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How low can you go? Salt reduction pressure ramps up

15 Mar 2019

Industry remains under pressure to cut salt, as new reports continue to underline salt’s health impacts – and highlight the high salt content of many processed foods.

For years, food manufacturers have been urged to reduce salt in their products, as up to 80% of salt intake comes from processed foods, with top dietary sources including bread, pizza and cheese. While salt is a vital nutrient, too much has been linked to high blood pressure, and most people exceed the World Health Organization’s recommended five gram daily maximum. Average intakes across Western Europe stand at 10-12 grams a day.

How low can you go? Salt reduction pressure ramps up
Manufacturers are looking for natural ways to cut salt

A new report from the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says there is still room for novel solutions to cut population-wide salt intake, considering that most people continue to consume too much, despite ongoing public health messages. Meanwhile, a new report from the George Institute for Global Health warned that many children’s fast food meals in Australia served up more salt in a single serving that a child’s recommended daily upper limit. This adds to a swathe of reports from around the world admonishing certain sectors of the food industry for the excessive salt content of their products.

For industry, there are many potential approaches to salt reduction, but all have their hurdles and limitations. One of the most popular has been to substitute at least some of the sodium chloride in foods with potassium chloride, but this is associated with a metallic aftertaste. While flavour-masking ingredients could help improve the taste, some manufacturers are concerned that potassium chloride is too chemical-sounding for consumers. Supplier NuTek Food Science has gone as far as petitioning the US Food and Drug Administration to allow the term ‘potassium salt’ on ingredient lists, a move supported by many in the food industry, including retail giant Walmart.

Other options include dialling up other flavours, using herbs and spices for example, or targeting umami flavours in particular, which are thought to compensate for lower salt levels by providing a similar fulfilling taste. Israeli company Salt of the Earth is primarily a salt supplier, but is among the ingredient suppliers taking this approach. It has developed a product that combines sea salt with umami-rich ingredients like tomato concentrate, mushroom and seaweed extracts to play up hearty, savoury tastes in condiments, soups and sauces while cutting salt.

It also produces a microsalt that dissolves more quickly on the tongue than ordinary salt, allowing companies to use less but with the same perception of saltiness. Tate & Lyle also has a salt reduction product made from salt, which it claims can achieve the same salty taste with up to 50% less salt. The crystals are smaller than regular salt crystals, and are also hollow, maximising their surface area relative to their volume.

Beyond ingredients, companies may also see success in reducing salt when they work together within a category to shift consumer preference for saltiness. In the UK, a gradual, industry-wide approach to salt reduction has had significant results. After the government set voluntary targets in 2006, salt in breakfast cereals fell nearly 50% from 2004 to 2015, for example. Average salt reduction in the UK declined about 11% over the same period.

This strategy is perhaps the ultimate clean label approach to salt reduction, given that it requires no additional ingredients – just combined industry effort. What is clear is that manufacturers will remain under pressure to cut salt, especially as the potential solutions to the salt reduction problem continue to multiply.

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