Food Processors Chip Away at Salt

July 1, 2012
Salty snacks present unique challenges for sodium reduction.

Americans trying to cut sodium from their diets may be surprised to learn that bread, not chips or pretzels, is a leading culprit. The Centers for Disease Control studied 7,227 people and found that bread and rolls are the top source of sodium in America's diet, more than double the percentage of savory snacks.

"Breads and rolls aren't really saltier than many of the other foods, but people tend to eat a lot of them," said Mary Cogswell, a CDC senior scientist who co-authored the report.

Along with bread, which accounted for more than 7 percent of respondents' daily sodium intake, the CDC found that just 10 foods — cold cuts, pizza, poultry, soups, sandwiches, cheese pasta dishes, mixed meat dishes (such as meatloaf) and savory snacks — each added between 3 and 4 percent of the subjects' daily sodium consumption.

"Potato chips, pretzels, and popcorn — which we think of as the saltiest foods in our diet — are only No. 10," said CDC Director Thomas Frieden.

Perhaps that 10th place finish is not so surprising, because the snack food industry has been chipping away diligently to remove salt without affecting taste. But processors in all categories of food have been working hard to reduce sodium in their formulations.

The Institute of Medicine and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans both provide breakouts of sodium contribution in the diet, including snack categories such as grain-based desserts (3.4 percent), potato/corn/other chips (1.8 percent), quick breads (1.7 percent) and crackers (1.3 percent).

Not just flavor, but cost
The biggest challenges for creating reduced-sodium foods involve flavor and cost. "First, let's look at flavor," says Jackie Van Norden, product line manager - food processing at Minneapolis-based Cargill Salt ( "Often in salty snack foods a large portion of sodium content is the salt applied topically to provide a nice, initial salty burst of flavor. If the salt is reduced it will minimize this flavor burst, and if a salt replacer is used, it may also impact the flavor profile.

"The second major issue is cost. Salt is a great value considering the price and all of its functional roles that come with it. Just removing it from the formula not only alters the sensory properties, but it also drives up the formulation cost."

"We've done a lot of work with low sodium solutions in the marketplace, but they are double, triple, quadruple the cost of salt," says Joe D'Auria, senior food technologist at Spicetec Flavors & Seasonings (, Cranbury, N.J., a ConAgra Foods company.


"In the snack industry, we are trying to save pennies for the customer, so you aren't going to take out something that costs 20 cents a pound and replace it with something that costs $3 a pound. Even if you use a lot less of the salt replacer, it is not usually cost effective."

Salt contributes more than just flavor enhancement and economy. "When reducing sodium in a dough-based snack, the main challenge is in maintaining the structure of the dough system and overall flavor impact," says Emil Shemer, director, food solutions, Indianapolis-based Sensient Flavors LLC (, a unit of Sensient Technologies Corp. "Salt provides both functional and taste aspects to a dough system, thus both have to be considered and balanced when reducing sodium.

"There is a limit to how much salt can be reduced in a dough-based snack system before the dough begins to break down and negatively impact the manufacturing process." He notes that Sensient has managed a 30 percent reduction in sodium per serving for crackers while maintaining dough functionality and delivering flavor impact through the application of salt enhancer technology.

"Whether working with a dough-based snack system or a topical based system for snacks, it is important to perform sensory profiling of the product so that the complex flavor attributes can be evaluated and determinations can be made about how the sodium reduction is affecting the overall flavor profile and/or texture of the product," emphasizes Shemer. "Then it is possible to change, build back and/or compensate for any notes that become enhanced or reduced with the reduction of salt."

Another challenge is consumer perception. For every consumer who wants to consume less sodium there is one who does not want his favorite snack altered in any way.

"If a consumer sees low sodium, low fat or low sugar, their first thought is the product won't taste as good. So first, we have to get past that perception. ," says D'Auria. "Another is taste. Basically, nothing beats the flavor of salt. If someone had invented a salt substitute that was good for you, they would be rich today."

One solution is for product developers to lower the sodium gradually. "I don't mean 50-40-30 percent. You can do it 5 percent at a time, and I think many snack companies are doing that now without calling it out," D'Auria continues. "By reducing salt 5 percent every couple of months, you can gradually get down to a manageable level, while weaning consumers off higher salt levels."

Where you won't miss it
Spicetec provides solutions for formulating these healthier snacks. "One is seasoning blends," explains D'Auria. "We try to work within the parameters of cost. Also, most formulators using seasoning blends today already have a sodium level in mind. Years ago, they just wanted everything to taste good."

D'Auria says flavor enhancers or yeast extracts can be used. But "One size does not fit all," he points out. "You may use a sodium solution that will enhance the tomato in the barbecue flavor [but not] a dairy note in sour cream and onion. It's all trial and error, so most of our sodium solutions are custom blends. If we had a one size fits all, it would make the job easy."

Speaking of easier solutions, he says you can increase the flavor of the blend. "If you have a barbecue chip and want to decrease the salt, you can increase the tomato or smoke note so you don't taste the reduction in salt," he says.

