of kokumi, a sensation that consists of a good initial flavor punch, a well-balanced profile, rich mouthfulness and a mature, long-lasting taste perception.

It cannot be explained by the five basic taste components. We believe that substances made through fermentation, such as amino acids and peptides, play a role in the kokumi sensation, says Formanek. A proprietary blend of the companys yeast extracts can provide kokumi to modified-sodium cheeses and savory sauces. It provides deliciousness in the middle through the end, rounding out those finishing tastes, he says. For lighter products, such as tomato sauce, we offer a kokumi blend where the active compound is fermented wheat protein. With this ingredient, the kick is at the beginning and rounds out and finishes off toward the middle.

These kokumi seasonings benefit a wide variety of modified-sodium applications, where some are missing the initial taste impact and others lose the long-lasting taste sensation.

In general, the product developer formulating low- or sodium-reduced products faces a big challenge: finding a replacement for the initial impact salt providesthe tang, the zip, the gustatory smack, says Lori Miller, director, market development/sales, Eatem Foods Co., Vineland, NJ. The goal in low-sodium or even reduced-sodium product development is to duplicate or recreate this taste experience by other means than salt. The companys flavor concentrates provide the groundwork for a well-rounded, rich, complex, deeper foundation flavor, but the punch may be added by one or more other sources, she says. Consider a citrusy zest, sugar, some heat from pepper or ginger or spice, the acid of vinegar or fruit, or perhaps the natural umami of certain foods to lift the taste sensation. Yet, sometimes our concentrates do the trick alone. They can create a vibrant synergy with the correct blend of ingredients.

John Randazzi, chief technical officer and flavor chemist, Eatem Foods, adds: Our knowledge of spices, botanical extracts and, in particular, the interplay of specific yeast extracts lets us create a good, solid basis for many savory profiles. In the final analysis, it is this spice arrangement that makes a significant contribution to the overall flavor profile of a finished product.

Beyond sodium chloride

As mentioned, multi-component food systems contain sodium from various sources, many of which are not even sodium chloride. For example, in bakery products, after sodium chloride, the chemical leavening agents are typically the most-prevalent source of sodium.

Reducing sodium in chemically leavened sweets is not as much of a concern as reducing the sodium in products such as biscuits and muffinsbaked goods that might be a component of a sandwich, such as a bacon, cheese and egg muffin served for breakfast at schools, says Heidolph. Calcium acid pyrophosphate can directly reduce the sodium of such baked goods by as much as 25%, depending on what sodium-based leavening acid is replaced. Not only is sodium reduced, but calcium is increased. In some applications, both low sodium and good source of calcium claims can be made.

With processed meats, sodium cuts must come from many components. Meat naturally contains 50 to 70 mg of sodium per 100 grams, says Teresa Isakson, sales and marketing director, Nu-Tek Products LLC, Minnetonka, MN. The addition of sodium chloride to processed meats may increase this by 10- to 30-fold, making processed meats a leading contributor of sodium to the diet.

Added salt typically contributes the most sodium to processed meats, followed by sodium phosphates and lactates. Because sodium not only contributes to the flavor of processed meats, but also adds functionality to meat systems, it poses a challenge.

A system for processed meats adds flavor and functionality similar to traditional table salt yet with reduced-sodium content. It appears on ingredient statements as potassium chloride and rice flour or potassium chloride. The reduction in sodium (267 mg per gram, as compared to standard table salt, which contains about 400 mg sodium) is achieved by replacing regular salt with modified potassium chloride. It can be substituted on a one-to-one basis in most applications, says Isakson.

Another way to reduce sodium in processed meat and poultry applications is to change the phosphate salt, notes Heidolph. Our potassium phosphate blend is an alternative to sodium tripolyphosphate, she says. Substitution of one for the other can result in sodium reductions up to 18%. This sodium-free polyphosphate is composed of a blend of potassium phosphates, and can be labeled as simply potassium phosphate on ingredient statements for meat and poultry products.

Many multi-component prepared foods include processed cheese for flavor and as a carrier for other ingredients. Unfortunately, processed cheese is often quite high in sodium, as emulsifying salts are critical ingredients for manipulating degree of melt, among other characteristics unique to processed cheese, as compared to natural cheese.

