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A Pinch of Salt

January 1, 2006
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When Susan Knapp found there were few options available for low-sodium marinades and sauces, she quit her full-time job in advertising sales and ventured out to start A Perfect Pear Company of Napa Valley. The marinades, mustards, sauces and dressings are not all sodium-free, but the majority are labeled as low- or reduced-sodium.

Sodium and its link to hypertension has been the focus of intense media attention in the last year and, like Knapp, many manufacturers take a leap of faith as they jump onto the low-sodium bandwagon.

“Formulators add salt based on what people are used to,” says Kathi Sparks, an associate flavorist at a flavor supplier. Sodium chloride (NaCl) has additional properties beyond adding saltiness to foods. It also enhances flavors, masks other undesirable flavors and can modify the texture of a food.

“In the past, food manufacturers often reduced sodium without replacing it. That led to low consumer acceptance, in which case, consumers either did not buy the product or they added table salt to it,” says Sparks. But with a plethora of salt-reduction ingredients debuting recently, manufacturers possess a larger choice of ingredients with which to develop great-tasting, low-sodium products.

According to Hugo Felix, head of global business unit savory at a flavor company, it is necessary to develop a toolbox specifically assembled for the purpose of salt reduction. “This toolbox will contain some well-known ingredients, together with the most recent innovations deriving from taste modification research. But what is critical is the expertise in analyzing and targeting the synergies between the elements of the toolbox and the food base,” says Felix.

The most important element in sodium reduction is the starting point of the salt level in the target product. The higher the original salt content, the more of a challenge it becomes to get a decent reduction without affecting product quality. Also, “It is important that you look at all the places the sodium is coming from and not just the salt,” instructs Sparks.

Meat Marinades

Although it is very challenging to reduce the sodium content in snacks where typically salt is added topically, issues of bland taste can be even more acute with reduced-sodium marinades and sauces, as the purpose of these products is to assault blandness.

In processed meat products, salt solubilizes proteins to improve binding and increase succulence. “Salt can have a 'toughening' affect on food texture. It increases ionic strength, enhances ionic bonding between components and reduces inter-particle distances,” says Greg Bach, director of product innovation at a flavor supplier.

A salt substitute that does not offer moisture retention could likely reduce yield and juiciness. “In addition, meat manufacturers at times will need to compensate by increasing preservatives when reducing salt levels in their marinades,” says Bach.

Embittered

“People like the taste of salt,” offers Linda Kragt, technical services manager at a leading salt supplier. Some salt substitutes contribute an off-taste. For example, potassium chloride (KCl), an ionic salt with similar functional properties to NaCl, is seemingly the most popular replacement. When combined with NaCl, the typical sodium-reduction level of KCl is 30%-50%, but it also contributes bitter and metallic notes. Its off-notes become more noticeable when consumed in higher amounts, adds Felix. “A manufacturer's main challenge is to determine how much KCl can be added without risking a bitter flavor,” explains Kragt.

“KCl is most acceptable in marinades and sauces that are more strongly flavored as opposed to those with a mild flavor; that restricts the addition of more ingredients to mask flavor,” notes Kragt. Also, KCl is more uniformly dispersed in marinades and sauces, so it is easier to hide the bitter notes.

One helpful tip to consider when conducting consumer preference testing is that varying sensitivity levels of individuals should be taken into consideration. Sparks suggests that every individual has a different bitter perception and, since a small percentage of people, known as non-tasters, do not taste bitter compounds, it is important to make sure that both bitter tasters and non-tasters sample the product during the development period. “Additionally, the person in charge of the initiative should be a bitter taster.”

Application Specific, Ingredient Prolific

“The complexity of a recipe can also help or hinder the salt-reduction process,” says Bach. “Recipes with a good selection of herbs, spices and yeast extracts are far easier to reduce salt in than those with only a few ingredients.”

When salt is reduced, it is even more important to use ingredients that do not have flavor defects, says Kragt. “Look to see if the spices suppress or accentuate KCl bitterness.” For example, red pepper can suppress bitterness, whereas other items like cloves, celery and sage can accentuate bitterness. “It doesn't mean you can't use these items, but you might have to modify the amount used,” advises Kragt.

Acidifiers and sweeteners can be beneficial to masking bitterness of KCl as well. Vinegar has a very sharp acidity, whereas other acids are milder. When used at the proper level, citric, fumaric and lactic acids also are effective at suppressing bitterness. Some peptide-based ingredients can replace sodium in low- and high-pH food systems, without eliminating “natural flavor” declarations.

