As tortillas become more ingrained in the American diet, reducing their sodium content may become more of a priority. According to the 2012 Packaged Facts report “Hispanic foods and beverages in the U.S., 5th edition,” flour tortillas have a 43% household usage rate in the United States.
Tortillas and their sodium levels appear in food service as well. A soft flour tortilla at Chipotle has 640 mg of sodium, and the sodium levels combined for all the ingredients in McDonald’s snack wraps range from 650 mg to 1,040 mg.
Since the U.S. Department of Agriculture set nutrition standards in the national school lunch and breakfast programs nearly a year ago, efforts to remove sodium from tortillas have intensified, said John Brodie, technical service manager, bakery, for Innophos, Cranbury, N.J.
Yet tortilla manufacturers face constraints in reducing sodium because they work with a limited number of ingredients in their products, he said. Cost issues also arise.
“The problem with the tortillas market is, it’s very price-sensitive,” Mr. Brodie said. “Taking out salt with a salt replacer at 8 to 10 times the cost is not an option. It’s the same with replacing sodium bicarbonate with potassium bicarbonate. It’s not a good option cost-wise.”
Tortilla manufacturers may be able to decrease salt content by 20% without affecting taste, he said. More reduction may come by altering chemical leavening systems.
Cal-Rise, a calcium acid pyrophosphate and monocalcium phosphate leavening acid from Innophos, may replace SAPP 28 (sodium acid pyrophosphate) in chemical leavening systems to achieve 20% sodium reduction.
Sodium reduction in tortillas may be achieved through a multi-ingredient approach, said Elizabeth Heisler, a research chemist at ICL Performance Products, St. Louis. The approach may include low or no sodium leavening acids; salt replacement with Salona low sodium sea salt, a product from ICL Food Specialties; and partial replacement of sodium bicarbonate with potassium bicarbonate.
“Generally, the first step would be to reduce salt level and possibly consider salt replacement, then adjust or replace the leavening acids, and if further sodium reduction is needed, consider the bicarbonate source,” Dr. Heisler said.
ICL Performance Products offers both Levona.Opus and Levona.Brio leavening acids for use in tortillas. Levona.Opus, with slow-delayed leavening action, is more for use with frozen and refrigerated products. Levona.Brio, a faster grade of leavening acid, is more for “better-for-you” cakes, biscuits, muffins, tortillas and baking powders.
This past year Cargill, Minneapolis, showed how its SodiumSense system may reduce sodium by 25% in chicken quesadillas. At the 2012 Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition in Las Vegas, Cargill used potassium chloride as an ingredient in the tortilla, chicken, cheese and salsa of a chicken quesadilla that contained 680 mg of sodium per serving compared to a traditional one with 930 mg of sodium per serving.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommends that people reduce their sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day while a further reduction to less than 1,500 mg per day is recommended for people who are age 51 and older and people of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.