Consumers may adjust to products with lower sodium over time.

Industry has begun to accept that sodium reduction will take time through gradual reductions, gradual enough that they have little or no effect on perceived texture and taste. Questions still may arise over how much sodium to take out without consumers noticing a difference, which makes sensory testing a priority. Companies also may explore ways to reduce sodium in different parts of a product, such as chemical leavening and topical applications.

“Lowering sodium in existing flagship, iconic products can be a challenge, but doing it over time is the best way to do it,” said Bill McKeown, vice-president of product innovation for AB Mauri North America, St. Louis.

“There is still a consumer perception that ‘low/no/reduced sodium’ claims on their favorite brands equate to a worse-tasting product,” said Sharon Book, senior food technologist, bakery, for ICL Food Specialties, St. Louis. “While most food companies publicly announce their sodium reduction targets in general terms, we find that most are not promoting the claims or calling them out specifically on their products.”

Stephanie Pauk, global food science analyst for Mintel Group Ltd., gave examples of gradual reduction during a presentation at the Institute of Food Technologists’ Wellness 14 in Chicago last March. From 2009-13 in the United States, sodium levels decreased 14% in potato snacks, 23% in snack mixes, 4.8% in cold cereal and 10.6% in bread and bread products, she said. Since 2004, the amount of sodium in Cheerios has decreased by 33%.

Companies may work with ingredient suppliers to determine how much sodium to reduce at a time.

“We have access to sensory testing facilities, and we are willing to help utilize these resources and work with customers to provide the necessary feedback on low sodium products,” Mr. McKeown said. “AB Mauri also provides valuable, technical baseline knowledge of products and works with customers to determine the best timing for a consumer sensory evaluation of product differences.”

Dr. Book said bread quality and manufacturing was unaffected when ICL’s Salona sea salt replaced up to 25% of sodium chloride.

Cargill recently doubled the size of its food innovation center in Plymouth, Minn., to 40,000 square feet from 20,000 square feet. The center features a sensory facility with consumer/panelist testing booths, which may be used to judge the acceptability of reduced sodium items.

People still seek lower sodium products, but the percentage of the U.S. population trying to cut down or avoid sodium completely in their diets declined to 64% in 2013 from 68% in 2010, according to The NPD Group.

“Salt is an important ingredient in making foods taste good,” said Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst at The NPD Group. “Simply removing sodium from foods and/or beverages likely will be met with consumer resistance.

“Eating habits are difficult to change unless a change is required because of a health condition. If food manufacturers and food service operators are able to reduce the sodium in foods and still make them taste as good, inroads will be made in reducing U.S. consumers’ salt intake.”

Consider demographics

Companies may consider specific demographics when formulating to reduce sodium in products.

“Dietary restrictions for children compared to baby boomers are going to be different,” Mr. McKeown said. “While consumers value taste and a good finished product, we tend to eat what we like because it tastes good. Gradually lowering sodium in foods geared toward baby boomers would be impactful since that generation has become accustomed to a certain level over their lifetime. For children the approach may be different because they do not have a lifetime expectation of or a disposition to specific levels of sodium in their foods.”

More than 90% of children between the ages of 6-18 eat more sodium than recommended, which puts them at risk for developing high blood pressure and heart disease later in life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta. Children age 6-18 eat an average of about 3,300 mg of sodium a day before salt is added at the table. The 2012 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend children eat less than 2,300 mg per day total.

Researchers from the C.D.C. used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to determine that about 43% of sodium eaten by children comes from the 10 foods they eat most often. Grain-related items among the 10 foods included pizza, bread and rolls, savory snacks, sandwiches, chicken patties/nuggets/tenders, pasta mixed dishes and Mexican mixed dishes. Rounding out the 10 foods were cold cuts/cured meats, cheese and soup.

Schools in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s school meal programs this year were expected to modify menus and recipes to reduce the sodium content of school lunches by about 5% to 10% from the baseline of two years ago. By July 1, 2017, schools are expected to reduce the sodium content of school lunches by about 15% to 30% from the baseline. By July 1, 2022, the sodium content of school lunches should be reduced by about 30% to 50% from the baseline.

Reaching the U.S.D.A.’s July 1, 2022, sodium reduction goals, which range from 640 mg to 740 mg per school lunch meal, will be a challenge, said Barbara Bufe Heidolph, director of commercial development and applications research, Innophos, Inc., Cranbury, N.J.

“Compare that to commercially available slices of pizza at quick-serve restaurants, which were as high as 1,200 mg of sodium per slice,” she said.

Sodium in several places

For several product applications, sodium reduction may come in various places. Take quesadillas, for example.

“When trying to reach a sodium target in quesadillas, a food product developer must understand the source of sodium in every component within the product,” said Janice Johnson, Ph.D., food applications leader for Cargill Salt. “Typical components of a quesadilla include tortilla, cheese, meat and salsa.”

Product developers first may dial down the salt level without compromising the sensory attributes such as taste and texture, she said.

“Depending on the initial sodium level in the quesadilla component, a product developer may be able to achieve a 5% to 10% sodium reduction by removing the salt,” Dr. Johnson said. “The next step would be to look at the other sodium-containing ingredients.”

Sodium-containing ingredients include chemical leavening agents and salt in the tortilla, phosphates and preservatives in meat toppings, salts and possible phosphates in cheese, and salt and possible preservatives in the salsa.