“Depending on the application, reducing a product's pH can give the perception that the product is saltier than it really is,” says Bach. “We have used citric acid in some products, and the result showed that salivation increases, giving the perception of saltiness.” There is no easy rule to follow, however, as results differ by each food application.

“It is important to realize that reducing sodium in food is a demanding task that is highly application-dependent,” says Felix. “Salt influences the entire ingredient system of a [formula] and interacts with the other taste components of food.” Therefore, the key to success is dependent on a company's ability to customize such flavor systems.

There are many salt mimetics that can be added the same as salt without any changes in the formulation or processes. However, not all low-sodium ingredients are made in salt's image, and most require only partial substitution.

Some KCl-based ingredient systems tend to be formula-specific. “They might work in one formula without a lot of adjustments, but in others you might need to tweak it to optimize the flavor,” says Kragt.

Extracting Bad Tastes

KCl can be blended with yeast extracts to both help mask its metallic flavor and enhance other flavors in the final product. “When used with KCl and NaCl, yeast extracts deliver flavor enhancement that was lost through salt-reduction programs,” informs Bach.

“Mild autolyzed yeast extracts are more beneficial to reduced-salt applications, because those with a harsh taste will accentuate the KCL bitterness,” says Kragt.

For heavier and meatier products, a brewer's or baker's yeast extract works well, suggests Bach. With more delicate or creamy products, lactic yeast extract blends in best to accentuate the dairy components. Lactic yeast extracts can reduce salt levels from 25% to 50% in snacks and sauces without having an adverse taste impact.

NaCl not only provides saltiness but also balances and blends flavors. Disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate are MSG replacers, but they also tend to help restore flavor balance in reduced-salt products. However, in an effort to clean up labels, some companies avoid using them.

At times, magnesium chloride can be more bitter than KCl. Since it is very hygroscopic, it tends to pick up too much moisture and cause a handling issue during production.

Although they are excellent at restoring flavor balance, sometimes, many hydrolyzed proteins are high in sodium. “Don't assume that because something is a salt replacer that it is low in sodium,” warns Kragt.

The effect of sour or sweet notes depends on the food matrix, the processes used and the application. The fifth taste receptor, umami, detects meaty or savory notes, and can be helpful in restoring flavor balance. “The umami effect is very important to salt reduction because most 'pleasant' foods tend to hit a combination of flavor receptors, particularly in complex profiles like sauces and marinades,” adds Bach. “If you take away the salty portion of the profile, the product is best served to compensate by firing off as many of the other receptors as possible.”

Potassium for Health

A substantial benefit to replacing NaCl with KCl is an opportunity to encourage increased consumption of potassium, which is 52% of potassium salt. According to an online medical reference library at the University of Maryland Medical Center, high dietary intake of potassium from fruits and vegetables throughout one's life helps to preserve bone mass and prevent bone loss that can lead to osteoporosis.

In addition, The Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure recommends adequate amounts of potassium in the diet, and the FDA increased the recommended daily intake for potassium from 3,500mg to 4,700mg.

Also, in September 2005, the FDA dropped the more restrictive sodium level requirements permitted for foods bearing the implied nutrient content claim “healthy” in exchange for the less restrictive levels, which can contain up to 600mg/entrée or 480mg for an individual food product.

The ruling stated that “based on…technological barriers to reducing sodium in processed foods and poor sales of products…the agency has determined that requiring the more restrictive sodium levels would likely inhibit the development of new 'healthy' food products and risk substantially eliminating existing 'healthy' products from the marketplace.”

Although the new FDA ruling will allow some leeway, salt levels in many food products continue to exceed the USDA RDI. Still, “Salt can be a good thing if it is not overdone. Some foods just require it,” says Knapp. “The worst thing is sitting down to a meal, and afterwards all you can say is it needs something.”

