One salt crystal at a time
Umami flavors and potassium bicarbonate may help companies meet the F.D.A.'s voluntary goals for sodium reduction.

KANSAS CITY — Crystal by crystal, gram by gram, taste test by taste test, food and beverage manufacturers gradually are making progress in reducing sodium in their products.

The Food and Drug Administration recommends gradual reductions as well. The agency in the June 2 issue of the Federal Register issued draft guidance for voluntary sodium reduction. The guidance seeks to reduce average sodium intake in the United States from about 3,400 mg per person per day to 2,300 mg per day through 2-year and 10-year voluntary targets.

“People generally do not notice small reductions (about 10% to 15%) in sodium, and over time, taste buds get used to larger changes, especially if they are made incrementally,” the F.D.A. said. “So the F.D.A.’s approach allows consumers to gradually become accustomed to the taste of foods that have less sodium.”

The F.D.A. provided two-year targets for nearly 150 food and beverage categories. Each category has a sales-weighted mean concentration of sodium per 100 grams from a 2010 baseline and a target the category should reach within two years.

“According to the F.D.A., the manufactured and commercial food industry’s part of the diet is adding approximately 825 mg of additional sodium to the average American daily diet beyond their recommendations,” said Kevin McDermott, vice-president and director of sales for Savoury Systems International, Branchburg, N.J. “If the industry can reduce sodium levels of all products by 24% on a per serving basis, that would eliminate the total contribution that is exceeding the daily recommendations. Twenty-four per cent is a very achievable value, especially over time with a goal of maintaining positive and desirable flavor leading to repeat purchase.”

An umami taste may help companies reduce sodium content in savory applications. Umami is the taste contributed by glutamic acid, Mr. McDermott said, while kokumi is the taste contributed from various other amino acids and amino peptide chains.

The voluntary target for deli meats — ham is 1,020 mg of sodium from a 2010 baseline of 1,168 mg. The target for deli meats — beef is 980 mg from 1,120 mg. Other voluntary targets in savory-related categories include canned, ready-to-eat soup (230 mg from 265 mg) and salad dressing (880 mg from 1,047 mg).

Yeast extracts may contribute to an umami taste.

“The usage levels of yeast extracts are very low, making its use a good value while minimizing its cost contribution,” Mr. McDermott said. “At the same time, they work great. Sodium ions create salty taste perception. So once they are removed, that exact taste perception is gone. However, amino acids add umami and kokumi flavor perception back onto the tongue, hitting the same neurological pathway that sodium had.”

The yeast extracts allow consumers to enjoy the taste experience without feeling the need to add more salt, he said.

“This can be extremely effective in a practice recommended by the F.D.A. of slowly reducing the sodium contribution and allowing the customer to adopt to the new taste, which may differ slightly but is still enjoyable,” Mr. McDermott said.

Kikkoman Sales USA, Inc., San Francisco, offers natural flavor enhancement products that have an umami-boosting flavor, aroma and color appropriate for savory applications such as meat, poultry, seafood, soups, dressings, marinades, dry mixes and seasoning applications. A sodium reduction of 30% to 50% is possible, according to the company.

The flavor enhancers contain North American-grown and North American–sourced wheat, soybeans, water and salt. The soybeans are fermented to release high levels of amino acid responsible for the umami effect.

Kikkoman also offers a gluten-free tamari soy sauce with 40% less sodium than regular soy sauce. A proprietary process allows the company to remove excess salt. The soy sauce enhances flavor without the need for monosodium glutamate (msg) or hydrolyzed vegetable protein (hvp).

The gluten-free soy sauce may be used in applications where wheat cannot appear on the label. Potential applications include prepared entrees such as meat, poultry, vegetables and seafood as well as sauces, condiments and dressings.

Jungbunzlauer, Basel, Switzerland, sampled pork and barbecue sauce with reduced sodium levels at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition July 16-19 in Chicago. The company’s sub4salt, a patent mineral salt blend, helped to reduce sodium by 34% in the pulled pork and by 50% in the barbecue sauce.

One salt crystal at a time
In baked foods, sodium may be reduced in leavening applications.

In baked foods, sodium may be reduced in leavening applications. The F.D.A. set a two-year reduction target of 440 mg of sodium per 100 grams for white bread, down from a 2010 baseline of 523 mg of sodium in the sales-weighted mean concentration of sodium per 100 grams. Other two-year targets are 420 mg from 471 mg for wheat and mixed grain bread, 360 mg from 378 mg for English muffins, and 300 mg from 328 mg for muffins.

Potassium bicarbonates may be used as direct replacements for sodium bicarbonates in leavening applications, according to Church & Dwight, Inc., Ewing, N.J. The company’s Flow-K potassium bicarbonate has 39.06 grams of potassium per 100 grams and may be used in such baked foods as biscuits, muffins, cookies, cakes and pancakes. Flow-K has no metallic or fish taste, according to Church & Dwight.

Cargill, Minneapolis, offers an Alberger brand flake salt to reduce sodium, said Janice Johnson, Ph.D., applications leader, salt. The Alberger salt comes in the form of an inverted hollow pyramid compared to a denser cube form in regular table salt. Alberger salt has a lower salt density and provides a burst of salty flavors in applications, Dr. Johnson said. Sodium reduction of 30% may be achieved through the incorporation of Alberger in snack products like chips and crackers.

Dr. Johnson said many companies already have achieved the two-year sodium reduction targets set by the F.D.A. Mixed dishes still might be a problem. For example, a company might rely on one supplier for meat in a mixed dish and on another supplier for cheese. A reduced sodium system might work alone in the meat but not as well when the meat is in a mixed dish. The same situation could happen with cheese.

Hitting the 10-year F.D.A. targets will prove more difficult, Dr. Johnson said. Sodium reductions of 50% or more from the 2010 baseline could cause structural problems. Cheese fermentation also could be an issue.