How to Reduce Sodium Content, But Not Taste

Janice Johnson
Janice Johnson
Applications-Technical Services Leader

Cargill has been in the salt business for more than 50 years, so it may seem surprising that when nutrition guidelines began calling for less dietary sodium, food manufacturers turned to us for help. But it made sense, because we know salt—so it stands to reason that we would also know how to replace it in ways that don't affect the taste, appearance or texture of your favorite food products.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend increased intake of fruits, vegetables and fiber, and decreased intake of sodium, solid fats and added sugars. With 43% of consumers checking product labels for "low sodium" claims, sodium reduction is very important to manufacturers of processed foods. Specific to sodium, the Dietary Guidelines recommend an intake of less than 2,300 mg per day with further reduction to 1,500 mg for certain groups, including everyone 51+, African-Americans, those with hypertension, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, as well as children. We understand each type of salt—the size, shape, and surface area of the crystals—which affect how they are best used. In fact, sometimes we can minimize the amount of salt in a product just by switching the crystal type. For example, Cargill's hollow pyramid-shaped Alberger® salt flakes pack more saltiness than cube-shaped crystals simply by virtue of their increased surface area. The greater the surface area, the quicker the dissolution rate, which then results in a burst of salty taste.

Most of our customers are looking for significant reductions in sodium, usually 25% to 50%. That's where our technical expertise with salt replacement comes in. Our food scientists work with you to understand the function that salt plays in your food product—protein modification, microbial management, sensory testing or shelf life—and make recommendations on what kind of salt-replacement solution to use.

In fact, we invite customers to join us at one of our many technical facilities: pilot plants, application or analytical labs. Whether it's pepperoni at our meat pilot plant in Wichita, Kansas, or a muffin at our bakery pilot plant in Minneapolis, Minnesota, we make test batches of reduced-sodium versions of customer products to properly evaluate our solutions. We can also run the prototype through a sensory panel for their feedback on taste, appearance and texture and back it up with analytical results to better understand the impact of the reduction in salt.

At the same time, we’ve developed cutting edge analytical methodologies to understand the functional role of salt in many food products. For example, we can use X-ray tomography to evaluate the product's physical properties (e.g., air cell size and distribution in bakery products, salt distribution on a snack product) and correlate those findings with the sensory data. The advantage of X-ray tomography over other methods is that it doesn't destroy the integrity of the product, thereby giving a more accurate portrayal of the food structure.

Our replacement systems were designed to replace 25% to 50% of the salt in food products. These systems include FlakeSelect™, SaltWise®, and, new this year, SodiumSense™. Potassium chloride easily fulfills salt's functional role in foods. It's best when used to reduce sodium content by less than 25%.

  • FlakeSelect™ is a thin flake with high solubility and a large surface area. Compared with dry blended or granulated products, FlakeSelect has better adherence for topical applications such as salted snacks, cereal, bakery products, and meat seasoning blends. It's a functional solution available in four formulations and four cut sizes.
  • SaltWise® is formulated for use in many applications such as bakery products, dairy products, processed meats, convenience meals, soups, sauces and dressings, and salted snacks. It can even improve the taste of reduced-sodium products—without increasing the sodium content.
  • SodiumSense™ achieves similar taste-liking satisfaction as salt. It's a great-tasting 1:1 replacement for salt, which makes it easy to use. SodiumSense™ is set to debut at the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo® June 25 to 29 in Las Vegas. Cargill made a prototype of a delicious reduced-sodium chicken and cheese quesadilla that contains this reduced sodium solution in the tortilla, cheese, chicken and salsa.

Bring your toughest salt-reduction questions to us at the IFT Food Expo, where we'll be featuring SodiumSense™. You won't believe how great sodium reduction can taste!

Janice Johnson, Applications-Technical Services Leader, has been with Cargill for 9 of her 16 years in the industry.