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 second 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. Lowering sodium levels, however, can diminish the taste in foods. It also serves as a critical functional ingredient in many products. In the second part of our series on low-sodium formulation, Marina Mayer, our managing editor, discusses the issue with a number of experts in the industry.

Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery:What role does salt play in snacks and baked goods?

Teresa Isakson, sales and marketing director, Nu-Tek Products, Minnetonka, Minn.: Salt’s primary role in baked goods is for flavor and as a visual for a topping of the snack product. It will also have some functionality in some baked goods. Regarding how salt is used for flavor, it helps with rounding out the flavor notes in a product. It will enhance flavor and also compliment flavors. If a product does not have salt, it will taste flat or bland, similar to my mother-in-law’s mashed potatoes.

Salt will give various visual appearances to snack products depending on the granulation of the salt. Coarse salt gives the pretzel its characteristic appearance, and what would seasoned chips be if you could not lick off the salty seasoning off your fingers? It just wouldn’t be the same without salt.
In terms of the functional aspect of salt in baked items, it will react with yeast in yeast-raised bakery products to control how fast the yeast will leaven the dough. If there is no salt in yeast-leavened dough, the dough will rise faster than the gluten can expand. This causes big holes in your bread.

Bez Arkush, executive partner, Bon Vivant International, LLC, Edgewater N.J.: Salt slows down all the chemical reactions that are happening in the dough, including calming fermentation activity to a steadier level. Salt also makes the dough a little stronger and tighter.

Salt impacts the shelf life of baked goods, but its effects depend on weather conditions. Salt is hydroscopic, which means it absorbs water. Consequently, in humid climates, it will trap moisture from the air, making a crisp crust soggy, and therefore shortening shelf life. In dry climates, however, the salt helps hold water in the bread longer, inhibiting staling, and thus extending the bread's shelf life. Salt, of course, adds flavor to baked goods. It also potentiates the flavor of other ingredients, including butter and flour.

SF&WB:What kinds of low-sodium options to you provide? Please discuss the types of applications they work best with in snacks and baked goods:

John Brodie, technical service manager, baking, Innophos Inc., Cranbury, N.J.:Innophos provides easy-to-use sodium-free and reduced-sodium leavenings designed to replace sodium-based leavenings, thus reducing sodium levels by 20-30% without affecting your products’ flavor profile. Applications for these leavenings are cakes, muffins, tortillas, biscuits, pancakes and waffles, batters and breadings, flatbreads and other products using sodium-based leavenings.

Craig “Skip” Julius, director of innovation, Pierre Foods on behalf of the American Egg Board, Park Ridge, Ill.: There are, increasingly, ingredient manufacturers who understand the pressure food processors are facing to reduce sodium.Cal-Rise, for example, is an effective leavening replacement system with no sodium.

Here’s a tip: Use eggs or egg whites to provide additional structure allowing you to reduce leavening agents. In addition, you’ll add a whole lot of textural improvements.

Paul Bright, product development manager, AB Mauri Fleischmann’s, Chesterfield, Mo.: AB Maurilow-sodium baking powder works well in snack foods such as tortillas, cakes and cookies. It is a double-acting baking powder that functions the same asAB Mauri double-acting baking powder. The only difference is the sodium level. The advantage is that bakers can significantly reduce the amount of sodium in a baked good, while maintaining the desired gassing rate of reaction. When usingAB Maurilow-sodium baking powder, sodium levels can be reduced by nearly 50%.

An added advantage to using low-sodium baking powder from AB Mauri Fleischmann’s is that the calcium increases by more than 500% when compared to the use of a standard double acting baking powder. AB Mauri Fleischmann’s also has solutions for bread.AB Mauri High 5 is a specifically blended combination of yeast extracts/autolysates that are naturally high in five nucleotides that will bring out the umami flavor in baked goods. The use of High 5 will enhance the salty notes of low-sodium baked products to help meet consumers’ needs.

Arkush:NutraSaltis a unique sea salt that is created by combining salts from two different seas, the Red Sea and the Dead Sea. Each of them contains a different amount of minerals and very low sodium content.NutraSalt66 has 66% less sodium than regular sea or table salt and replaces on 1:1 bases.NutraSaltis sea salt and functions as such and is fine granulated ideal for baking applications. The only application it cannot do is a coarse salt on a pretzel.

Some of our customers preferNutraSalt 50, which has only 50% less sodium.NutraSalt works well in all baking and cooking applications, [including] breads, muffins, bagels, pita bread, cakes and so on.

Linda Kragt, technical services manager Morton Salt, Chicago:Morton Salt offers potassium chloride, which is considered the best salt alternative. Potassium chloride imparts saltiness but also a metallic aftertaste so it must be combined with some sodium chloride to be acceptable. It can be used in a variety of applications, including breads, sweet doughs and snacks that require a table salt granulation for a topping such as snack crackers.

