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 final 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 are the best types of low-sodium formulations to work with in salted snacks, sweet goods, and more? Why?
Paul Bright, product development manager, AB Mauri Fleischmann’s, Chesterfield, Mo.: Opportunities exist to reduce sodium levels in all baked goods and snack foods. Formula adjustments can be made on yeast-leavened, chemically leavened or non-leavened baked goods and snack foods. The decision to lower the sodium levels must be based on consumer demand to ensure that consumers will accept the flavor profile.
Mariano Gascon, vice president of research and development, Wixon, St. Francis, Wis.: It is easier to reduce sodium in lean products than in rich dough products. The presence of fat, especially in large quantities, has an effect on the salt perception that makes it more challenging. We have several options when producing healthy baked goods and reducing sodium in any product.
Linda Kragt, technical services manager, Morton Salt, Chicago: From a taste standpoint, sweet goods are easier to work with since sweeteners are good masking agents for potassium chloride. Vanilla and cinnamon can help mask potassium chloride taste when a partial substitution approach is used. For snacks, it is often easier to work with a seasoned formula than a plain salted snack. Seasonings offer more opportunities to mask the metallic taste of potassium chloride bitterness and also help to counter bland flavors.
John Brodie, technical service manager, baking, Innophos Inc., Cranbury, N.J.: Cake products, pancakes and waffles, batters and breadings, tortillas and biscuits are good candidates for using sodium-free or reduced-sodium leavenings. These types of formulas are tolerant and there are many leavening options for this type of product.
SF&WB: What are the most challenging types of low-sodium formulations to work with? Why?
Craig “Skip” Julius, director of innovation, Pierre Foods on behalf of the American Egg Board, Park Ridge, Ill.: Anything where the salt is topical. It provides a big initial hit. It’s hard to replicate that, especially without driving up costs.
Teresa Isakson, sales and marketing director, Nu-Tek Products, Minnetonka, Minn.: The pretzel. The pretzel is typically high in sodium because of the process to make the pretzel. It uses sodium hydroxide to give the pretzel its desired appearance.
Brodie: Products such as cake donuts and refrigerated doughs and batters can be more difficult to formulate. These products are historically sensitive to formulation changes and are formulated with multiple leavenings. Refrigerated products typically use heat sensitive or very slow leavenings. More care is needed to switch these types of products over to sodium-free leavenings. Working with your leavening supplier will ensure quicker success using their knowledge of leavening applications.
Kragt: Multi-component formulas such as pizza are difficult since the developer has to reduce sodium in each part of the formula separately – dough, sauce, cheese and meat toppings. Salted snacks can also be challenging because there aren’t a lot of salt alternatives available [in] a wide range of particle sizes. Even cutting the salt level can create problems since it reduces the number of particles on the snack surface, which may result in a less uniform salt coverage.
SF&WB: How are consumer trends driving the advancement of low-sodium offerings?
Bez Arkush, executive partner, Bon Vivant International, LLC, Edgewater N.J.: The consumer awareness of sodium level is growing and is forcing manufacturers to offer lower sodium solutions. “Sodium reduction will be one of the leading trends for consumer packaged goods manufacturers in 2010,” according to research firm Mintel in 2009.
Mintel predicts that more CPG [consumer packaged goods] marketers will follow in the steps of ConAgra Foods, which has pledged to reduce the salt in its products by 20% by 2015. According to Mintel, such actions fill a consumer need, as 51% of U.S. consumers say they always or [are] usually watching their sodium.
Julius: Sodium reduction is the new zero trans fat. The problem with political and activist groups is that they never take time to understand the science, rarely are solution-oriented, have unrealistic timelines and are sensitive to only one side of the issue. Activist groups often don’t understand the cost implications of what they are demanding. New science is way more expensive than old science. This drives costs into the system. The main problem is the consumer winds up paying for it, whether they want to or not. Sorry for the political commentary, but it’s a problem for our industry.
Brodie: Across the globe, consumers are seeking out healthier foods in response to current medical and dietary guidelines. In particular, sodium intake is of concern. In the United States, consumer advocacy groups and medical associations are lobbying governmental regulators to reduce dietary sodium intake guidelines. Federal and state regulatory agencies are exploring legislation that will significantly reduce the recommended daily allowance for sodium.
The United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has made sodium reduction a priority and is both making consumers more aware of the health threat posed by excessive sodium consumption and exerting pressure on the food and restaurant industries to gradually decrease sodium levels to specified targets. Many other countries are exploring similar avenues.
Bright: Low sodium is one of the most recent hot topics in the food industry. Along with no trans fat, whole grains and natural, low sodium is part of the better-for-you positioning sweeping across the food industry. It is a definite trend. In fact, according to a report published by Packaged Facts in 2008, low-sodium/salt content as a claim is expected to grow the fastest in the grains/snacks sector, surpassing perhaps more obvious sectors such as soup, condiments, meat/fish/entrée, beverages and canned vegetables. Mintel reports that from 2006 to 2008, low sodium was one of the top new product claims in bread and bread products. AB Mauri Fleischmann’s expects that low-sodium’s ranking on that new product claim list will be higher in coming years. (Ranks 23 out of top 27.)
Since we introduced these alternative double-acting baking powders, we have received definite interest from the food industry. Bakers are looking for low-sodium alternatives, and baking powder and natural flavor enhancers are easy ways that they can adjust the sodium profile of their cakes, cookies, crackers, tortillas, pizza, biscuits or breads.
Kragt: The push towards lower sodium products is primarily from the medical community. But consumers who maintain a healthy lifestyle still want to enjoy their favorite snacks and baked goods. They expect lower sodium products to taste as good as their full-salted counterparts.
Isakson: The largest motivator for the reduction in sodium from our customer’s perspective would be the New York City’s Sodium Reduction Initiative. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene officials have launched the National Salt Reduction Initiative. This voluntary program is for food manufacturers as well as foodservice to reduce sodium in packaged and restaurant foods by 25% over five years. This has brought the sodium reduction priority into the limelight of many food companies’ research and development priorities. So if you currently manufacture pretzels, the current mean sodium content is 1,198 mg. of sodium per 100g. The proposed target for 2012 is 1,020 mg. of sodium per 100 g. and for 2014 is 780 mg. of sodium per 100g. This could be difficult.
Gascon: Low sodium is here to stay. More than a couple of years ago, I was talking with a group of executives of a large company about reducing sodium in their products and at that point I was told that sodium was just a fad. At Wixon, we believed that consumers are more in tune with a healthy way of living and [are] more savvy about what they are eating, thus the sodium is not a fad, rather it is a new way to pave a healthy living. That’s why we kept working all these years of finding more solutions to reduce sodium. Our state-of-the-art sodium solution technologies have been tasted on a vast variety of products, and they are been sold to many of the food industry manufacturers. In fact, most of the household brand names contain our products.
Click here to read our interview with Carlos Rodriguez, salt marketing manager for Cargill Salt, Minneapolis.
Click here to check out the second installment of this series.
Editor’s Note: In addition, check out SF&WB’s April issue for more information on this topic.
*Photo courtesy of AB Mauri Fleischmann’s