Demand for Low-Sodium Formulations Stimulates Creativity

The demand for low-sodium formulations is still big enough to stimulate creative solutions to the problem of lowering the salt content of prepared food while retaining customer appeal.

By Mark Anthony, Ph.D.

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"Last year, we made a major breakthrough in our sodium-reduction efforts when we identified a sea salt that is naturally lower in sodium than table salt and other sea salts on the market. Not all sea salt is lower in sodium, but the one we identified is," adds Sloves. "It's not as simple as substituting our lower sodium natural sea salt, each one of our soups is handcrafted, we reduce the sodium in our products; add lower sodium natural sea salt; and also add other flavors and spices to create the soups."

The new Campbell soups have 25-50 percent less sodium than the original versions. Most of the product line comes in at or under the 480mg/serving level to comply with government criteria for "heart healthy" foods. There are 24 varieties of Campbell's Healthy Request soups, and all meet the AHA criteria to display the association's heart-check mark logo.

Salt helpers

According to FDA and USDA rules, a food that carries the claim "healthy" may not exceed 360mg sodium per reference amount. "Meal type" products may not exceed 480mg sodium per reference amount. Specific labeling language is as follows: Sodium-free -- less than 5mg of sodium per serving; Very low-sodium -- 35mg or less per serving; Low-sodium -- 140mg or less per serving; reduced sodium -- usual sodium level is reduced by 25 percent, unsalted -- no salt added or without added salt (made without the salt that's normally used, but still contains the sodium that's a natural part of the food itself.).

Wild Flavors Inc. (, Cincinnati, produces SaltTrim, a proprietary technology designed to work in conjunction with potassium chloride to reduce the sodium content of foods or beverages. "SaltTrim simultaneously masks the bitter notes associated with potassium and provides unique flavor and mouthfeel attributes to replace those lost as a result of the sodium removal, says Marion Dalacker, director of market strategies for WILD Flavors. Dalacker notes that an overall increase in dietary potassium is good for blood pressure control, since Americans generally get much less than the 4,700mg recommended daily level. "In most countries SaltTrim is labeled as 'natural flavor,' she points out.

Cargill's proprietary sodium reduction ingredient system called SaltWise, (GRAS approved, non-allergenic, and kosher) tastes like salt and has taste parity at 25-0 percent sodium reduction. "With SaltWise, food manufacturers can significantly reduce sodium levels in their product formulations and deliver the same salt flavor that consumers love," says Paul Vajda, marketing manager for Cargill Food Systems, The current variety of food applications includes: prepared foods, frozen meals, meat and poultry, soups, sauces, dressings and salted snacks.

After lowering the sodium in its soups, Campbell used the same technology in V8 and other products.
After lowering the sodium in its soups, Campbell used the same technology in V8 and other products.

Sodium is an essential nutrient, the primary intracellular electrolyte. It's balanced with potassium, the major electrolyte inside the cell. A highly refined diet tends to be but poor in potassium, normally abundant in fruits and vegetables. Selako also makes Antisalt, a "sodium-free product that contains magnesium and potassium in the same [molecular] ratio [of] a normal healthy cell. This helps your body to absorb and utilize important minerals more effectively," says Kurppa.

Potassium chloride is a common salt substitute, but when used alone, it can impart a metallic taste to foods. "Typically, the way to reduce salt has always been potassium chloride," says Markus Eckert, vice president, technical flavors for Mastertaste (, Teterboro, N.J. The problem with this is that is has extremely bitter notes   this means that when trying to reduce salt in a chicken broth, for example, you might end up with bitter notes and get more of a red-meat flavor profile because of the metallic notes."

Mastertaste uses flavor modulation technology primarily focused on salt reduction, bitter masking and sweetness modulation. "We are using FEMA GRAS flavor ingredients and chemicals as building blocks to create flavor modulators that actually interact with the receptors on your tongue," says Eckert. He further explains that the "synergy of the right building blocks and putting these building blocks together in the right way to make it perform in a specific application" requires fine tuning and addressing the specific issues of the end-application.

"We are looking at these building blocks as the toolbox for the flavorists to put together the most appropriate ingredients at the proper ratios," Eckert adds. "Most are tailor-made for the end-applications. However, we have created one or two per category we call 'universal soldiers' which work across the board."

Mastertaste's modulation technology can reduce salt in a variety of applications, including meats, sauces, condiments, topical seasonings, cheese, cereals, tomato-based products, vegetarian products, breadings and batters.

"With the flavor modulation technology, it is like a puzzle -- you have to put all the pieces together while taking into account the specific application in which salt content is to be reduced. To do this, we do a sensory profiling on the full-salt product, and then a sensory profile on the salt-reduced product to find the shortfalls of reducing the salt. Once we have done this, we can address and balance each attribute individually to make a better tasting salt-reduced product," says Eckert.

Reducing salt in all the right places

Another way to reduce sodium is to focus on the functional ingredients that contain it. "Food and beverage formulators recognize that the addition of sodium chloride (salt) in processed foods contributes to a number of desirable characteristics beyond flavor including texture, moisture content and preservation," states Barbara Heidolph, marketing development manager for ICL Performance Products LP (, St. Louis. "However, with the increasing consumer demand for 'better-for-you', reduced-sodium products, formulators are continually challenged to meet their sodium targets.

By substituting functional ingredients that contain low or no sodium -- such as potassium, calcium or mixed-cation (potassium and sodium) phosphate salts -- formulators naturally reduce the overall sodium level of their processed food or beverage while allowing for higher levels of sodium chloride."

"Calcium and potassium levels also may increase with the inclusion of these functional ingredients. ICL has phosphate ingredients, Nutrifos, Levona and Benephos that allow formulators to reduce sodium without sacrificing texture, quality or flavor," continues Heidolph.

The sodium reduction strategies mentioned here are not replacements for salt. "There is no substitute for salt; it has a taste all its own, and there is no other seasoning that can duplicate its flavor or intensity," says Campbell's Mandel-Sloves. "The challenge we and others in the food industry have faced is creating lower sodium products that don't compromise on taste. After all, if it doesn't taste good, people won't eat it."

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