KANSAS CITY — Spices, herbs and seasonings may give taste buds a tingle, allowing them to serve as salt substitutes, but food formulators might consider other benefits as well. For examples, parsley packs in vitamins and turmeric offers a natural source of yellow color.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends people consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per person per day, but the average intake is about 3,400 mg per person per day in the United States. For one of its sodium reduction recommendations, the Dietary Guidelines advises people to flavor foods with herbs and spice instead of salt.
McCormick & Co., Inc., Sparks, Md., offers more than 450 salt-free and reduced sodium products in the United States. The McCormick Science Institute, an independent research arm of McCormick & Co., funded a study that found that people, by replacing salt with spices and herbs, potentially could cut their sodium intake by nearly a gram per day. Results of the study appeared on-line Aug. 12, 2015, in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The study involved researchers from the University of California, San Diego, and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Cheryl Anderson, Ph.D., the lead researcher, was a member of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.
In the first phase of the study, 55 people age 18 and older consumed a low sodium diet for four weeks. Everyone had traits (hypertension, diabetes, etc.) associated with a need to lower sodium intake.
In the second phase, 40 people from the first phase randomly were assigned to one of two groups. The study’s counselors emphasized the consumption of spices and herbs to people in one group. The other one was a self-directed control group. Researchers then recorded the change in median 24-hour sodium excretion during the second phase. The sodium excretion in the group that emphasized spices and herbs was lower by a mean of 956.8 mg per person per day when compared to the self-directed control group.
“Although very little sodium is added at the dining table, contemporary guidelines advocate individual efforts for the modification of sodium,” the study said. “In acknowledgment of the significant influence of the food supply on sodium intake, a 2010 report by the Institute of Medicine recommended a regulatory approach that supports the food industry in the reformulation of foods. If these efforts were implemented, they should provide greater flexibility for meeting recommendations when individuals consume commercially prepared foods. Spices and herbs may be one option for maintaining flavor when reformulating commercially prepared foods.”
F.D.A. issues guidance
The Food and Drug Administration on June 1 gave draft guidance on practical, voluntary sodium reduction targets for the food industry.
“Many Americans want to reduce sodium in their diets, but that’s hard to do when much of it is in everyday products we buy in stores and restaurants,” said Sylvia Burwell, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The F.D.A. gave 2-year and 10-year voluntary targets for nearly 150 food categories. The 2-year target for white bread was a mean of 440 mg of sodium per serving, compared to a 2010 baseline of 523 mg. Other targets for grain-based foods included bagels and soft pretzels (420 mg from 471 mg), English muffins (360 mg from 378 mg), frozen biscuits (820 mg from 954 mg), tortillas and wraps (580 mg from 750 mg) and crackers (750 mg from 905 mg).
In baked foods and other applications, spices and herbs may bring an umami effect, thus lowering the need for sodium, said Jean Shieh, marketing manager at Sensient Natural Ingredients, Turlock, Calif. The company blends vegetable powders, such as those from garlic, onions, chili and parsley. One vegetable powder blend, an Umami Natural ingredient, may reduce sodium in applications.
“Even when you reduce the added salt by using Umami Natural, which is a vegetable powder blend, you don’t miss the salt,” Ms. Shieh said. “Overall, it is a well-rounded flavor. It is not turning a loaf of bread into a ‘meaty’ bread.”
The power of parsley
Parsley in particular could be used more often to add health attributes to baked foods. Parsley contains vitamins A, C, E and K as well as iron, Ms. Shieh said. While people might associate parsley more as a garnish, they once may have done the same with kale, Ms. Shieh said, adding parsley may be used in savory baked dishes such as quiche. Parsley also may act as a natural source for green color.
Research is focusing on turmeric. A recent study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease indicated a close chemical analog of curcumin, a substance in turmeric, has properties that may make it useful as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Curcumin encapsulation using a soluble polymer looks promising as a way to widen the use of curcumin as an ingredient in the food industry, according to an article in the May 2015 issue of Innovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies.
Turmeric may be used as a natural source of color to replace yellow 5 or yellow 6. Naturally sourced colors are one way for formulators to tap into the “clean label” trend.
“Using the real thing is what the (Sensient) customers are looking for,” Ms. Shieh said. “We can see the trend: no artificial flavors added or no artificial colors used. We are seeing that everywhere on the labels now.”
In bakery applications, formulators may turn to carotenoid-based ingredients for hues in the yellow to orange range, said Gary Augustine, executive director, market development for Kalsec, Inc., Kalamazoo, Mich. Paprika, carrot and annatto may serve as natural sources of yellow, he said.
“For a redder or pink hue, the best option is a stabilized beet product,” he said. “Beet is very heat sensitive. So it is important to use a product that has been formulated to better survive the baking process. The same would be true for pasta applications such as macaroni. Since carotenoid colors are oil soluble, these products would either need to be dispersed onto the flour before incorporating any wet ingredients, or be processed with an emulsifier to disperse them into the water-based ingredients. Beet products will be primarily water soluble.”