PHILADELPHIA — Drexel University’s Food Lab has teamed up with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (P.D.P.H.) and Amoroso's Baking Co. to offer a healthier hoagie to Philadelphia residents.

Funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the partnership’s details were published in the article “Culinary Scientists Collaborating with City Health Department and Manufacturers to Improve Public Heath: A Case from Philadelphia’s Sodium Reduction in CommunitiesProgram” in the Journal of Culinary Science and Technology.

The P.D.P.H. reached out to the Food Lab after having trouble finding meal replacements that complied with Philadelphia’s comprehensive nutrition standards for city agencies and city-funded programs. Among the many goals of the program, sodium reduction was a high priority for the city as diets high in the nutrient can lead to elevated blood pressure. According to the P.D.P.H., one in three adults in Philadelphia had high blood pressure in 2018.

"Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is one of the most dangerous threats Philadelphians face,” said Thomas Farley, M.D., commissioner of the P.D.P.H. “Most people don't know that breads, like hoagie rolls, are major contributors to the amount of salt that we eat."

Traditional hoagies can contain between 300 to 400 mg of sodium. To bring this number down, Food Lab researchers created formulations with varying salt levels and then had Food Lab students, P.D.P.H. staff and city department food service staff taste test their creations.

In the end, researchers were able to create a hoagie that contained 210 mg of sodium and 51% white whole wheat flour. While it tasted different as a standalone product, taste testers found “nearly no perceptible difference when rolls were served as sandwiches,” the study said. Some participants did report concerns about the hoagies’ darker color and perceived dryness.  

“It seems easy on the surface to remove salt from the recipe, but salt is complicated in bread making,” said Jonathan Deutsch, Ph.D., founder of the Food Lab and professor in the Food and Hospitality Management department at Drexel. “It has many functions beyond taste, including regulating the growth of the yeast and contributing to structure. It’s complicated, and more so when the bread is produced in mass quantities in an industrial-scale bakery. Small imperfections become hugely magnified.”

To bring the new product to scale, the Food Lab worked with Amoroso’s, a Philadelphia-based commercial bakery that supplies bread and rolls to food service outlets and supermarkets. 

Due to prior experiences with similar formulations, the bakery was concerned that the reduced-sodium hoagie might result in production issues such as overproofing, undermixing and stickiness. However, the company reported a smooth transition to the reformulated roll.

“Amoroso’s is grateful P.D.P.H. and the Food Lab trusted us to produce a quality product with the reduced-sodium formula,” said Jesse Amoroso, vice-president of Amoroso’s. “Through this partnership, we were able to add a delicious and healthy roll to our line of products.”

City-based schools, hospitals and homeless shelters showed interest in offering the hoagie. In April, the bakery replaced the Philadelphia School District’s hoagies with the new lower sodium formula, helping schools cut 1,294 lbs of salt annually from lunches.

Amoroso’s is now considering using the lower-sodium formula for other types of rolls in its product line as interest from its other customers increases.