Salt Substitutes: Sodium Substitution Solutions

by Donna Berry
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Because nine out of 10 Americans will develop high blood pressure during their life, medical experts are identifying dietary modifications to reduce this rate of occurrence. One nutrient under scrutiny is sodium. Many authorities believe this essential nutrient, when consumed in excess, contributes to high blood pressure.

Americans should consume about 2,300 mg of sodium daily, according to federal dietary guidelines. Those at risk — African-Americans, middle-aged and older adults — should consume no more than 1,500 mg a day. However, the typical American eats about two to three times that amount each day, according to the American Medical Association (AMA). About 75% of intake comes from processed/prepared foods, while the other 25% is split between that added via the salt shaker and from sodium naturally present in foods.

Sodium and salt are not the same. The chemical name for salt is sodium chloride, meaning that sodium is a component of salt. Sodium is also a component of numerous other food ingredients, but salt is the greatest contributor of sodium to the diet.

According to AMA, as many as 150,000 early deaths might be avoided annually if consumers reduced their salt intake by half. Because sodium raises blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease and strokes, less salt could mean longer lives for many.

“Bakers and snack food manufacturers are under tremendous pressures to make heart-healthy products to meet the needs of increasingly health-conscious consumers,” said Barbara Heidolph, principal, food phosphates, ICL Performance Products LP, St. Louis, MO.

In comments to members of an Institute of Medicine ad hoc consensus committee on strategies to reduce sodium intake, Sheri Schellhaass, PhD, president, Institute of Food Technologist (IFT), Chicago, IL, stated that food manufacturers must balance the multiple functions of sodium in food beyond taste to create nutritionally sound and safe processed foods for consumers. “Many food companies are already optimizing the acceptability of their products using a minimum amount of sodium or making tremendous strides toward lowering sodium in products,” Dr. Schellhaass said.

“Sodium reduction will likely be a difficult and long process for most Americans and would require behavioral changes based on current sodium intake averages and the fact that many Americans prefer a perceived salty taste,” Dr. Schellhaass said. “Research to determine mechanisms for altering the salty perception that many Americans prefer is needed. Investigations may focus on the enhancement of salt, stimulating or blocking salt receptors, replacement of salt with other chloride salts or salt substitutes and understanding the multisensory effects of salt on other flavors and tastes.”


One such innovative approach comes from Givaudan, Cincinnati, OH. As part of the company’s TasteSolutions program, Givaudan has developed an extensive portfolio of building blocks and ingredients to help its flavorists enhance salt perception in low-sodium applications.

“Givaudan understands that high levels of salt in foods are no longer acceptable to the consumer, but we also know that great-tasting food does not have to be high in salt,” said Andreas Haenni, global head of savoury.

The company relies on sensory validation techniques to measure flavor performance and is developing a salt curve to visually represent the taste effects of sodium chloride over time. The taste impact of salt is broken down into a number of phases: first delivering a distinctive initial mineral bite, then a body or mouthfeel phase, followed by a characteristic clean, lingering profile.

Rather than trying to replace salt, Givaudan tries to understand its taste functionality in the customer’s application. Then a flavor is created that builds back those important taste aspects of the salt curve needed to drive consumer preference when sodium levels are reduced.

Some suppliers offer salt substitutes to replace or lower salt use and still deliver the flavor consumers expect. “The SaltWise system, which is highly flexible and customizable, can help snack food manufacturers reduce sodium levels by 25 to 50% without sacrificing flavor,” said Carlos Rodriguez, marketing manager for Cargill Salt, Minneapolis, MN. It is a proprietary blend of ingredients that can be tailored to meet specific manufacturer’s needs. All ingredients are generally recognized as safe (GRAS), but because of the patent-pending status of the system, Cargill is keeping the formulation confidential at this time.

Mr. Rodriguez described how sodium levels can also be reduced by changing salt grade. “The Alberger brand of salt, which has a larger surface area, creates a more rapid burst of flavor and allows the true flavor of a snack food to emerge. For topical applications, less salt may be required because of increased salt perception,” he continued.

Besides reducing or eliminating salt from formulations, many formulators are reducing sodium contributions from other ingredients.


Baking powder and baking soda, the latter also known as sodium bicarbonate, are the two most prevalent hidden sources of sodium in baked foods and snacks. Manufacturers often rely on these chemical leavening agents to increase volume and lighten product texture.

“We offer a new calcium-based, sodium-free leavening for healthy baking. It can be used as a direct replacement for typical sodium-based leavening agents,” said John Brodie, technical service baking manager, Innophos, Inc., Cranbury, NJ. “Breakfast foods are leading the way in reduced-sodium baked foods, driven by school lunch program demands for healthier products with lower sodium levels,” he continued. “We can help reduce sodium in the most popular breakfast baked foods such as egg and cheese biscuit sandwiches, pancakes and muffins along with all-day favorites like layer and snack cakes, scones, batters and breading, and dry mixes. Because of its calcium component, it may provide for a health claim of ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ source of calcium, which is especially attractive for breakfast products.”

Gary Morris, president and c.o.o. of Clabber Girl Corp., Terre Haute, IN, said, “Our new non-sodium aluminum sulfate, sodium-free baking powder is a smart response for commercial bakeries to the consumers’ concerns about what goes into their favorite products. Consumers know they have to make healthier eating choices, but they don’t want to give up their favorite foods. With our new sodium-free baking powder they don’t have to. Their favorite baked food is going to taste every bit as good as it always did, but with up to 50% less sodium.”