Showcase:

Adding heat to food helps take away the craving for salt. McIlhenny Company, maker of TABASCO[r] brand ingredients, invites you to “Play With Your Food” - practically salt-free! From gravies, salad dressings, sauces and marinades, to chips and dipping, TABASCO brand ingredients give foods the full-flavor impact of TABASCO brand pepper sauce and 10 other ingredient profiles in a variety of heat levels and a minimum of salt. TABASCO ingredients come in both wet and dry formulas that are easily applied to a multitude of food products. Samples available. McIlhenny Company, 337-373-6105, www.TABASCOingredients.com

Authentic and versatile describes the savory meat and vegetarian meat-like flavors produced by Blue Mountain Flavors. From fried chicken to roast beef, Blue Mountain's kosher and halal-certified flavors boast delicious meat aromas and tastes. The flavors contain no trans fatty acids, preservatives, salt, artificial flavors or MSG, and offer a convenient and healthy way to enhance a variety of food products. Blue Mountain Flavors, Bill Baugher, 252-522-1544, bluemtninfo@ncfreedom.net, www.bluemountainflavors.com

This company offers a full line of flavors that are used to complement and replace the use of meat in sauces, gravies and marinades. Both natural and artificial flavors from Gold Coast Ingredients are available in powder and liquid forms. Many varieties are available, including Beef, Chicken, Turkey, Pork, Ham, Bacon, Sausage, Shrimp, Smoke, Grill, Crab, Lobster, Seafood, Citrus, Wine, Teriyaki, Mushroom, Spice and Barbeque. Gold Coast Ingredients, Jon Wellwood, 800-352-8673, jon@goldcoastinc.com, www.goldcoastinc.com

At 37% less sodium than regular soy sauce with 3,300mg per 100g, Kikkoman Less Sodium Soy Sauce is an excellent ingredient for lower-sodium applications such as salad dressings and marinades. Kikkoman Less Sodium Soy Sauce offers reduced sodium profiles to meet FDA nutritional and lower salt requirements. Less Sodium Soy Sauce is made with naturally brewed regular Kikkoman Soy sauce using a process that reduces sodium chloride and provides a less salty flavor while preserving typical brewed notes from fermentation. Kikkoman International Inc, Industrial Dept., 415-956-7750, www.kikkoman-usa.com

Reducing salt/sodium does not have to be complicated. Morton Salt offers sodium reduction solutions with Morton[r] Lite Salt™ Mixture and Morton[r] Potassium Chloride. Lite Salt Mixture is a blend of equal parts sodium chloride and potassium chloride that imparts a saline taste while contributing half the sodium of regular salt. Use of Lite Salt mixture or potassium chloride helps to maintain ionic strength for important functional effects. An added benefit is the enhanced potassium contributed by these products that can assist consumers in following the Dietary Guidelines recommendation to increase their potassium intake. Morton Salt. Linda Kragt,

800-799-SALT, buysalt@mortonsalt.com

Acting as flavor catalysts, these pure, clean yeast extracts enhance the perception of salt, protect and add depth to the primary flavors, and round out and enhance the complete profile. DSM pure, high-nucleotide yeast extracts, teamed with DSM savory yeast extract building blocks and savory flavors, can reduce salt up to 60% in a wide array of products including soups, sauces, marinades and dressings, without sacrificing taste. They are proven to replace flavor lost and mask the bitter aftertaste common in low-sodium foods, enabling full-flavor delivery and “mainstreaming” of low-sodium products. DSM Food Specialties USA, 800-662-4478, info.savory-usa@dsm.com

A full line of conventional and organic yeast extracts for use in various types of savory products is available from Savoury Systems International Inc., and includes soup bases, sauces, gravies and marinades. Flavors include beef, chicken and pork to name just a few. SSI also offers salt and MSG replacers. Most of the products are non-GMO, vegetarian, natural and kosher-certified. The organic products are certified by OTCO and also include one kosher-certified yeast extract. Savoury Systems International, David Adams, davida@savourysystems.com, customerservice@savourysystems.com

As winter approaches, consumers look to eat more heartily. Hormel Specialty Products offers its Great Beginnings[r] line of broths and fats used to make full-bodied soups, sauces and other savory products. Its meat stocks are 100% natural, water-soluble, flash sterilized and available in dried or frozen form. All are derived from slowly cooked bones, muscle and meat to extract the flavors and aromas most important to your finished product. Hormel Specialty Products, Mike Buttshaw, 507-437-5609, mrbuttshaw@hormel.com

A new line of natural flavors designed to replace or enhance salty taste without imparting sodium has been developed by Flavor and Fragrance Specialties. Available in liquid and powder forms, these flavors will enhance the salt character in salt-free and reduced-salt products including soups, sauces, gravies and other prepared foods where salt “enhancement” is desired. This new development program includes natural tomato, chocolate, cheese and fusion-type savory flavors for use in a wide array of products. Call for samples. FFS, Rita DeWitte, 201-825-2025, r.dewitte@ffs.com