Isakson: Nu-Tek manufactures a modified potassium chloride. The potassium chloride has a different crystal structure that gives a much better flavor than regular potassium chloride. Potassium chloride is also a salt very similar to sodium chloride that consumers consider [as] salt. The difference between sodium chloride and potassium chloride is typically potassium chloride has a bitter or metallic flavor, which makes it very undesirable to use in food applications. It is a good guy when it comes to functionality aspects of salt. It is very similar in the chemical aspects of salt and will perform very well in food systems where you need functionality.

Nu-Tek’s modified potassium chloride has no sodium content and can replace salt at a 1:1 level. The beauty of this product is that you can use it just like regular salt without noticing significant differences in performance or flavor. It has done extremely well in sensory applications especially in dry topical products to replace salt.

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.

Julius:Very tricky, but if I told you how I’d have to kill you. Best thing I can tell you [is to do] your research like your life depended on it. This is an inherent problem in that there are many sodium-replacement ingredients. Most use [potassium chloride], which is metallic and bitter and has to be masked. Masking agents clutter up your label. So, in a sense it’s a Catch-22.

Kragt: Salt reduction is challenging and there is no magic bullet. We advise reducing the salt level gradually. Drastic cuts in the salt level are not well accepted by consumers. Partial substitution of potassium chloride for some of the salt can be used to enhance saltiness.

Brodie:The most effective method for dealing with taste issues is to leave the salt in your formulations, take out of your formula’s sodium-based leavenings and replace with sodium-free or reduced-sodium leavenings. This will reduce the sodium content by up to 30%. Being these leavenings are calcium-based, you will increase your calcium levels significantly … without changing your flavor profile. For even more reduction, we can look at replacing sodium bicarbonate with other sodium-free bicarbonates although these options are more expensive.

Bright:Bakers and snack producers do not need to make any adjustments to their formulations. For example, in a cake formulation that calls for double-acting baking powder, a baker could useAB Maurilow-sodium baking powder to produce a top-quality cake with excellent grain, texture, volume, crumb color, while benefiting from a low sodium claim.

When using a low-sodium baking powder, taste should be similar to the original formula that used regular double-acting baking powder. However, when using a sodium-free baking powder, a baker may want to adjust other ingredients in the formula to create the desired flavor profile.

SF&WB: What are the most common mistakes when working with low-sodium formulations? Please share some tips on avoiding or overcoming such mistakes.

Brodie: Common mistakes are not realizing which ingredients are contributing to sodium content and not researching options available to the food scientist. Many will start with the most expensive option. First, set a target for sodium reduction, let’s say 20%. Second, determine which ingredients are contributing sodium. Salt, leavening acid and sodium bicarbonate contribute typically 95%. Then, switch to a calcium-based leavening to see how close you are to target. You may find just going to a calcium leavening is all you need.

Kragt:Substituting potassium chloride for all the salt in formulas presents taste challenges. We recommend a partial substitution approach where potassium chloride substitutes for a portion of the salt in the formula. Begin by using lower levels of potassium chloride substitution such as 20-33%. Consult with a flavor supplier to see if they offer masking agents for potassium chloride. Be sure to let the flavor house know that the masking agent will be used for a lower sodium product since some masking flavors are formulated with salt. In yeast-leavened breads, the proof time may have to be adjusted when partially substituting potassium chloride for sodium chloride. Since potassium chloride is less inhibiting to yeast activity than salt, a reduction in proof time may be needed

Bright:In some applications such as pizza, other ingredient elements need to be considered. In pizza, the crust is just one place where the sodium level can be adjusted. The sauce, cheese and toppings can also contribute to the total sodium content of the food.

Isakson:  Sodium can be added to a bakery product in many different forms. Most consumers assume that it is salt [or] sodium chloride that is the culprit for the high sodium content. Many other ingredients contribute to the sodium content besides salt. In leavened baked products, the use of various leavening agents contributes to the sodium intake.

Julius:If you don’t understand the chemistry, you wind up losing functionality and risk product failure. This is especially important when modifying existing product. I can’t tell you how many examples I’ve seen of bad science applied to low fat in the 80s, then zero trans fat in the new millennium and now sodium reduction. At certain levels, consumers sense the difference in flavor and are disappointed, which means they stop buying the product. It should go without saying that a reduction in a functional attribute like color or texture would also be disappointing yet we can all probably point to product changes that resulted in lost sales or even failure.

People don’t take the time to understand the chemistry of their specific system. Off the shelf solutions don’t always offer the optimum strategy. Do your homework.

Click hereto read our interview with Carlos Rodriguez, salt marketing manager for Cargill Salt, Minneapolis.    

Editor’s Note:Check out next week’sOperations Weeklye-newsletter for the final part in our series on sodium reduction.  

*Photo courtesy of Innophos, Inc.