PepsiCo Reduces Sodium by Restructuring Salt

It was a relatively small part of an investor presentation, but R&D officials of PepsiCo Inc. in March acknowledged proprietary and patent-pending technology to change the crystal structure of salt, allowing the company (in the future) to reduce sodium by 25 percent “with no impact on taste.”

“Early on in our research, it became apparent that the majority of salt on a snack doesn’t even have time to dissolve in your saliva because you swallow it so rapidly,” explained Mehmood Khan, senior vice president and chief scientific officer and a former Mayo Clinic endocrinologist. A Wall Street Journal story later reported only about 20 percent of the salt on a chip dissolves on the tongue, and the remaining 80 percent is swallowed without contributing to taste.

“There was an opportunity for our scientists,” said Khan. “If we could figure out a way of getting the salt crystals to dissolve faster, then we could decrease the amount of salt we put on a snack with no compromise on taste.”

Well, they did. Khan said PepsiCo researchers collaborated with scientists from around the world and found ways of changing the crystal size and structure to make the salt crystal dissolve more quickly, effectively putting the sodium on your tongue, not in your digestive system. He said it took an understanding of crystal chemistry.

When asked if the resulting product needed FDA or GRAS approval, Khan said no. “It’s still sodium chloride. Once it’s dissolved, it’s no different than any other salt.”

And although the technology was promoted as new, another speaker at the investor presentation said similar technology has been used in the United Kingdom for three years – with positive consumer reactions. While the PepsiCo officials gave no specific timeline for the new salt’s use in products, other reports speculated it was still a year or more away.

Also at the conference, the company said it is committed to cutting its products' average sodium per serving by 25 percent by 2015 – not just via the new salt -- and saturated fat and added sugar are to be cut by 15 percent and 25 percent, respectively, by the end of this decade.

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