We talked to reformulation expert Professor Kathy Groves, Consultant at Reading Scientific Services Ltd (RSSL), about effective solutions for salt reduction, ahead of her presentation at the Fi Conference.
The book you co-edited on salt reduction has just been published. What are the most recent developments in salt reduction?
“There is now strong evidence linking a high salt diet to increased health risks. The new second edition of our book, ‘Reducing Salt in Foods’, brings up to date information on the involvement of dietary salt on the health of consumers, as well as the impact of salt reduction on food safety aspects. Several chapters also consider ways to reduce salt in different key products such as meat-based foods, bakery goods, cereals, spreads and sauces.”
“The most recent developments in salt reduction include a range of different salt shapes and sizes, new alternatives to salt for flavour and functionality and new salt enhancers. Also researchers are looking at different ways to position salt in products to maximise taste and functionality with lower levels of salt overall. This structural approach is quite interesting.”
What is crucial to consider when approaching salt reduction in products?
“It is crucial to consider what the salt is doing in the product before being able to successfully reduce it. The properties of salt include taste, texture modification, emulsification, and other functional properties as well as the very important function of preservation. It is necessary to identify all the sources of sodium in the product to make it easier to target the suitable level of sodium reduction and to select the best replacement. Coming from a food structure background I consider that using techniques such as microscopy together with texture and sensory analysis will give this understanding to product development teams, allowing them to select the best replacements for salt.”
Could you give few examples of new salt replacement ingredients with their positive and negative characteristics? What ingredients are gaining most consumers’ acceptance and why?
“The need for salt reduction is based on lowering the total sodium level in the product, not just sodium chloride. This influences the replacement ingredient selection to some extent. For example, introducing potassium chloride as a partial replacement for sodium chloride can work well in certain products (for example brined meats). However, potassium chloride has a bitter taste and is limited in its applications because of this. New versions of mixed potassium and sodium chloride have been released which claim to have bitter blockers allowing the saltiness flavour without the bitter aftertaste.”
“Changing the size and shape of sodium chloride itself continues to bring new ingredients to the market which give increased solubility and salt perception allowing levels to be reduced. These need to be tailored to suit the product as in some cases the salt flavour is lost too quickly or masked by oil.”
“Additionally, yeast extracts and plant-based products combined with salt to give enhanced saltiness are gaining popularity in the marketplace. For the consumer taste is the most important aspect of a food product with texture a close second. However the scene is complex as ‘natural’ and ‘lower in additives’ are also high on the consumer list to name just a few!”
What food product categories raise most difficulties in terms of salt reduction?
Processed foods generally are a difficult area to achieve good salt reduction levels. Probably the most difficult product categories are certain bakery products and meat products.”
What are your predictions for the F&B industry over the next 3-5 years?
“I see the strong trend for healthier foods developed over the past few years continuing to grow as consumers realise the strong relationship between their diet and how well they feel and health risks. This will include new product development in lower sugar, salt and fat products as well as increasing fibre and nutrients. Combinations of salt with other spices and plant extracts to maximise saltiness will continue to develop. Creating healthy and tasty foods at the scale needed for a growing global population is not easy and a science-based understanding of the role of each ingredient in the properties of the final product texture, flavour and stability is essential to achieve this.”