But seasonings are not a panacea. "When seasoning mix is applied to snacks, particularly in topical application after baking and/or frying, the key is interactions between spices and seasonings with salt or salt substitutes," explains Sam Rao, vice president and chief innovation officer for Nu-Tek Food Science (, Minnetonka, Minn. "In this instance, any salt or salt substitute has to have significant surface area to get maximum dispersability in the mix and the opportunity to contact the taste buds."

Especially in baked goods, not all sodium comes from salt. "The other primary sources of sodium would be the leavening system, the sodium bicarbonate and leavening acids," says Barbara Heidolph, principal-marketing technical service for ICL Performance Products LP (, St. Louis. "They may account for up to 50 percent of the sodium, most of which comes from the sodium bicarbonate. The only leavening acid of significant concern would be sodium acid pyrophosphate (SAPP), which consists of approximately 21 percent sodium."

ICL has a solution that not only reduces sodium but contributes other important micronutrients.

"The Levona family of zero sodium leavening agents allows the formulator to remove SAPP and achieve as much as a 25 percent reduction in sodium," she says. "There are four grades of zero-sodium Levona calcium acid pyrophosphate. [They] provide the formulator with a choice in timing as to when the leavening gases are released. Levona Opus is very slow, Levona Mezzo is slow, Levona Brio is moderate in reactivity and Levona Allegro is fast in reaction rate. And Levona provides sufficient calcium to allow for a claim in most applications."

Potassium chloride improves
Potassium chloride has been a widely used solution, although the material poses its own problems with a sometimes bitter, metallic aftertaste.

At the IFT Food Expo in June, Cargill introduced SodiumSense, an "enhanced potassium chloride" salt replacer. The modified crystal structure improves the taste impact in products such as sauces, cheese, processed meats, prepared meals, salted snacks, soups, and baked goods. Application-specific blends of the SodiumSense system allow formulators to reduce sodium by up to 50 percent.

SodiumSense brings to 20 the products in the Cargill sodium-reduction portfolio.

"Our FlakeSelect products provide potassium chloride and/or potassium chloride and sodium chloride agglomerations with lower bulk density that work well for topical solutions and seasoning blends, as well as many other applications," says Van Norden.

KaliSel is a "highly purified" potassium chloride solution from K+S Kali GmbH (

Nu-Tek Salt (, Minnetonka, Minn., has a patented process that provides a better tasting potassium chloride, the company claims. Nu-Tek Potassium Chloride (NPC) tastes and functions like salt, allows for 1-to-1 replacement for sodium chloride and facilitates up to 50 percent reduction of sodium content in the finished product.

Replacing salt with … salt
Dr. Paul Lohmann Inc. (, Islandia, N.Y., takes a different approach, mixing various mineral salts to come up with lower-sodium salt products. Under the LomaSalt brand, the mixtures contain less sodium than regular table salt – starting from a reduction of 50 percent up to a 100 percent sodium-free product.

LomaSalt RS 50 Classic contains 20 percent sodium but maintains a typical salty taste and the easy handling of table salt. There are several other variants culminating in LomaSalt RS 100, a sodium-free blend composed entirely of mineral salts with a minimized off-taste and contains no flavor enhancers.

LomaSalt RS 50 Extra, a relatively new product, is 50 percent sodium reduced and is particularly suitable for bread, pastries or ready-to-use baking mixtures.

Cargill has a number of specialty salts. "Alberger has a unique crystal shape that provides maximum flavor burst and allows manufacturers to achieve sodium reduction while having no change in their ingredient statement," says Van Norden. "Specialty salts can be used to achieve an incremental reduction in sodium."

ICL provides Salona, a natural low-sodium sea salt derived from the Dead Sea in Israel. Sea salts generally reflect the mineral content of the water from which they are derived, Heidolph points out. "Most sea salts are a high-purity sodium chloride and contribute about 3,900mg of sodium per 100g of salt. Salona has only 170mg of sodium per 100g."

She points out Salona also has the minerals magnesium and potassium – "essential nutrients known to be deficient in the U.S. diet." says Heidolph. It also helps maintain target water activity — another key function that can help formulators.

"Not only does Salona allow for reduction in sodium, but the flavor profile also has been shown to provide a better balance and deliver greater saltiness and minimal bitterness compared to other salt replacers. This comes from the presence of the three mineral salts — sodium chloride, potassium chloride and magnesium chloride," says Heidolph.

"Sensory evaluations have been conducted with a trained panel to characterize the flavor of reduced sodium foods where 25 to 50 percent of the sodium chloride has been replaced with Salona. Results indicate minimal bitterness while delivering target saltiness. These applications include using Salona as a topical replacement for salt, which is a key use of salt in many snack foods, and is one that can be difficult to replace."

Spicetec has patented Small Particle Salt, which is ground very fine and can be spread out more across the product. "We've seen success in topicals with 15-25 percent salt reduction without noticing the difference," D'Auria explains.

In addition to its potassium chloride solution, Nu-Tek offers blends with sea salt and blends with regular salt.

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