CHICAGO — Today’s consumers crave flavor adventure while also being mindful of nutrition. Condiments are one of the easiest ways to liven up all types of food. Unfortunately, many condiments tend to be especially high in sodium and sugar. There’s pressure on condiment manufacturers to reformulate products or introduce new ones with ingredient statements and Nutrition Facts that appeal to today’s label-reading consumers.

“The trend toward healthy eating has created challenges for marketers of sauces and condiments, as the perception that sauces and condiments are an unnecessary and unhealthy addition to many foods has made some consumers cut back on consumption,” said David Sprinkle, research director, Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md. “As a result, sauces and condiments are increasingly marketed as organic and healthy, with new options such as low-sodium or low-sugar varieties supporting restrictive diets.

“The trend of ‘diet sauces and condiments for healthy eating’ is simply too big to ignore or downplay. Having light food options is especially important for older consumers like baby boomers, who are likely to have age-related health concerns.”

Many condiments manufacturers are making stealth reductions in sodium and sugar without calling out the reduction on the front panel of the product label, as this may deter shoppers from purchasing the product in fear that it lacks flavor. Instead they are letting the Nutrition Facts do the talking.

Bolthouse Farms organic dressings
Lower in calories and fat than mainstream dressings, the new Bolthouse Farms organic line also contains less sodium per serving than similar products.

For example, earlier this year, Bolthouse Farms introduced its first line of refrigerated organic dressings. All are crafted with premium ingredients and designed to be lower in calories and fat than similar mainstream dressings. They also contain less sodium than similar products in the market. The dressings are packaged in an all-new 12-oz square bottle that features a simple, black label to highlight the product’s more culinary ingredients. The line has a suggested retail price of $4.49 and is available in four varieties. 

Avocado Ranch is creamy avocado, savory onion and garlic, with a hint of buttermilk. Signature Blue Cheese is chunky, cheesy and creamy with a bit of a peppery bite. Raspberry Balsamic combines the tangy taste of balsamic vinegar with the sweet flavor of ripe raspberries. Caesar Vinaigrette is a lighter, more simple and organic twist on the classic.

In this second of three interviews examining trends in condiments (read the first here), industry experts discuss dips, dressings, marinades, sauces and spreads. Food Business News spoke with Maggie Harvey, new product development manager, Mizkan Americas, Mount Prospect, Ill.; Cara Dennis, research and development scientist-wet culinary sauces, Kerry, Beloit, Wis.; Rick Perez, research and development chef and spokesperson for Sunsweet Growers Inc., Yuba City, Calif.; Christiane Lippert, head of marketing-food, Lycored, Switzerland; Peggy Ilar, lead scientist, Kalsec, Kalamazoo, Mich.; Aspen Burkhardt, regional account manager and culinary council member, LifeSpice Ingredients, Chicago; Christiana Greene, technical director, Sensient Natural Ingredients, Turlock, Calif.; and Christopher Warsow, manager of culinary applications, Bell Flavors and Fragrances, Northbrook, Ill.

Food Business News: What are some tricks to improving the nutrition profile of condiments?

Ms. Harvey: Lower sugar and sodium are both high on the list of requirements for new condiments. This can be accomplished by adding certain ingredients to substitute for or accentuate existing flavors. For example, vinegar allows lower sodium usage, reduces the need for preservatives, is permissible in almost any diet (organic, vegetarian, vegan, etc.) and is even proven to lower post prandial glucose levels (blood sugar after a meal), which is beneficial to diabetics.

When it comes to sugar reduction, alternative sugars, including stevia and monkfruit, are becoming more common. Another option is inulin, which is not as sweet as sugar but contributes fiber and has recognized health benefits. 

Ms. Dennis: We are seeing our customers becoming more interested in lowering sodium and sugar, especially when targeting specific end-use customers, such as children and older generations. Sugar and salt both contribute bulking properties and drive flavor, so to reduce them can oftentimes be challenging. We have seen a shift away from artificial sweeteners and have had great success using stevia and dextrose.

