What is a 'Pinch' of Salt? - October 2018

On 17 October 2018, IFST’s Food Science and Nutrition Group hosted an interesting debate about sodium and the industry challenge of reducing this in our diet. 

Discussion was led by Kate Halliwell, Head of UK Diet and Health Policy at the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) following presentations by 4 industry professionals, all with experience of sodium reduction.

Sarah Coe, British Nutrition Foundation, spoke first, re-iterating that sodium is an essential nutrient, but intake must be significantly reduced in interest of consumer health. The achievable population goal is <6g per day, however average intakes in 2014 were still high at 8g/day, despite significant progress in the last 10 years. SACN’s review of potassium replacers states the benefits outweigh any risks but should be clearly labelled due to associated health risks for vulnerable groups, e.g. those with kidney disease.

The reduction of sodium within the savoury snack industry was highlighted by Sue Gatenby, PepsiCo. Pressure from media and voluntary and regulatory organisations mean sodium reduction is high on the health agenda for the industry. However more consistency in targets is needed particularly as legislation varies between countries. Great progress has already been made within the product portfolio; Sue stressed the importance of being guided by consumer acceptability of taste and convenience, ensuring food safety has not been breached.

Dinnie Jordan from Kudos Blends provided an insight into the technical challenges of sodium reduction in bakery. 1/3 of the sodium in bread comes from salt (sodium chloride), with 2/3 from baking powder. 50% salt reduction within bread has been achieved, but to achieve government targets of <170mg/100g, the sodium content within baking powder (sodium phosphate and sodium carbonate) needs to be addressed. Replacement of sodium phosphate with potassium phosphate seems to, for the moment, provide good quality products but challenges still remain in certain bakery items e.g. scones and crumpets with a high baking powder content.

Finally, new technologies in sodium reduction were discussed by Lindsey Bagley, Eureka, confirming the multi functionalities of salt for taste, preservation and processing. Consumers need time to adjust to a new taste profile, with saltiness being enhanced by glutamate, addition of natural sweetness as well as herbs and spices. Reducing salt, and introduction of potassium, can lead to bitterness which can be masked by use of inorganic salts, as well as amino acids and increased acidity. Other techniques for increasing perceived saltiness relate to salt structure; pulsed delivery, increasing surface area of crystals and using hollow spheres as in Soda-Lo. Sodium does not provide a high % of overall ingredients, so there is sufficient room for industry to embrace a combination of strategies to tackle sodium reduction.

Discussion were led by Kate, with very thought-provoking questions posed. It was agreed that potassium replacers have increased opportunity to further reduce sodium; however negative implications on taste will need to be monitored. Great progress in sodium reduction has been seen so far; however further reduction is more challenging as novel methods/ingredients have to be sought. For a broad impact on total population sodium intake a whole industry approach is necessary to achieve the 6g/day ideal. 

The issue surrounding potassium replacers for vulnerable groups is an issue, and the debate over potassium labelling was raised. No quantitative declaration of potassium is seen on UK products, partly because content varies heavily with season. The example given was potatoes, a huge component of savoury snacks. Potassium analysis of products is not routine analysis within industry; it would be an expensive addition to a label for a minor population set. If potassium was labelled on a food product, to adhere to EU labelling guidelines it then must contribute 15% to the DRV.

Potassium bicarbonate within baked goods, including biscuits, cakes and bread, provided a darker colour/crumb compared to sodium bicarbonate due to its higher alkalinity when tested by Kudos Blends. It is a great addition to biscuits that wish for a golden-brown colour, however could pose issues with increasing acrylamide formed during the Mallaird reaction.

UK government sodium reduction targets are slow due to potential process challenges, allowing for natural adaptation of the palette to lower salt. Children have grown up with low salt foods, therefore expectations differ. ¼ of salt consumed is added to foods; it is not just industry that needs to participate in sodium reduction.

The evening was extremely informative, with great discussions posing both the success of sodium reduction so far, and the challenges still to come. The discussions ended, and networking pursued with an array of salty, savoury snacks – in moderation of course!

Alice Nield, University of Reading