Companies may feel they face a quandary. Government groups, including the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, and health groups are keeping the pressure on them to reduce sodium. Yet many consumers still may associate low sodium foods as being equally low in taste.
How might such low sodium items sell?
Perhaps instead of a low sodium message, companies might promote other product positives. Flavor characteristics such as spices, herbs and umami might be options as might potassium and calcium content.
The D.G.A.C. pushed for sodium reduction on Feb. 19 when presenting its recommendations to the secretaries of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Goals for the general population included consuming less than 2,300 mg of dietary sodium per day (or age-appropriate Dietary Reference amount). The final Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 should be released later this year.
Because of what it described as the link between sodium intake and health and the reality that sodium intake exceeds recommendations, the D.G.A.C. designated sodium as a nutrient of public health concern for overconsumption across the entire U.S. population.
“For sodium, emphasis should be placed on expanding industry efforts to reduce the sodium content of foods and helping consumers understand how to flavor unsalted foods with spices and herbs,” the D.G.A.C. said.
Food companies may wish to stay aware of other government activity, such as sodium regulations in the U.S.D.A.’s school lunch and school breakfast programs, said Barbara Heidolph, director, commercial and application development for Innophos, Inc., Cranbury, N.J. Governments in Canada and Mexico have been active in sodium recommendations, too, she said.
Health Canada, Ottawa, in June 2012 set up guidance for the food industry on reducing sodium in processed foods. The guidance is designed to help Canadians achieve the average sodium intake goal of 2,300 mg per day by 2016.
Food companies, when lowering sodium in products, still may be wary of calling out the reduction.
The percentage of the U.S. population saying it was trying to cut down on or avoid sodium fell to 64% in 2013 from 68% in 2010, according to a study released last year by The NPD Group, a provider of market information and advisory services. Also, the percentage of the U.S. population saying they look for sodium content on the nutrition labels fell to 39% from 41%.
“Based on past experience with ‘low sodium’ claims that didn’t always meet consumers’ flavor expectations, today manufacturers typically perform a stealth reduction with reduced sodium food products,” said Janice Johnson, Ph.D., food applications leader for Cargill Salt. “The exception is the case of a targeted consumer base that is looking for reduced sodium products. From a marketing perspective, emphasizing other sensory or product characteristics is most certainly one way to make their products appealing to consumers.”
Positive messages may appeal more to the general public, according to research from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., that appeared on-line Dec. 18, 2014, in Nutrition Reviews. Negative or loss-framed messages are effective with health professionals but less effective with target audiences that have reduced involvement and familiarity with a topic, according to the research. The general public might think big picture instead of small picture because they are not informed of all the details. Gain-framed messages thus might be more effective with the general public.
“Evoking fear may seem like a good way to get your message across, but this study shows that, in fact, the opposite is true,” said Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and an author of the research. “Telling the public that a behavior will help them be healthier and happier is actually more effective.”
Enjoying flavor might be considered a gain-framed message. While umami, a savory flavor, may be associated more with meat, it also may be promotable in some grain-based foods applications.
Salt of the Earth Ltd., Atlit, Israel, recently launched Umami-Essence sea salt.
“This innovative ingredient can help food manufacturers keep the consumer-craved salty flavor while maintaining a low amount of sodium in the final application,” said Aliza Ravizki, R.&D. manager of Salt of the Earth. “It’s a ready-to-use liquid formulation that can naturally intensify umami, the so-called fifth taste of the finished dish.”
Umami-Essence has been shown to work in a range of sauces as well as pizza toppings. The proprietary blend of sea salts is a vegetable extract and has been shown to achieve sodium reduction of up to 50% in certain formulations.
Sante from LycoRed, which has a U.S. office in Orange, N.J., comes with umami and kokumi characteristics, said Golan Raz, senior vice-president of commercialization.
“Sante is a rich, natural liquid and powder flavor enhancer designed to foster a balanced roundness in taste as well as for salt reduction,” Mr. Raz said.
Sante has been shown to enhance the salty taste in food with no disagreeable after-taste. Using 0.5% Sante liquid on a flour-weight basis has been shown to lower the salt level of pizza dough by 35% without changing the taste profile. Reducing sodium in soups and potato chips are two other possibilities when using Sante.
Autolyzed yeast extracts from Savoury Systems International, Inc., Branchburg, N.J., have been shown to reduce sodium in dough by helping with the flavor component, said Kevin McDermott, technical sales.
“It’s low usage,” he said. “So it won’t mess with the ease of the pressing or extruding of the dough.”
The strong savory flavor may be used to reduce sodium in topical applications such as seasoning on bread, sauce in pasta, or flavors in a cracker.
“This is the perfect place for A.Y.E.,” he said of topical applications.
