Shaking out the side effects

by Jeff Gelski
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When reducing sodium content in foods, formulators should remember the replacement ingredients may bring along their own issues. Consumers may view monosodium glutamate (MSG) as not natural. Also, potassium chloride may have a metallic taste, and sodium phosphate has sodium in it.

Consumer advertisements this fall from The Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., and the Progresso brand of General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis, stressed how leaving MSG out of a reduced-sodium soup may give it a cleaner label. Both companies are seeking to take MSG out of many of their soup varieties.

The Glutamate Association, Washington, fired back, saying MSG may allow food formulators to reduce sodium content in foods by 30% to 40%.

"Research conducted over the past decade has only reinforced the role of monosodium glutamate as a safe and useful ingredient in the diet," the association said. "These new soup campaigns are nothing more than marketing gimmickry."

The Food and Drug Administration lists MSG as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), but it warns that people sensitive to MSG may have mild and transitory reactions after eating foods that contain large amounts of MSG.

Sea salt may have more appeal as an all-natural ingredient, judging by the "Soup – U.S. – Executive Summary" report released in September by Mintel.

"Not only does sea salt have appeal as an all-natural, high-quality ingredient, it also has great appeal as an authentic, natural ingredient," the report said. "And of course, sea salt evokes a simpler time, when ingredients were from the earth and the sea and not a food laboratory."

Yeast extracts are another natural option. DSM Food Specialties recently expanded its yeast extract production facility in Delft, The Netherlands, and increased capacity by 35%.

"Increased demand for processed foods, reduced sodium levels and a move toward natural ingredients are all key drivers," said Fedde Sonnema, business unit director, DSM Food Specialties.

Taste is more the issue with potassium chloride. While it may be used in place of sodium chloride, it also may have a bitter and metallic aftertaste, according to Redpoint Bio Corp., Ewing, N.J. The company offers Betrasalt, a low-sodium salt substitute that contains a proprietary formulation of materials that mitigates that taste. Redpoint Bio Corp. recently received two patents covering compositions and methods for Betrasalt from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

For meat and poultry products, Innophos, Cranbury, N.J., offers Curavis So-Lo 93, which has 93% less sodium than standard sodium phosphates. An introductory polyphosphate blend of potassium and sodium pyrophosphate, it may reduce sodium levels by more than 25% in products with less than 1% salt.

Gene Brotsky, a meat specialist in technical services for Innophos, places meats and poultry products in three categories when it comes to reducing sodium. High-salt cured meats such as ham and turkey ham may have a 2% to 2.5% salt content. Medium-salt processed meats such as poultry loaves and turkey breast have a 1.25% to 1.75% salt content. Lower-salt products such as roast beef have less than 1% salt.

An even greater opportunity for sodium reduction may lie in process cheese, Mr. Brotsky said, since it has a sodium phosphate level of 3%, compared to 0.5% for meats. Innophos may achieve a 40% sodium reduction in process cheese by substituting part of the sodium phosphate with potassium and ammonium phosphate.

New deli meat and poultry products from Sara Lee Deli, Downers Grove, Ill., have salt, sodium phosphate and potassium chloride on the ingredient lists of all three products. The company in January will launch oven-roasted turkey meat with 40% less sodium, oven-roasted chicken breast with 42% less sodium and honey ham with water added and 36% less sodium. While the products will roll out in bulk version first, Sara Lee may add pre-sliced deli items later, said Jonathan Drake, vice-president and general manager of Sara Lee Deli.

In company taste tests, 64% of consumers said they "definitely will buy" or "probably will buy" the products. A trained sensory panel gave the products an overall liking score of 7.4 on a hedonic scale of 1 to 9, with 9 being the highest score.

Sara Lee has several surveys revealing consumer demand for lower sodium products. The category has grown 17% in U.S. sales over the past four years to become an $11 billion category, according to The Nielsen Co.

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