“For many of these ingredients, there are non-sodium versions that can be used with some success,” she said. “For salt substitutes, FlakeSelect potassium chloride is the best choice when you consider all the functional roles of salt (e.g. salty taste, flavor enhancement, microbial management, protein modification, product yield and texture). However, it has limitations, especially at high levels of substitution where it can take on a bitter or metallic taste.”

Potassium bicarbonate leavening agents may have different chemical reaction times and require higher usage levels. Barriers to these non-sodium alternatives include performance (e.g. sensory, yield, shelf life, chemical reaction times with leavening agents, etc.) and cost.

“AB Mauri has several options when it comes to sodium reduction in tortillas and other products,” Mr. McKeown said. “While most bakers realize that salt is an inexpensive yet valuable ingredient, they sometimes forget that sodium can be hidden in other products. Sodium can be found in an assortment of products from antimicrobial inhibitors to the baking powder used in tortillas.

“Our Supremo tortilla solution modules provide alternatives that can help reduce the overall sodium impact within products. We also supply a full line of baking powders with reduced to no sodium based on the needs of our customers.”

Jungbunzlauer offers both sub4salt and Glucono-delta-Lactone (GdL) to reduce sodium in tortillas, said John F. Reidy, market development manager. GdL has been shown to replace the leavening acid in the chemical leavening system to achieve up to 30% sodium reduction coming from the leavening ingredients. Sub4salt has been shown to replace salt on a one-to-one replacement that results in 35% to 50% sodium reduction from the salt in the formula.

Ms. Heidolph said that for tortillas, a BP Pryo SAPP (sodium acid pyrophosphate) 28 is the most common leavening acid as it provides flexibility and targeted size. SAPP, which contains 21% sodium, may be replaced with the Innophos product Cal-Rise calcium acid pyrophosphate (CAPP)/ monocalcium phosphate (MCP), which provides up to a 25% reduction in the sodium associated with the tortilla.

ICL Performance Products, St. Louis, offers the Levona family of leavening acids that have no sodium and are available in four grades: Allegro, Brio, Mezzo and Opus.

Dr. Book said macaroni and cheese is another grain-based food item in which sodium may be reduced.

“ICL Food Specialties has had great success in formulating dairy products,” Dr. Book said. “Cheese is a very high sodium product, but kids love it with elbow macaroni. We have developed a smooth, creamy low sodium cheese sauce with freeze-thaw stability.”

Surface area, such as that on crackers, is another opportunity for sodium reduction. Tate & Lyle, P.L.C., London, offers Soda-Lo salt microspheres that have been shown to reduce sodium 25% to 50% in such applications as bread and salty snacks. A patented technology transforms standard salt crystals into free-flowing hollow salt microspheres that deliver salty taste by maximizing surface area relative to volume.

Praise for potassium

Events this year may enhance the public’s health perception of potassium, which often plays a role in sodium reduction.

The Food and Drug Administration proposed the mandatory listing of potassium on the Nutrition Facts Panel of foods and beverages when the agency proposed changes to the panel in the March 3 issue of the Federal Register.

“Potassium is considered a nutrient of public health significance due to the benefit of adequate intake of potassium in lowering blood pressure, reducing the adverse effects of sodium chloride intake on blood pressure and reducing the risk of recurrent kidney stones, and due to data indicating a low likelihood of potassium adequacy and a high prevalence of hypertension among the general U.S. population,” the F.D.A. said.

A study appearing on-line Aug. 14 in The New England Journal of Medicine examined sodium and potassium intake. A strong and linear association was observed between the estimated sodium-to-potassium ratio and systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure in the study involving 102,216 adults from 18 countries. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario was one of the study’s funders.

The highest blood pressures were observed in the group with the highest estimated sodium excretion and the lowest estimated potassium excretion. Analysis showed increments of 2.11 mm Hg in systolic blood pressure and 0.78 mm Hg in diastolic blood pressure for each 1-gram increment in estimated sodium excretion.

“We found a positive but non-uniform association between estimated sodium excretion and blood pressure,” the researchers said. “We found a steep slope for this association among study participants with sodium excretion of more than 5 grams per day, a modest association among those with sodium excretion of 3 to 5 grams per day, and no significant association among those with sodium excretion of less than 3 grams per day.”

Potassium excretion was associated inversely with systolic blood pressure. For each increment of 1 gram in estimated potassium excretion per day, there was a decrement of 0.75 mm Hg in systolic blood pressure and a decrement of 0.06 mm Hg in diastolic blood pressure.

Potassium bicarbonate and potassium chloride are two ingredients used in sodium reduction systems.

Kudos potassium bicarbonate has been shown to reduce sodium by up to 50% in applications, according to Kudos Blends, Worcestershire, England. Potassium levels have been shown to reach 240 mg per 100 grams in cake, 344 mg per 100 grams in English scones/American biscuits, 220 mg per 100 grams in crumpets, and 253 mg per 100 grams in pancakes.

The fine particle size of potassium bicarbonate ensures full dissolution and maximum leavening power, according to Kudos Blends. Brenntag North America, Reading, Pa., this year became the national distributor for Kudos Blends products in the United States.

Potassium chloride may be used to replace many of salt’s functional qualities, including salty taste, flavor enhancement, microbial management, protein modification, product yield and texture, said Janice Johnson Ph.D., food applications leader for Cargill Salt.

“However, it has limitations, especially at high levels of substitution where it can take on a bitter or metallic taste,” she said.

Nu-Tek Food Science, Minnetonka, Minn., offers an advanced formula potassium chloride that is a patented, single crystal, one-to-one replacement for salt. It has been shown to reduce salt 30% to 50% in grain-based foods without the need for flavor systems or flavor-maskers.