Cheese suppliers are formulating new products to meet the lower-sodium demand without sacrificing performance. For example, one available processed cheese contains 50% less fat and 35% less sodium than traditional processed cheese. We achieved the lower sodium and fat profile, along with an increased calcium content, through a proprietary combination of reduced-fat cheese and milk, as well as lower-sodium emulsifiers, says Diane Kussy, R&D section manager, Land OLakes, Inc., St. Paul, MN. It can be substituted in any formulation that traditional process cheese would be used in, without sacrificing the rich dairy flavor, creamy mouthfeel and excellent melt characteristics process cheese is known for.

Expect the unexpected

An unexpected ingredient, sodium acid sulfate, also known as bisulfate of soda, has been shown to significantly enhance salt perception in select applications.

A few years back, we worked with the Guelph Food Technology Centre to evaluate the potential of all-natural sodium acid sulfate for reducing pH of low-acid retorted products. By reducing pH, researchers hypothesized that it would be possible to use milder heat treatments, such as hot-fill, to improve product quality and reduce energy usage and still achieve shelf stability, says Carl Knueven, corporate manager, product development, Jones-Hamilton Co., Walbridge, OH. Not only did the researchers prove this possible, they also stumbled upon the fact that sodium acid sulfate enhanced the salty taste of foods without adding any sour notes, making it possible to reduce sodium contents.

Based on lab-scale trials, relatively low levels of sodium acid sulfate (0.05% to 0.60%), which contribute negligible amounts of sodium when compared to the amount of sodium displaced, can reduce sodium contents of many traditionally very salty processed foods by as much as 40%, continues Knueven. Sensory analysis showed that the sodium-reduced products had a similar salty perception with minimal effect on flavor profile.

In some applications, sweetness was also more evident. Formulation modifications to reduce the sweetener can be done to decrease the sweetness, if desired, says Knueven. This could also positively impact the Nutrition Facts, as it would reduce sugar contents, as well as calories.

Low-acid products, such as those containing vegetablessoup, juice, etc.were the most successful in the Guelph research, with sodium reductions from 39% to 75% possible. The scientists also experimented with cream-based products, such as Alfredo sauce and Cheddar nacho cheese sauce.

Cream-based products tend to have a high pH, and the addition of sodium acid sulfate causes a significant pH reduction, which can change the flavor profile. Some flavors were positively enhanced. For example, the cheese sauce seemed stronger in flavor and had a tangier Cheddar profile with the addition of 0.3% sodium acid sulfate and a reduction of almost 8% sodium. Both the control and sodium-reduced samples were still salty, and additional sodium reduction could be achieved with further formula modifications.

The industry is actively reformulating foods, modifying sodium-based ingredient contents in order to lower total sodium levels. Doing so enables some marketers to take advantage of the various better choice logos and programs becoming more common in the retail environment. As of now, those logos are voluntary. Stay tuned.

Donna Berry, president of Chicago-based Dairy & Food Communications, Inc., a network of professionals in business-to-business technical and trade communications, has been writing about product development and marketing for 13 years. Prior to that, she worked for Kraft Foods in the natural-cheese division. She has a B.S. in food science from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. She can be reached at [email protected].

Lessons learned

The food-formulating industry learned from trans fatty acids. If the government decides to make dietary sodium an issue, the industry better be prepared. Because of this scientific knowledge mixed with that of global health activists, there is a climate forming for rapid change, says David Lockwood, director of consumer insights, Mintel, Chicago. We are starting to see this information set into motion with a reduction in sodium on packaged goods and restaurant menus.

Mintels Global New Product Database shows that food-product introductions containing a low-, no- or reduced-sodium claim increased by nearly 115% from 2005 to 2008. Mintel consumer research indicates there is a market for such sodium-modified foods. Even though 34% of consumers do not pay attention to sodium, 22% report that they restrict the amount of salt they add to food at the table, while 18% say foods and beverages low in sodium are one of the three most-important components of a healthy diet. The other 26% read labels for sodium, and may make some decisions based on the information, but are not following a regimen to control sodium in their diet.


About the Author(s)

Subscribe and receive the latest insights on the health and nutrition industry.
Join 37,000+ members. Yes, it's completely free.

You May Also Like