Cuts sodium, keeps flavor

by Laurie Gorton
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When replacing salt, potassium chloride fits the bill functionally, if only it tasted more like regular salt.

A technological breakthrough holds the answer in an advanced form of potassium chloride that employs patented single-crystal technology. This change allows Nu-Tek Advanced Formula Potassium Chloride to replace one-third to one-half of the salt normally used in bread and baked foods — with little or no impact on taste or functionality. Bakers can bypass a gradual reduction and make the change immediately, according to Donald E. Mower, president and COO, Nu-Tek Food Science, Minnetonka, MN.

Grain-based foods top the Institute of Medicine’s list of sodium sources in the American diet for an interesting reason. Individual servings are not especially high in sodium, but the category as a whole occupies the single biggest part of the plate. Thus, reducing the sodium contributed by grain-based foods will need to be done across the board, requiring action by the entire industry.

Bakers will be hard-pressed by this challenge. They depend on salt for flavor enhancement, but unlike other food processors, they also need salt for gluten strengthening and fermentation regulation. Potassium chloride (KCl) provides those functional properties along with some of the salty characteristics of sodium chloride (NaCl), but when formulators rushed to use the potassium salt, they stumbled over its bitter, often metallic taste.

“The most cost-effective option for sodium reduction has historically been KCl,” said C.S. (Sam) Rao, PhD, Nu-Tek’s vice-president and chief innovation officer. “In dough systems, KCl has the closest rheological characteristics to NaCl. Although researchers disagree on the exact mechanisms of gluten strengthening and dough extensibility, on a molecular level, KCl very closely resembles NaCl and, hence, expresses similar function.” Not only do such advantages apply to bread doughs, they also carry through to laminated doughs.

Long before medical researchers and public health advocates began pushing the salt issue in the US, Dr. Rao identified sodium reduction as “the next big thing” in food formulating. For more than three years, he sought replacements for salt that would taste good and provide its functionality. He looked at many alternatives and became convinced that KCl was the best solution.

“Historically, manufacturers used seasoning blends or masking flavor systems to cover the bitter taste of traditional KCl,” Dr. Rao said. “The challenge has been reducing the sodium while maintaining the taste and functionality as well as the cost.”

He explained that Nu-Tek’s patented technology produces a unique single-crystal product yet maintains the taste and functionality of conventional salt. “Our single crystal is many times smaller than typical KCl and offers expanded surface area while minimizing bitterness,” Dr. Rao explained.

It is not a blend or agglomeration, added Dustin Grossbier, Nu-Tek’s director of quality and technology.

One big advantage is Nu-Tek Advanced Formula Potassium Chloride’s ability to make an immediate one-third to one-half cut in salt. Formulators need not take a gradual approach trying to accustom consumers to flavor changes. Manufacturers need not go through multiple packaging changes to accommodate the decreasing sodium figures.

“Gradual reduction can be costly because of the R&D investment and packaging changes,” Mr. Mower observed. “Ours is a one-and-done choice. You are not constantly reinventing the wheel.”

A study compared Nu-Tek Advanced Formula Potassium Chloride with regular salt in yeast-leavened doughs. Control products carried 675 mg sodium per 100 g, while the 30%-reduced-sodium formulation had 475 mg per 100 g. A commercial bakery produced the double-split, bran-dusted hamburger buns, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln performed the sensory analysis.

No significant differences were found in overall appearance, texture or salt taste, with specific attention given to flavor acceptability and off notes. No negative impact on production or yield was associated with the advanced KCl ingredients.

“In most cases, no changes are required in mixing, proofing and other process parameters,” Dr. Rao said. “Nu-Tek Advanced Formula Potassium Chloride is incorporated as a 1:1 salt replacement to achieve up to 50% sodium reduction across many bakery and snack product types. This keeps changes and costs much lower than working with other sodium-replacement systems.

“It also provides a clean label for manufacturers,” he continued. “Our final ingredient listing for packaging is ‘potassium chloride and rice flour.’ ”

Nu-Tek customers have tested the new ingredient in a broad range of bakery applications including pan breads, flatbreads, rolls, pizzas, tortillas, muffins, buns and English muffins. “In a recent test involving white and wheat pan bread, our customers could not tell a difference in taste or quality with a reduction of sodium content up to 50% compared with the control in the study,” Dr. Rao said.

For more information about Nu-Tek Food Science products, visit www.nu-tekproducts.com.
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