Chef Rick Perez, SunSweet
Rick Perez, research and development chef and spokesperson for Sunsweet Growers Inc., Yuba City, Calif.

Mr. Perez: Our prune plum ingredients are derived from the French D’Agen variety. They are distinguished from common table plums by their high levels of natural sorbitol, desirable acids, fiber and antioxidants. By processing prune plums into juice concentrates, powders and purees, we turn this rich fruit into a hard-working ingredient for any food service or research and development kitchen.

They are naturally lower in sugar compared with other kinds of dried fruit. The sugar content of a dried prune plum is 40% lower than raisins and 50% lower than dried cranberries. Yet they still taste sweet because much of their sweetness comes from sorbitol, a sugar alcohol, which is not included in the calculations for sugars or calories.

In addition, the natural acidity of the fruit draws out sweetness, allowing for a reduction in added sugars. Further, over the years, we have found that for almost all recipes that have been modified to incorporate prune plum ingredients, it becomes necessary to reduce salt to achieve the right balance of flavor. The reason is that our ingredients naturally draw out flavor, accenting food much like a few drops of lemon juice might help bring out flavor in a soup or stew. This comes from organic acids, mostly malic and quinic, which make up about 1.5% of the ingredients. We recommend taking out at least 15% of sodium in a condiment formula to start, but often we find that in can be possible to reduce sodium by much more.

Ms. Lippert: If your starting point is healthy, simple ingredients, such as tomatoes, you don’t need tricks. The natural occurring taste components in our tomatoes simply require less sodium and sugar to be added. There’s sometimes too much emphasis on adding new novel flavors rather than focusing on emphasizing the great synergy, rounded aspect of firm favorites. Sometimes it’s much better to use an ingredient that naturally enhances the ones you already have. Tomatoes, or taste ingredients from tomatoes, are the unsung hero of so many recipes. They’re incredibly versatile. They can give condiments tang, heartiness, earthiness and sweetness. For example, our clear tomato concentrate is an understated gem in our repertoire that can be used to give a ‘tomato addback effect’ by providing acidity and sweetness to tomato-based condiments.

Bertolli Rustic Cut pasta sauces
Through the strategic blending of vegetables, new Bertolli Rustic Cut Pasta Sauces make a “no added sugar” claim.

For example, New Bertolli Rustic Cut Pasta Sauces start with a tomato base and get loaded with an abundance of crisp vegetables, such as peppers, onions and carrots. The sauces contain no artificial colors or flavors and no added sugar. They are crafted with inspiration from the Tuscan way of cooking, relying only on a few key, quality ingredients, cooked lightly with olive oil, to lock in layers of flavor. The four varieties are: Marinara with Traditional Vegetables, Roasted Garlic Marinara with Garden Vegetables, Spicy Marinara with Traditional Vegetables and Sweet Peppers and Portobello Mushrooms.

Ms. Ilar: The trend for bolder, more adventurous foods pairs nicely when formulating condiments that are lower in sugar or sodium. Adding seasonings and spices gives product developers flavor flexibility and the opportunity to make these better-for-you versions very tasty alternatives. I personally like to add a small amount of Worcestershire spices to the seasonings I develop. I especially like the depth and synergy just a little bit of celery, ginger and orange peel will add to the complexity of a savory seasoning.

Ms. Burkhardt: I like to use mushroom powder because it gives savory umami flavor without being something many people can put their finger on. Umami may help lower added sodium.

Ms. Greene: Using dehydrated vegetables is a great way to add flavor to food, while keeping formulations low in sugar and sodium. They also comply with vegan and vegetarian claims. 

Mr. Warsow: We have ingredient technologies to enhance and boost sweetness through the use of very label-friendly natural flavors, allowing for sugar reductions up to 50%. We also offer sodium reduction solutions that enhance the lower amount of added salt that you can add to your product. These are also labeled as natural flavor.