ROSEMONT, ILL. – Recommendations to reduce the sodium content in food and beverage products continue and the industry is responding. The challenge facing product formulators is developing strategies that are acceptable to consumers and make sense from a cost perspective, according to two speakers during a session at the Institute of Food Technologists’ Wellness 13 conference on Feb. 28.

While the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the World Health Organization and the American Heart Association have recommended maximum limits for daily sodium consumption, the industry still faces headwinds when lowering sodium levels, according to Rachel Cheatham, Ph.D., vice-president of nutrition communications for Weber Shandwick, Chicago. She cited International Food Information Council survey statistics that show nearly four in 10 Americans believe the taste of low sodium products is inferior. For a hopeful sign in the same survey, she said nearly two-thirds of American said they believe their taste preferences may change over time as the amount of salt in products is reduced.

In the same session, Robert Sobel, Ph.D., director of technology and innovation at FONA International, Geneva, Ill., listed four strategies in enhancing sodium taste, which decreases the amount of sodium needed to achieve a desired flavor in products.

Using smaller salt microspheres may make more sodium available in the mouth for tasting before it is swallowed, he said. Normally, only about a quarter of salt is perceived in the mouth and the rest is swallowed. The smaller salt microspheres create a greater surface area and dissolve faster, which means they more readily interact with the tongue and consumers experience a greater salt perception in the mouth since less salt is swallowed. Salt reductions of up to 50% in products have been achieved with smaller salt microspheres, he said.

Aromas are another strategy to enhance sodium perception, Dr. Sobel said. Possible ingredient additions may be sweet, sour or salty from an aroma perspective. The aroma of vanilla extracts has been shown to enhance salt perception, as have sardine and cheese extract aromas when used at low levels.

For a third strategy, congruent flavors from certain salt-congruent compounds may enhance salt perception. Finally, umami compounds such as Parmesan, soy sauce, green tea and tomatoes may provide salt enhancement.

Dr. Sobel said all four strategies will cost more than simply adding salt to products. Food and beverage companies may pay as little as 10c a lb for salt, he said.

“Salt is very, very cheap,” Dr. Sobel said. “You can’t really touch any of these technologies for 10 cents a lb.”