“This sodium-free baking powder has all the advantages and consistent performance of our traditional leavening systems with a well-controlled release for better, more consistent performance and exceptional finished product quality,” added Nita Livvix, research and development manager, Clabber Girl. “We were careful to make sure that using this new product would not require any change in operations for the baker either, so everybody wins.”

Fleischmann’s Yeast, a division of AB Mauri Food, Inc., Chesterfield, MO, also introduced a sodium-free baking powder, as well as a low-sodium version that reduces the amount of sodium by nearly 50%. “Many bakers are eager to use new ways to reduce the amount of sodium in their products, and our new baking powder options help meet their evolving needs,” said Bill McKeown, vice-president of technical development. “Both sodium-reduced baking powders were formulated to help bakers expand their sodium-conscious portfolio.” We recommend bakers use these reduced-sodium baking powders in chemically leavened bakery products. They should provide a minimum of 14% carbon dioxide.”

Suggested usage levels for either ingredient, based on 100 lb of flour, range from 0.5 to 10%, depending on application. “For example, use level in tortillas is on the lower end, 0.5 to 3%, while use in frozen and refrigerated doughs is at the upper end, 5 to 10%,” Mr. McKeown advised. “Usage in cakes, cookies and biscuits is in the 3-to-6% range.”

Rob Berube, manager, technical service, Church & Dwight Co., Inc., Princeton, NJ, said, “Substitution of sodium bicarbonate with potassium bicarbonate is an interesting option because benefits beyond sodium reduction can be achieved. For example, there are positive health claims associated with potassium in the diet. And potassium bicarbonate doesn’t have the negative taste associated with salt replacements such as potassium chloride. Any impact on taste we have seen has been very subtle and positive.”

Formulation is easy, according to Mr. Berube. “Because potassium bicarbonate has a higher molecular weight than sodium, 19% more is required. There is no need to change the leavening acid amount or type,” he said. “In cakes, muffins and biscuits, there should be no noticeable difference. With cookies, there may be more browning with increased levels of sodium replacement. Spread (diameter) may also increase.”

Ms. Heidolph added, “ICL Performance Products now offers Levona, a calcium acid pyrophosphate that is sodium-free and calcium-rich. When used in some applications, it can directly reduce the sodium by as much as 25%, depending on what sodium-based leavening acid is replaced. Use can allow bakers to incorporate healthy messaging such as ‘low sodium’ on their products.

“But while no sodium is added using Levona leavening agents, there are some additional benefits that bakers and manufacturers will appreciate ,” Ms. Heidolph continued. “First, these leavening agents are calcium-rich, allowing potential claims for bone health. And second, all of these nutritional benefits are delivered without compromising flavor, volume, texture or convenience. Levona features controlled release, consistent leavening, resilient and uniform cell structure, clean flavor profile and ideal volume.


Cheese is becoming an increasingly common source of hidden sodium. Most bakers rely on process cheese ingredients, because these cheeses are formulated to better withstand high oven temperatures. The challenge with process cheese ingredients is that they are inherently high in sodium, since sodium-based emulsifiers are responsible for their desirable functional attributes.

“We’ve created a reduced-fat, reduced-sodium process cheese ideal for use as an ingredient in baked foods and snacks,” said Diane Kussy, R&D section manager, Ingredient Solutions, Land O’Lakes, Inc., St. Paul, MN. “The product is formulated to have a 50% reduction in fat and a 35% reduction in sodium when compared with standard process American cheese, yet with the taste and functional performance of a full-fat, full-sodium process cheese. In other words, it can be substituted in any formulation where traditional process cheese would be used without sacrificing the rich dairy flavor, creamy mouthfeel and excellent melt characteristics for which process cheese is known. This new ingredient also contains less cholesterol, fewer calories and more calcium than standard process cheese and can be labeled as a ‘reduced-fat, reducedsodium process cheese’ on the finished food ingredient’s statement.”

Certain cheeses — Parmesan in particular — possess the taste characteristic of umami. By boosting umami perception, formulators can often reduce sodium contents. Umami is a Japanese word for the savory taste of proteins that have been broken down into amino acids and nucleotides. Umami is recognized as an amplifier of the salt taste.

“Baked foods manufacturers are learning how naturally brewed, or fermented, soy sauce has the ability to enhance the flavor, aroma and color of products that go far beyond traditional Asian applications,” said Debbie Carpenter, senior marketing manager, food service and industrial, Kikkoman Sales USA, Inc., San Francisco, CA. “Our soy sauce comes in many bakery-friendly forms, including liquid, powdered, granulated, clear, less sodium and preservative-free.

“Naturally brewed soy sauce can directly substitute for salt in many applications. Pound for pound, it contains about half the sodium of table salt but also brings much more to the product,” she continued. Indeed, naturally brewed soy sauce incorporates about 300 distinct flavor components that add up to the unique taste of umami.

She suggested using a powdered soy sauce as part of a topical snack seasoning. In breads and rolls, a little bit of liquid soy sauce blends with yeast and grain flavors while adding caramelized color. Cookies and cakes, too, benefit from the color, and depending on the product, the soy sauce enhances certain flavors while keeping sodium content low. For example, soy sauce can enhance the top notes in chocolate chips, and it rounds out the spice blend in gingerbread.

Though medical and nutrition authorities continue to debate the impact of dietary sodium on high blood pressure, consumer awareness to the possible correlation is increasing. With so many ingredient options available to reduce sodium levels in food formulations, it’s probably time to reformulate through sodium substitute.

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