Potassium: promising yet problematic

by Jeff Gelski
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The Food and Drug Administration proposed to require the declaration of potassium on the Nutrition Facts Panel..

KANSAS CITY — Potassium in the future may have its own required place in the Nutrition Facts Panel. The mineral also may play a role in sodium reduction. Yet before dialing up the Daily Value of potassium in products, food and beverage formulators should consider sensory issues.

“Foremost, potassium tastes terrible,” said Brandon Armstrong, a food scientist in the nutritional ingredients division of Watson, Inc., West Haven, Conn. “On top of that, 100% D.V. is 3.5 grams, which for many products is a significant per cent of the finished product weight, and that doesn’t account for activity level.”

It would take more than 7 grams of raw material per serving to have 100% Daily Value of potassium in a product, he said.

“At best, the resulting product would taste like sea water,” Mr. Armstrong said. “So, using more than 10% D.V. in a formulation is usually a bad idea, and even at that level, the flavor has to be mitigated to a degree.”

The extra effort potassium requires may be worthwhile. The Food and Drug Administration in the Federal Register on March 3, 2014, proposed to require the declaration of vitamin D and potassium to the Nutrition Facts Panel. The notice in the Federal Register cited the benefits of adequate potassium intake in lowering blood pressure.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 also may emphasize potassium intake. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee in a Dec. 15, 2014, meeting said potassium is under-consumed across the entire U.S. population.

Achieving a level of “good source” of potassium, currently at least 350 mg per serving, or even “excellent source,” at least 700 mg, is possible in such products as dairy products, fortified beverages, infant formula, nutritional products, prepared foods and baked foods, said Rocio Aramburo, market development manager, health and nutrition, for Jungbunzlauer, Inc., Newton Center, Mass.

Mr. Armstrong said getting enough potassium into an application is difficult because minerals such as potassium generally do not come in pure forms. Potassium may be found in potassium chloride and phosphate salts as well as in potassium gluconate and potassium citrate.

Sensory and economic issues come into play when working with potassium gluconate or potassium citrate, Ms. Aramburo said.

“Potassium gluconate displays a slightly bitter taste,” she said. “However, it also offers specific taste advantages over other potassium salts, and it is particularly favorable in matrixes and beverages.”

The sensory profile of potassium gluconate fits better with fruity flavors.

“However, due to the lower mineral content of potassium gluconate in comparison to tripotassium citrate, it is less attractive from the economic point of view,” Ms. Aramburo said.

Potassium gluconate is 16.7% potassium while tripotassium citrate is 36.2% potassium, she said. Adding 2,096 mg of potassium gluconate per serving may achieve a claim of good source of potassium in a product while adding 4,192 mg may achieve a claim of excellent source, she said. Adding 967 mg of tripotassium citrate per serving may achieve a claim of good source of potassium in a product while adding 1,934 mg may achieve a claim of excellent source.

Tripotassium citrate is used often in beverages and as a sodium-free pH regulator to replace trisodium citrate, she said. Tripotassium citrate may fortify dairy products, beverages, infant formula, nutritional products, prepared foods, baked foods and desserts.

“Tripotassium citrate is known for its cooling and salty taste,” Ms. Aramburo said. “However, contrary to other potassium salts, tripotassium citrate is less bitter and thus can be used at higher concentration levels in many different applications. Due to its high potassium content, it results in a more economic alternative than other potassium salts.”

Mr. Armstrong said tripotassium phosphate and potassium chloride have the highest amount of potassium on a per weight basis. Consider sensory factors and pH effects when determining a source of potassium, he said.

“Often a source with lower acidity level allows for more potassium in the end product without causing other issues,” he said. “Lipid encapsulated potassium would mitigate those issues as well, but would decrease the purity further and won’t work in all products, such as products with high temperature processing or products that are largely aqueous.”

Ms. Aramburo said blends of sodium chloride, potassium chloride and sodium gluconate or potassium gluconate have been shown to reduce sodium content by up to 40% in applications without affecting taste or texture. Since potassium chloride is associated with bitter taste, formulators may need to combine the ingredient with other solutions to mask off-notes, she said.

Kudos Blends, Worcestershire, England, offers potassium bicarbonate, which is 39% potassium, as a way to reduce sodium.

“Not only can Kudos’ potassium bicarbonate be used in standard raised goods such as cakes, biscuits and muffins, it can be used as a functional leavening agent and a tool to increase potassium in other products such as crackers, cookies, donuts, crumpets, naan bread, pancakes, soda bread, pastry, pikelets (similar to pancakes), tortillas, dumplings and pizza bases,” Kudos Blends said.

Companies may use potassium bicarbonate in pancakes to achieve 374 mg of potassium per serving while reducing sodium 41%, according to Kudos Blends. Other applications include biscuits (215 mg of potassium per serving and 33% sodium reduction), muffins (111 mg and 25%), cookies (78 mg and 50%), and crackers (75 mg and 50%).

Potassium is intrinsic in certain foods. A banana has 422 mg of potassium, for example, while a baked potato with flesh and skin has 738 mg, tomato paste has 664 mg and cooked lima beans have 478 mg, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.

Mr. Armstrong said formulators should remember many foods have potassium in their nutritional profile.

“All too often, developers neglect checking their background nutrition when looking to fortify,” Mr. Armstrong said. “Something like 3% D.V. background may not sound like much, but when it saves you 250 mg of space (in a formulation), it’s fairly significant, and not adding 250 mg of unnecessary bad flavor to a product is something most would agree is a good thing. Generally speaking, the key to potassium supplementation of foods is to never do more than your product can handle.”

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