Sandwich plate
The sauces and marinades used to flavor prepared meats such as roast beef and pulled pork are often a significant source of sodium. Reducing usage levels or opting for lower-sodium versions may improve nutrition profiles..

A toolbox of ingredient options

Processors have a range of ingredient systems to lower sodium content without impacting taste, and when it comes to some meat and poultry, safety and functionality, too. Finding a suitable substitute for sodium chloride has historically been difficult because of salt’s unique clean taste and flavor-enhancing properties. However, when it comes to function, sodium and potassium work similarly in managing moisture to reduce microbial growth and control the onset of pathogens, which is why some meat and poultry processors often replace some sodium chloride with potassium chloride in order to reduce sodium content. There is also often a partial swap of sodium phosphates with potassium versions.

The drawback to traditional potassium-based ingredients is that the salty flavor is tasted slower than that of the sodium-based counterpart. Potassium is also known to have a bitter aftertaste. In recent years, suppliers have managed to identify various technologies to overcome or mask potassium’s bitterness with the use of other ingredients or processing technologies.

“We tend to focus too much on the concept of reduction, of taking something away,” Ms. Lippert said. “Hence, many manufacturers will do nothing more than reduce the sodium levels in their meats in the hope that consumers won’t notice.

“Processors are smart to not just reduce sodium, but also to reformulate with natural flavor enhancers,” Ms. Lippert said. “Do not just take something away from the product, but add ingredients that enhance taste characteristics.”

Some suppliers offer flavors that function as bitter blockers, which assist with the swap of potassium chloride for sodium chloride. There are also metallic blockers that assist when other minerals are used for enhancing purposes. Sometimes what works best is to use a multi-system approach.

Another option is mineral-rich sea salts, often times blends of salts, to achieve more salty taste with less sodium. Suppliers have learned that even varying the cut of the salt crystal can have an impact on salty perception in some applications.

Jungbunzlauer Inc., Newton Center, Mass., offers a salt replacer based on sodium chloride, potassium chloride and sodium gluconate. It gives the same salty flavor, functionality and ease of use as salt, but with a 35% sodium reduction when directly replaced, according to the company. There’s also a system designed to function as a reduced-sodium curing salt. Its use is similar to regular curing salt and is designed to replace both the added salt and curing salt in the formula.

Yeast extracts are recognized for their ability to provide umami flavor and are often part of some salt-reduction systems. Some yeast-based taste enhancers provide an additional dimension of flavor through the contribution of roasted flavor notes.

AkzoNobel, The Netherlands, developed a sodium-reduction system that brings different ingredients together in a new grain of salt. It is said to contain the optimal balance of sodium salt, potassium salt and flavor, often in the form of yeast extract. The flavor brings back the salty taste while masking the negative taste of the potassium salt. All of the ingredients are homogenously combined into a single grain making it a one-to-one replacer of regular salt.

In recent years, permeate has emerged as a partial replacement for sodium chloride in meat and poultry products. Permeate is a coproduct of the production of whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, ultra-filtered milk, milk protein concentrate or milk protein isolate, ingredients used in many foods and beverages for protein fortification. To concentrate the protein in these ingredients, select components, mainly minerals, are filtered out. These minerals have been shown to enhance the salt characteristics in a range of foods including fully cooked meat and poultry products, such as sausages and luncheon meat. Permeate is labeled simply as dairy product solids on the ingredient panel and has minimal contribution to sodium content.

“In addition to reducing the sodium in meats, permeate can enhance browning, mask bitter flavors and improve structure formation,” said Kimberlee Burrington, dairy ingredient applications coordinator at the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, Madison, Wis. “The lactose in permeate provides an effective starter culture carbohydrate for the preparation of fermented sausages and cooked hams.”

Salt of the Earth developed an all-natural, liquid sodium-reduction ingredient based on sea salt and umami-rich vegetable products, such as tomato concentrate, and mushroom and seaweed extracts.

“Our sodium-reduction ingredient is a ready-to-use formulation,” Ms. Ben Shachar said. “It can help reduce sodium intake up to 45% in hamburgers and meatballs, and by 33% in hot dogs. Another benefit is that it can help eliminate use of monosodium glutamate.”

Lycored offers a tomato-derived concentrate that enhances the taste of a wide range of diverse products, including whole muscle injected meats; chunk and form reconstructed mechanically deboned meats; cooked sliced meats and sausages, according to Ms. Lippert. It can be can be declared as tomato concentrate.

“It is an extremely versatile ingredient that allows manufacturers to entirely remove other ingredients with negative connotations such as monosodium glutamate, artificial taste enhancers and yeast,” Ms. Lippert said. “It is not merely a replacement for salt. It is a catch-all taste improver that helps manufacturers ‘clean up’ their entire label.

“Maybe it’s time to change our mind set on sodium reduction. Reducing salt does demand strategic new approaches to the formulation of meat products, but manufacturers who are ahead of the game open up new opportunities in terms of flavor enhancement, clean labeling and consumer appeal.”