With U.S. Dietary Guidelines up for renewal this year, reducing sodium is likely to become a hot topic for bakers and snack producers. Check out the first installment of our series on this topic.

With U.S. Dietary Guidelines up for renewal this year, reducing sodium is likely to become a hot topic for bakers and snack producers. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration plans to launch a major initiative to gradually lower the amount of salt that Americans consume. Lowering sodium levels, however, can diminish the taste in foods. It also serves as a critical functional ingredient in many products.

In the first installment of our series on sodium reduction, Marina Mayer, SF&WB’s managing editor, gets advice on how to do it right from Carlos Rodriguez, salt marketing manager for Cargill Salt, Minneapolis.
Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery: What role does salt play in snacks and baked goods?

Carlos Rodriguez: Salt plays many roles in snacks and baked goods. For example, it contributes to flavor and controls fermentation in breads to help control the proofing time required for the desired volume. Salt also strengthens gluten or protein in bread dough, which has a direct impact on air cell structure formation and texture. And, it affects the water activity of the finished product, which relates to product quality and microbial activity.
SF&WB: What kinds of low-sodium options does your company provide? What types of applications do they work best with in snacks or baked goods?

Rodriguez: SaltWise sodium reduction system is a complex flavor system that expands the array of options for food processors by allowing them to reduce the sodium in their products between 25-50% while still delivering the salty taste customers like. It can be used in a variety of food applications, such as salted snacks, processed meats, soups and dressings, without significant reformulation.
Premier potassium chloride is a food grade potassium chloride that food manufacturers can use in their sodium reduction efforts. Today, potassium chloride is the best substitute for sodium chloride, and it works well as a foundation for significantly reducing sodium in processed foods. It mimics salt in ways such as texture and protein binding, water retention capacity and fermentation control. However, there are some limitations because potassium chloride is not a one-to-one replacement for salt, so some reformulation may be needed to offset any bitter metallic taste that can be seen at higher usage levels. In addition to its use in low-sodium snacks, it [can be used in] seasoning blends, bakery products, margarine and frozen dough.

Alberger brand salts [can reduce] sodium while maintaining that salty taste in topical applications. Alberger crystals are created from a process that starts with a hollow pyramid shape. This shape has a wide surface area and low bulk density that increases the rate at which the crystals dissolve. When these crystals touch the tongue, the rapid dissolution causes a flavor burst, allowing manufacturers to reduce the amount of salt, while maintaining that salty flavor consumers desire. It is suitable for low-sodium topical applications when used on products such as potato or corn chips, crackers and bread sticks, salted nuts and seeds.
SF&WB: How do you handle the low-sodium problem of taking out the salt without sacrificing taste? Please provide some tips for bakers and snack producers.

Rodriguez: When considering a reduction in sodium, the baker must consider which ingredients are contributing the sodium. The obvious candidate is salt (sodium chloride), but there are other less obvious sources, such as baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), baking powder (sodium bicarbonate and acidulants) and Vol (volatile salt, also known as ammonium bicarbonate). In addition, the acidulants used in baking powder may also be in the sodium form, such as sodium acid pyrophosphate. There are some non-sodium alternatives for leavening agents containing sodium that may be used in formulation. However, changes in processing conditions such as proofing time and temperature may also need to be considered to obtain the desired bakery product attributes such as sensory and texture.
When considering yeast activity, potassium chloride such behaves similarly to sodium chloride. Therefore, one would expect minor or no impact on bread production. However, there may be an impact on flavor. At replacement levels greater than 10-20% for sodium chloride, there may be a metallic or bitter note associated with potassium chloride. To combat this defect, there are some sodium reduction systems, flavor modifiers or masking agents available in the market that may be added to the formulation.
Some leavening agents are chemicals that react at some point during the overall baking process to produce gas [such as] carbon dioxide. This gas production is important to give air cell structures that are desired in bakery products such as cookies and muffins. In addition to the sodium form of these leavening agents, there are other forms such as potassium or calcium that are available.
However, these compounds, or chemicals, may have different reaction rates [such as production of carbon dioxide gas] or have an impact on the yeast activity than the original sodium forms, which may result in a product defect. It may be possible to overcome this by changing the processing conditions such as mixing times or temperature. In addition to changes in aesthetic appearance of the product, there may also be changes in the flavor.