Spice it up with garlic puree and other processed garlic products from The Garlic Company. The puree consists of freshly peeled garlic, either coarsely or finely ground into a thick paste, which can be provided in fresh, frozen or shelf-stable forms. Varied pack sizes. Processed garlic also available chopped, sliced, diced and juiced. The Garlic Company, 661-393-4212, ext. 114, www.thegarliccompany.com

Just in time for the holidays, Comax Flavors has introduced a line of chicken, turkey beef and pork flavors imparting boiled and roasted profiles. They are available as natural or artificial in liquid and powder, oil and water-soluble versions and kosher parve. Comax Flavors is among the world's foremost

suppliers of flavor technologies and aroma components. The company delivers a unique and agile combination of flavors, service capabilities and technological expertise to help its customers develop flavorful foods and beverages. Comax Flavors, Norman Katz, 800-992-0629, nkatz@comaxflavors.com

A soy sauce powder allows food processors to cut back on sodium content while maintaining flavor profiles. Nikken Food Company's soy sauce powder (5307) contains 1/3 less salt for reduced-sodium flavor applications. The salt content of the powder (5307) is 21% instead of the typical 32%-35% salt found in regular soy sauce powders. Nikken's soy sauce powder (5307) also can help enhance savory flavors and eliminate the need for added MSG. Technical assistance is available for new product development. Nikken Foods Company, Herb Bench, 502-292-3285, benchnstl@aol.com, www.nikkenfoods.com

What's the next savory flavor to become a taste sensation? Make it yours! With McClancy Seasoning Co. as your flavor partner, you can count on exciting and distinctive new flavors that are created, tested and delivered to you before the competition. McClancy flavor engineers solve problems and generate new opportunities that put their clients well ahead of the curve in the fast-paced food industry, while ensuring cost-efficient production and consistency. McClancy Seasoning Co., Reid Wilkerson, 800-843-1968, info@mcclancy.com, www.mcclancy.com

Savory flavors lend richness and appeal to reduced-sodium products. Chr. Hansen's savory flavors help build back the complexity and savory impact that can be lost though sodium reduction. The product line includes specialty food smoke, spirit, meat, poultry, vegetable and herb flavors that offer excellent balance and appetizing aroma to meet today's tough consumer demands. The savory flavors will make your sauce, side dish, gravy, soup or entrée into tempting, but healthier choices. Chr. Hansen, 800-558-0802, Innovations@chr-hansen.com

Making signature products is easier with Flavor Dynamics Inc.'s N/A Cajun Mirepoix Flavor and Natural Mirepoix Type Flavor. These products yield an aromatic vegetable character that is essential to the flavor profile of many stocks and sauces in a remarkably heat and freeze/thaw-stable powdered form. They are well-suited for a wide variety of applications, including sauces, marinades, retort dishes and microwaveable foods. Flavor Dynamics Inc., Colleen Roberts, 908-369-2254, colleenr@flavordynamics.com

Reduce sodium, increase flavor. WILD's progressive SaltTrim™ technology enables you to remove up to 50% of the salt (NaCl) in your existing formulations without having to re-develop your products. A straightforward combination of potassium chloride (KCl) and SaltTrim is the key to reducing

sodium in a broad range of food products, allowing you to use recognized

health symbols (FDA, AHA, etc.) on your packaging, and improving consumer

confidence by doing so. The closest thing to a replacement for salt taste and

mouthfeel, SaltTrim provides an economical approach to replacing sodium

and promoting a healthier product to customers. WILD Flavors, Donna Hansee, 888-WILD-FLAVORS, www.wildflavors.com

Available in powder, liquid and/or paste, Hydrogenated Oil-Free Flavors (HOF) come in a large variety of flavor profiles, including Backyard Grill Flavor[r], CharGrill Flavor and Woodfired Applewood Grill Flavor[r]. Developed by Kraft Food Ingredients Corp. (KFIC), HOFs are an ideal choice for formulations that require eliminating or lowering trans fats. HOF flavors complement a variety of applications, including marinated meats, poultry, processed meats, glazes, appetizers, dressings, desserts and baked goods. Call for product specifications and samples. Kraft Food Ingredients, Jim Cali, 901-381-6500, www.kraftfoodingredients.com

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