PULLMAN, WASH. —Researchers from Washington State University (W.S.U.) have discovered a new method for retaining the taste of salty foods while reducing sodium chloride content.

The research, detailed in “Identification of a salt blend: Application of the electronic tongue, consumer evaluation, and mixture design methodology,” examined salt mixtures that decrease sodium chloride and incorporate other salts like calcium chloride and potassium chloride.

Sodium chloride is commonly used as a flavor enhancer in bakery and snack products. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 90% of Americans that are 2 years old or older consume too much of the ingredient. High intake can raise blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. In contrast, calcium chloride and potassium chloride have no adverse health effects but do contain undesirable, bitter flavors when used in high amounts.

During their testing, researchers experimented with the quantity of replacement salts that could be used in place of sodium chloride before people found the flavor off-putting. To determine the optimal blend of salts, tasting panels and the university’s electronic tongue were used. The electronic tongue is a membrane-coated sensor that analyzes foods in a liquid matrix for the sweet, sour, salty, bitter and spicy flavors.

Researchers found that a mixture using approximately 96.4% sodium chloride with 1.6% potassium chloride and 2% calcium chloride was the ideal reduction.

In addition, a palatable higher reduction was achieved with the combination of 78% sodium chloride and 22% calcium chloride.

"This combination of the two salts did not significantly differ compared to 100% sodium chloride," said Carolyn Ross, Ph.D., food science professor, W.S.U. "But when we added potassium chloride, consumer acceptance decreased."

The study concluded that salt mixtures vary in perception and should be applied differently depending on the product. Researchers also suggested that the electric tongue’s ability to distinguish salts could assist food companies looking to reduce sodium chloride in processed items.