Jungbunzlauer, which has a U.S. office in Newton Center, Mass., offers sub4salt. The ingredient has been shown to reduce sodium content by up to 50% while keeping in flavor. Bread produced with 20 grams of sub4salt per 100 grams instead of 20 grams of sodium chloride shows a 35% sodium reduction without significant differences in taste, typical appearance parameters or production process.
Formulators may need to consider more than just taste when reducing sodium.
“Tweaking the formula by increasing the level of sodium, or adding new spices or herbs, can help manufacturers mitigate the changes to the flavor profile,” Dr. Johnson said. “However, depending on the level of sodium (or salt) reduction, especially at higher levels, a food product developer may need to go beyond spices and herbs for solutions that meet consumers’ taste expectations.
“In addition, the other functional roles of salt (e.g., microbial management and protein modification) may also be compromised, which can impact the food product’s quality (e.g, shelf life, texture) and therefore, consumer expectations.”
Potassium may play functional roles in sodium reduction while adding promotional health aspects to products.
The D.G.A.C. on Feb. 19 listed potassium as a nutrient of public health concern because scientific literature has linked its under-consumption to adverse health outcomes. The Food and Drug Administration last year proposed to mandate the inclusion of potassium levels in the Nutrition Facts Panel.
“Potassium chloride is often used as a salt replacement since it has similar functional roles as salt in food products (e.g., microbial management and protein modification),” Dr. Johnson said. “If a product developer uses potassium chloride in their formulation, it can be a source of potassium, and therefore help increase potassium intake in the diet. Depending on the content of other nutrients in the food product, there may be an opportunity for a potassium health claim.”
NuTek Food Science, Omaha, offers NuTek Salt, a potassium salt that has been shown to reduce sodium in applications in ranges from 30% to 50%. NuTek Salt was used to reduce the level of sodium in buns to 240 mg from 470 mg.
Ammonium bicarbonates and potassium bicarbonates behave conventionally and for many formulations are direct replacements for sodium bicarbonates when adjusted for differences in neutralizing value, according to Church & Dwight, Inc., Ewing, N.J.
The company’s Flow-K potassium bicarbonate has been shown to replace standard sodium bicarbonate, adjusted for differences in neutralizing values. Flow-K potassium bicarbonate has 39.06 grams of potassium per 100-gram serving. Used in typical leavening applications, Flow-K has been shown to add between 0.1% to 0.8% of potassium to the food application, according to Church & Dwight.
Flow-K has no metallic or fish taste, according to Church & Dwight. It has been shown to enhance the sweetness of sugar and other sweeteners, and it has been shown to mitigate the bitter aftertaste often associated with artificial sweeteners.
Flow-K has been shown to work in a variety of baked foods, including biscuits, muffins, cookies, cakes and pancakes.
Ammonium bicarbonate has been shown to work as a non-sodium alternative in certain formulations and may offer opportunities for potential clean label advantages as well, according to Church & Dwight.
Innophos last year gained an exclusive license with Smart Salt, Inc., Arnold, Calif., for Smart Salt, which has been shown to reduce sodium by the replacement of salt by up to 50%, Ms. Heidolph said.
“Smart Salt provides both potassium, which has been cited as an ‘antidote’ to the negative impact of sodium in the diet, as well as magnesium, a nutrient essential for cardiovascular and bone health,” she said.
Ms. Heidolph added, “Smart Salt has extensive proof of concept and is being used in commercial applications. Smart Salt is a preferred salt replacer because it not only delivers taste, but also acts to replace salt with regards to preservation and function. Smart Salt delivers consistent composition due to its patented co-crystallization manufacturing process. Smart Salt is convenient in that it is used one for one to replace salt and can be handled/delivered in the same manner due to the fact that unlike other salt replacers, it maintains flow and has reduced tendency to cake. This is a new tool that expands on our ability to create custom solutions to meet customers’ unique needs.”
Calcium is another promotable nutrient found in sodium reduction systems.
ICL Performance Products, St. Louis, offers Levona leavening systems that have calcium acid pyrophosphate as their chemical composition. The systems may be used to replace sodium acid pyrophosphate (SAPP) and achieve a “good source” of calcium in products.
Innophos offers Cal-Rise, a calcium-based multifunctional leavening agent that may be used to replace SAPP, which contains 21 grams of sodium per 100 grams, in a variety of baked foods. Cal-Rise contains 18% calcium. With normal use, companies may be able to claim “good source” of calcium on a product’s label.
Overall, Innophos has a full line of sodium reduction tools that allow formulators in all food and beverage segments to achieve targeted sodium reduction, Ms. Heidolph said.
“The Innophos tools for sodium reduction not only enable sodium reduction but also provide health enhancement in the form of essential minerals, including potassium, calcium and magnesium,” she said.