KANSAS CITY — A nutrient sought in food applications for its health benefits, potassium could improve the nutritional profile of plant-based meat alternatives as well. Potassium chloride often is used to replace sodium chloride in formulations, and plant-based meat alternatives are not an exception.
A report issued in 2018 from Action on Salt, a London-based group supported by 22 scientific members, found vegetarian burgers, at 0.89 grams of salt per serving, were saltier than beef burgers, at 0.75 grams per serving. Action on Salt collected nutrition data on 157 meat alternative products and 37 beef burgers.
Plant-based alternatives for burgers and sausages, as well as crumbles, tend to have more salt than other plant-based items, like tofu, said Janice Johnson, PhD, food science lead for Cargill Salt, Minneapolis.
“Potassium chloride does a really good job at trying to replace partial usage of the salt in the formula, and by doing that you can actually help reduce the sodium content in the finished product,” she said.
Potassium chloride may replace 20% to 35% of the salt, but then taste becomes an issue at higher reductions.
“That’s probably the biggest hurdle to overcome when you’re thinking about a full 100% replacement of salt with potassium chloride,” Dr. Johnson said of taste.
NuTek Natural Ingredients, Minneapolis, offers a Salt for Life product that has been shown to reduce sodium by 30% to 50% in plant-based meat alternatives and alternate dairy applications, said Scott Keys, vice president – salt solutions. Salt for Life has been shown to reduce sodium in not only plant-based protein products but also baked foods, meat and poultry, dairy items and snack applications. Salt for Life uses a process to eliminate off-flavors without having to use bitter-blockers or artificial ingredients.
“An innovative process of washing and drying the sodium crystals along with the potassium crystals unlocks the full potential of potassium salt allowing unprecedented levels of sodium replacement by optimizing flavor while maintaining functionality and overall product quality,” Mr. Keys said.
While potassium chloride contributes typical saltiness, high levels often exhibit bitter or metallic notes, said Diane Hnat, technical services manager for The Wright Group, Lafayette, La. SuperCoat is a coated or encapsulated form of a nutrient produced by The Wright Group using one of several fat- or cellulose-based ingredients in order to mitigate, delay or diffuse an unappealing off-taste or flavor note.
“Sodium chloride is an inexpensive taste enhancer,” Ms. Hnat said. “Whereas potassium chloride also can enhance flavor and contribute saltiness, the type of food/beverage application and level of sodium chloride replacement is important. Certain mixing, blending and compression processes such as those used for producing nutrition bars can successfully use SuperCoat nutrient forms.”
Sodium chloride also acts as a preservative in some foods and may assist in texture development, she said. How a plant-based meat alternative is processed by the manufacturer (or even ultimately prepared by the consumer) would help dictate how much or whether a SuperCoat potassium chloride could or would be used.
Potassium bicarbonate also may be used in certain applications to reduce sodium. Church & Dwight Co., Inc., Ewing, NJ, offers Flow K potassium bicarbonate as a replacement for sodium bicarbonate in leavening systems in applications like cakes, muffins, biscuits, cookies and pancakes.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 listed potassium as a nutrient of public health concern because low intakes are associated with health concerns. A scientific report issued this July by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee also listed potassium as a nutrient of public health concern, which increases the likelihood it will remain so in the upcoming, updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Incorporating potassium chloride may help companies achieve claims of “good source” or “excellent source” of potassium.
“If a product already contains a moderate baseline amount of potassium nutrient, the addition of Salt for Life can help increase the levels of potassium to the threshold needed for ‘good source’ claims,” Mr. Keys said.
Good source claims are possible in plant-based meat alternatives, soups, prepared meals, healthy snacks and nutritional/sports beverages, he said.
Claims in snacks are possible, Dr. Johnson said.
“I think the classic example is looking at potato chips because potatoes have a very high level of potassium,” she said.