by Toni Tarver
Although the movement to reduce sodium intake is underway, strategies to limit sodium in foods are diverse and not as straightforward as simply reducing the use of salt in food preparation. During Session 183, “Reducing Sodium in Foods: Implications for Flavor and Health,” presenter Russell Keast of Deakin University in Australia pointed out that humans have a biological imperative for sodium intake. Because of organisms’ evolutionary transition from sea to land, cells require a saline (i.e., salty) solution to function properly. For this reason, humans have a dietary requirement for sodium and an urge for it as well. Yet some humans crave more saltiness than others and have far more sensitive taste receptors than others.
According to presenter John Hayes of Pennsylvania State University, biological differences in taste perception exist, and optimal salt levels differ by sex (male vs. female). These genetic tasting factors make the relationship between saltiness and food likability a complex issue than cannot be solved by unilaterally cutting the salt level of foods across the board. Janice Johnson of Cargill Inc., emphasized that sodium reduction in foods is very challenging for the food industry. It involves achieving desired flavor attributes, which varies by type of food, and maintaining a salt level that maintains a high microbial management for food safety purposes. Food manufacturers are therefore identifying all ingredients in food formulations that are sources of sodium so that sodium reduction can be a multilateral approach.
Chefs are also working to reformulate recipes to reduce sodium in restaurant food. Presenter Chris Loss of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) says that most chefs refrain from relying solely on salt to season food. Instead, chefs use salt as a conduit to increase the flavor, depth, and texture of other flavorful ingredients such as herbs and spices and fruits and vegetables (e.g., onions, garlic). In addition, they rely on various culinary techniques (i.e., cooking and preparation methods) to enhance the natural flavor of foods. For example, the CIA determined that a 40% reduction in salt use can be achieved without a decrease in a food’s likability factor by seasoning the food on the surface after cooking.
With these insights into the prepping and cooking of food, the solution to reducing America’s sodium intake may not be simple but it will certainly be flavorful.