Sodium consumption is a top concern for health agencies and a growing number of consumers. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the average American consumes 3,400 mg of sodium per day, nearly 50% more than the federally recommended 2,300 mg for those 14 years and older.

In 2021 the FDA introduced voluntary sodium reduction guidelines with the goal of reducing average daily intake to 3,000 mg over the next 2.5 years. This included establishing upper bounds on the maximum amount of sodium seen as appropriate across 160 food categories 

“Regardless of whether you believe sodium is arch nemesis No. 1, the FDA does, and when April 2024 comes round, the agency is going to expect that no single product exceeds those upper bounds,” said Martin Hahn, SNAC International general counsel, at SNAXPO 2023 earlier this year. “You may have a few products where you’re going to have to exceed the upper bounds, and that’s fine, but then you should really be pivoting in terms of how you should inform your consumer, or should you inform the consumer, that the product has a higher sodium level than what the agency is recommending.”

For baking and snack manufacturers, adjusting the chemical leavening system is one way to reduce sodium and hit these targets. This is commonly done by replacing sodium bicarbonate with potassium bicarbonate and sodium phosphates with calcium alternatives, both of which offer similar leavening capacity but without sodium.

“Potassium bicarbonate can be used as a sodium-free source of carbon dioxide gas, along with sodium-free leavening acids for a leavening system that contributes no sodium to the product formula,” said Nita Livvix, R&D manager, B&G Foods.

Sodium reduction can enhance flavor in certain application, said Paul Bright, innovation manager, AB Mauri North America. He found that in a blueberry muffin, for example, a sodium-free solution actually boosted blueberry flavor and sweetness. 

“Sodium may mellow out the sweetness and also hide the fruit flavor notes that may not stand out as much,” he said. 

However, adjustments are needed when reducing sodium in baked foods. Because potassium carbonate provides less carbon dioxide than sodium carbonate, for example, more of it is required to provide the necessary product rise. Potassium- and calcium-based leaveners may also introduce unwanted bitterness. 

“Often, a combination of both potassium bicarbonate and sodium bicarbonate is used (to lessen the chance of bitterness), along with sodium-free or low-sodium leavening acids, to provide a reduced-sodium leavening system with a lower risk of flavor issues,” Ms. Livvix said.

This article is an excerpt from the May 2023 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Chemical Leavening, click here.