Salt has many attributes and uses when it comes to food. It has the ability to enhance desirable flavors in food and recipes, while also diminishing the ability to detect undesirable flavors. For example, adding a small amount of salt to baked goods enhances their sweetness and adding a sprinkle of salt to a grapefruit can mask the bitter grapefruit note. According to the National Academy of Sciences, salt also has the ability to promote the perception of product thickness and round out overall flavor while improving flavor intensity. However, even with all the positive attributes of salt, there is still a demand to reduce its use in food products due to its contribution to the amount of sodium in a diet.
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The CDC states that as sodium intake increases, so does blood pressure, which in turn increases an individual’s risk for heart disease and stroke. For this reason, sodium intake has been on the radar of health professionals, the food industry, and consumers for quite some time. Despite this awareness, the CDC reports that in 2016 the average daily sodium intake among individuals aged two-years and older in the U.S. was more than 3,400 milligrams (mg) per day. This is significantly higher than the 2,300 mg per day recommendation in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Today, the main source of sodium in the American diet comes from salt found in restaurant and processed foods. Salt has a positive impact on how food tastes while also being a relatively inexpensive ingredient to use. This makes using salt an easy preference when developing products. Restaurant and processed foods provide a convenience factor to the consumer who does not always have time to prepare meals at home; consumers prefer something that is quick and easy, but also tastes great. This, of course, will lead product development teams throughout the U.S. attempting to balance between providing a great tasting product and providing a healthier food option to its consumers.
However, due to the consumer pushback, alternatives need to be considered. Fortunately, there are several ways that product developers can approach reducing the use of traditional salt and in turn reduce sodium levels while still developing a flavorful product.
Tactics for Reducing Sodium
Incremental formulation changes. One of the simplest ways to reduce the level of sodium in a product is to simply remove a portion of the salt from the food product at a rate that would not likely be detected by a typical consumer. This idea can be used for an existing product in the marketplace. For instance, studies have shown that consumers were not likely to detect a difference when sodium was reduced by 10 percent in their bread. However, they were able to detect a difference when sodium was reduced at 20 and 30 percent. Food manufacturers can use this knowledge and the knowledge of their product to make a one-time formulation change to reduce the salt to a level consumers may not notice.
Another way to use the reduction concept is to reduce salt in a product gradually over a period of time. For example, if a company has a goal to reduce sodium in its product by 30 percent, it likely would not want to make the entire 30 percent reduction with one formulation change as regular consumers could detect a difference. To minimize the likelihood of consumers detecting a difference while still meeting the goal of a 30 percent reduction, the manufacturer can first launch a product with 10 percent less salt and let the consumer acclimate to the new salt level. After a period of time, it can move forward with another 10 percent reduction and continue this process until it hits the desired salt reduction goal.