SF&WB: What are some of the most common mistakes when working with low sodium formulations? Please share some tips on avoiding or overcoming such mistakes.
Rodriguez: One misconception is that there is one silver bullet solution that will work across all food applications. The fact is, sodium reduction is not an easy solution. Food companies need to take a step back to determine their end goal, then take a look at all of the sources of sodium in the product such as flavoring agents or texturizing agents, and figure out what can be cut out while still maintaining the product’s needs. At that time, based on your end goal, you can determine the best reduced-sodium option for your product. When it comes to products that rely on salt for functionality, it can be more complex. At Cargill, we work very closely with our customers to help them develop the best solutions for their specific salt reduction needs.
Another misconception relates to taste. There are some who believe you can’t achieve great-tasting, reduced-sodium products. At Cargill, we offer a full reduced-sodium platform that provides manufacturers many different ways to have reduced sodium in products without sacrificing the all-important taste factor. Because when it comes down to making purchasing decisions, taste still rules. People simply love the great taste of salt, and we have the ingredients that can provide that.
SF&WB: What are the best types of low-sodium formulations to work with in salted snacks, sweet goods, and more? Why?

Rodriguez: With any food product, including salted snacks and sweet goods, it goes back to understanding the strategy and setting the objectives your company wants to meet with that product. After that, you need to take step back to figure out what’s in the product, what is adding sodium to the product, understanding those targets and figuring out what can be cut out while still maintaining the product’s needs. Once you start getting into that, you can still hit certain levels of sodium reduction without too much impact to the product. But, beyond that, it’s more complex taking out functionality and flavor, and you have to figure out other ways to put that back in.
At Cargill, we really try to understand what the customers are trying to do so we can offer the best options for them. Whenever they remove salt, they most typically have to replace it with something more expensive.
SF&WB: What are the most challenging types of low-sodium formulations to work with? Why?

Rodriguez: Many of the sodium-reduction options on the market today are direct salt replacers. This means that those products that have very little added salt to their formulations are difficult to work with as there may not be enough salt in the formulation to achieve the targeted sodium reduction. The result is a much more difficult reformulation. Remember, there are other ingredients that might be contributing sodium to a formula so the baker must consider which ingredients are contributing the sodium. Find out how much additional reduction is needed to meet goals and then reformulate away from these non-salt, sodium-containing ingredients while still retaining the functionality they provided.
SF&WB: How are consumer trends driving the advancement of low-sodium offerings?

Rodriguez: A number of cities, states and national health organizations have come together to propose that salt levels in packaged and restaurant foods be reduced by 25% over the next five years. Leaders of the National Salt Reduction Initiative say this voluntary move would reduce the nation’s salt intake by 20% and prevent thousands of premature deaths. The group is just one of many who seem to shout daily that salt is bad for you.
Other voices aren’t convinced it’s such a good idea to make a big change in one element of the diet. The Salt Institute, for example, says it’s not been scientifically established that a population-wide reduction in salt will benefit health outcomes, cautioning that any such move be supported by strong evidence proving it is safe to do so.
At Cargill, we realize many consumers desire to monitor sodium intake, but we also know they aren’t willing to sacrifice taste. They want full flavor and reduced sodium. That’s why, over the past few years, we’ve created a portfolio of low sodium ingredients for a wide variety of applications. These products, when used in foods as part of a balanced diet, offer new alternatives for today’s consumers.

Editor’s Note: Check out next week’s edition of Operations Weekly for our second installment on the how to best reduce sodium in snacks and baked goods.