Bakers have several options for reducing sodium through salt replacements and alternative chemical leavening solutions.

“We’ve found potassium chloride, or potassium salt, is one of best tools to help food manufacturers meet their sodium targets because it does a good job of replicating salt’s (sodium chloride) functional roles in foods,” said Janice Johnson, PhD, food science advisor at Cargill Salt. “For example, in yeast-leavened doughs, it will help regulate how quickly the yeast grows and gives up gas. It also helps manage gluten formation, giving the cell structure the strength necessary to hold the gas produced by yeast or leavening agents.”

But the problem with potassium salt is that it often has a bitter, metallic taste. For that reason, there are usually limits to how much potassium salt can be used.

“NuTek Natural Ingredients’ Salt for Life potassium salts are used as a 1:1 replacement for standard salt in baked goods,” said Scott Keys, vice president, salt solutions, NuTek Natural Ingredients. “NuTek uses a simple and natural process to eliminate off-flavors commonly associated with potassium salt, which allows formulators to replace various levels of salt without impacting flavor or quality attributes. Salt for Life can effectively reduce sodium by up to 75% in baked goods.”

Reducing sodium also can be achieved by using the right kind of salt.

“It’s important to remember that not all salt is created equal,” said Mark Zoske, founder and chief executive officer of SaltWorks. “The key is to choose a salt that has the correct feature and functionality for the product. Choosing the right salt can actually improve the flavor of the food. The shape and texture of the salt crystal can make an enormous difference in sodium content.

He added that premium salts can deliver more flavor than table salt, which means bakers can use less. For instance, SaltWorks’ Micro Flake and Mini Flake Sea Salts have soft, hollow pyramid-shaped flakes that adhere to the surface of food better and dissolve quickly on the palate.

By positioning the salt toward the surface of the baked good, less is required to deliver the taste expectation,” Mr. Zoske noted. “More salt will get tasted if left on the surface versus heavily using it as an ingredient.”

The other half of the sodium reduction equation involves chemical leavening.

“In bakery snacks, the sodium level mainly is driven by the leavening acids,” said Amr Shaheed, technical service and application development manager, food and beverage, Innophos. “A substitution with calcium-based leavening, such as CalRise and V90 will lead to a sodium-free snack with calcium fortification.”

Replacing these leavening agents can prove tricky.

“If you just take out sodium bicarbonate, you really have challenges” said Kathy Sargent, global director of market strategy for bakery at Corbion. “There’s a leavening component that you have to compensate for, there’s the dough strengthening component and then there’s the flavor.”

And dough strengtheners are crucial to maintaining the dough tolerance after sodium is reduced, said Yanling Yin, director, bakery applications at Corbion. Ms. Sargent expanded on that.

“The industry as a whole is putting a huge challenge on dough tolerance and dough strength as we move to clean label,” she said. “Our portfolio has been very successful in compensating for that from an enzymatic approach. Even when we’re reducing sodium, we see the need to make sure we have a balanced system in place that we can maintain the throughputs, avoid product loss and damage in the bakery, have the high volume, the tolerance and stability and strength when so many things are going against that.”

Bakers have several ways to reduce sodium in baked foods, and a multi-pronged approach may be needed to reach targets set by the USDA for school lunches.

“Ultimately, meeting sodium targets may require all three approaches: ingredient replacement, adding flavorful ingredients like spices and seasonings, and making small adjustments on the processing side,” Dr. Johnson said.

As parents and young adults seek out healthier foods, bakers are striving to provide new products that are lower in sodium. Mr. Keys said he’s seeing a trend toward a more holistic approach to sodium reduction by making sodium limits part of the architecture of the brand from the ground up.

“It’s about making a great flavorful product with a sodium content in mind,” he said, “but maintaining the flavor expectation that consumers enjoy.”    

This article is an excerpt from the October 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Sodium Reduction, click here.