Sodium reduction: A little goes a long way

by Jeff Gelski
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Manipulating the size and shape of salt crystals continues to advance sodium reduction efforts. In such topical applications as those for chips, crackers and pretzels, a smaller crystal may provide a bigger taste punch, which means formulators may use less salt to achieve the same taste.

Such efforts may continue, too. The sodium reduction market is expected to reach $1,006.6 million by 2018 through a compound annual growth rate of 11%, according to Dallas-based MarketsandMarkets. In 2012, North America led the global sodium reduction ingredients market in value terms, followed by Europe and Asia-Pacific.

The surface area of the salt has an effect on how fast it dissolves in the mouth, said Janice Johnson, Ph.D., applications technical service leader for Cargill.

“The faster it dissolves, the faster it gets to your taste buds and the quicker you get the impression of saltiness,” she said.

Under a microscope, table salt looks like a cube, Dr. Johnson said. Cargill offers an Alberger salt ingredient that is a hollow shape pyramid. It dissolves quicker than table salt. Compacted salt, another option, involves smashing granular salt to make it flatter.

Alberger salt and compacted salt may cost more than table salt, but the cost in use is not a dramatic difference, Dr. Johnson said.

“Potentially, it could be cost neutral or even a cost savings at some point,” she said.

Alberger salt has the greatest amount of surface area and thus the greatest rate of dissolution, Dr. Johnson said. Compacted salt, which lies in between table salt and Alberger salt, has an intermediate amount of surface area.

Salt’s adherence to product affects other issues besides taste buds. If salt crystals are too large, they may bounce off the production line and go to waste, Dr. Johnson said.

Salt, especially when the crystals are too big, may not adhere to the product, such as a pretzel, and drop to the bottom of the bag, she said. The Nutrition Facts Panel will pertain to all the salt in the bag although the consumer may not eat the salt in the bottom of the bag.

With pretzels, consumers tend to like to see the salt crystals, but using bigger salt crystals may cause adherence problems, Dr. Johnson said. The food matrix itself, such as how much oil a product has, will affect salt’s adherence to a product, she added.

Spicetec Flavors & Seasonings offers Micron patented salt. As its name implies, it is smaller than table salt. Micron salt is almost a powdery substance, said Joe D’Auria, senior food technologist. Formulators may use Micron salt to reduce sodium from 10% to 30% and still have food products with the same salt perception, he said. Chips, pretzels and crackers are potential applications.

“With any formulation, it’s not one size fits all,” Mr. D’Auria said. “Everything is on a case by case basis.”

Companies already are using a stealth approach to lower sodium content, Mr. D’Auria said. They may lower salt by 10% in a product without advertising it. For example, years ago potato chips had 260 mg to 280 mg of sodium per serving. Now, some potato chips are under 200 mg of sodium per serving, he said.

The effectiveness and the price of salt make it difficult to replace, Mr. D’Auria said.

“The problem with salt has always been that it tastes good and it’s inexpensive,” he said.

London-based Tate & Lyle P.L.C. has expanded in the sodium reduction area through Soda-Lo salt microspheres. A patented technology transforms standard salt crystals into free-flowing hollow crystalline microspheres that deliver salty taste by maximizing surface area relative to volume. Tate & Lyle offers Soda-Lo through a license agreement with Eminate, a subsidiary of the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.

Soda-Lo won an innovation award at the 2013 Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition. It also won an Asian manufacturing award this year. Soda-Lo has been shown to reduce sodium 25% to 50% in various applications, including bread, peanuts, popcorn, crackers, chips, french fries and seasoned meat.

“Topical applications include salty snacks, and there is an opportunity to reduce sodium in many of them,” said Nancy Gaul, senior category manager, health and wellness for Tate & Lyle. “Many varieties of flavored snacks such as BBQ or chipotle have launched recently and in general tend to have higher sodium content than the original offering. Soda-Lo salt microspheres has excellent adherence in topical applications and has successfully reduced sodium by up to 50% in french fries, potato chips and seasoned crackers.”

Product developers may want to know how federal regulations and guidelines may affect sodium levels.

The new “Smart snacks in school” nutrition standards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture address foods sold at vending machines and snack bars and not the school meals program. According to the standards, snack items should have 230 mg of sodium or less per serving. Then on July 1, 2016, snack items should contain 200 mg or less of sodium per serving.

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet next month as preparation continues for the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015. The 2010 guidelines said Americans should reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg. A reduction to less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day should be the goal of people age 51 and older and people of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

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