A Stealthy Approach to Sodium Reduction

In a recent interview with Baking & Snack, Mathias Bohn, Senior Product and Strategy Manager, and Liz Kreger, PH.D., Innovation and Analytical Manager, discuss the complexities of sodium reduction in bakery and the need for holistic approaches in development.

As published in a recent issue of Baking & Snacking

Q: Please describe your company’s sodium reduction ingredient technology.

A: [MB] We have a variety of ways to tackle this issue using a spectrum of sodium reduction techniques or flavor enhancement tools. When a company partners with Sensient, we look at the product goals holistically and start by assessing whether we are trying to match an existing product taste or create a new product with a certain flavor profile. Those require different approaches. Then we look at whether the salt in a formulation serves a functional purpose beyond taste, which is often the case in bakery items. For example, salt can be used to control the rate of yeast reproduction, which can provide the desired textures that are crucial to an enjoyable product. We can’t limit our focus to just flavor when sodium is involved in taste, texture, and functional processes.

[LK] We also consider how the consumer’s taste receptors will interact with the food item. For example, let’s look at sodium in bread compared to sodium in a salted caramel candy and how those molecules get to your taste buds. With bread, we chew and turn the dough into a ball before swallowing. Perhaps only 10 percent of the sodium in the food will reach our taste buds. On the contrary, as a caramel candy melts into a sauce in your mouth, there is a lot of interaction with taste buds, so it is easier to detect the salt flavor. Knowing how we expect a product to act in a certain way helps us understand what type of taste modifier or modulator might work best to provide the same flavor sensation overall.

Q: How does this ingredient appear on ingredient statements?

A: [MB] Depending on the way we approach sodium reduction, we have product offerings that range from Natural Flavor to including additional ingredients such as yeast extract, or more based on the requirements of the customer and their consumers. Most of our products are made to be as clean label as possible.

Q: Does it require any special handling at any point during production, distribution, storage or use, as it relates to bakery and snack applications?

A: [MB] The answer to this question, unfortunately, is that it really depends on the product. If we are simply adjusting a topical seasoning that gets sprinkled on after the baking process, like in a chip or cracker, then there is much less accommodation necessary than if we need to change the product formulation altogether. Sometimes we are able to adjust the glaze, so the basic production process is not altered at all. It depends on if it’s a frozen item or is shelf stable, whether we are focusing solely on flavor or including texture and functionality. The easiest answer to this is that we recognize the challenge our customers face when trying to develop lower sodium products, and we enjoy working with them to find a creative solution that meets their flavor goals as well as their branding, budgetary and operational goals.

Q: Please describe how this ingredient can be used to “stealthy” reduce sodium in up to three different grain-based snacks or bakery applications.

  • How is it used, as compared to the full sodium version of the ingredient in the recipe?

A: [MB] Sensient Flavors & Extracts uses an array of sodium reduction techniques and flavor enhancement tools. How we approach the process and formulation depends on whether there is a functional aspect to the salt in the product or whether the goal is to simply match the flavor of a full-sodium product. Our process is not limited by those factors. Rather, we are simply guided to the appropriate solution based on looking at the goals holistically.

  • How much of a sodium reduction can be achieved and with what type of swap/replacement?

A: [MB] Sensient’s flavor technology is designed to reduce sodium content by between 25-40 percent. In addition, our taste enhancement solution can enhance a full range of other positive-attribute flavors to create an enjoyable, complex flavor profile in a wide variety of products.

[LK] We should keep in mind that a gradual reduction in sodium in hopes that consumers won’t notice the small changes over time doesn’t usually work unless that individual person is committed to reducing sodium across their entire diet overall. There is a molecular signaling switch valve associated with the salt taste receptor.  As you add and increase salt in a product the perception flows the direction of the desirable path.  No salt or too little is bland and then the product become more flavorful and good tasting.  If you add too much salt, that valve is going to switch and the perception will flow to the direction of undesirable or even offensive.  Each culinary region and even down to the individual, this desirable range could vary. Anything outside that range won’t taste good to consumers in that market anymore. That can happen in either direction, meaning a product can have too little or too much salt flavor. The idea is to look at your consumer market and determine their tolerance range, and then build a formulation that fits inside that flavor channel using less actual sodium. That type of partnership is where Sensient excels. We don’t use a one-size-fits-all solution, but rather customize a solution using our toolbox of techniques and technologies.

  • Are there any drawbacks to use? Any special steps required?

A: The biggest drawback for any sodium reduction project is cost. Salt is one of the least expensive ingredients that can used in our food products. So, when you are trying to remove or reduce it, a company is usually taking out one of the least expensive elements that also often has a big impact on taste and functionality. And This almost always guarantees they will try to replace the sodium with something more costly. So, our challenge is to figure out how we can get to both a similar taste and cost in use within the product. One answer to that problem is that our flavor enhancers allow us to use less of the ingredients that impact taste in order to align the overall cost with a flavor that performs well. It’s all about balancing taste expectations with nutritional goals to achieve the best product possible. Regulations may start coming into play when it comes to the goals aspect. Countries like Canada and Mexico have established more stringent rules about what can be labeled as healthy, inspiring many companies to prioritize consumer demand for lower sodium products along with taste over cost. Sensient can often find ways to meet all of these objectives.

  • Do you have sensory data to support these sodium reduction formulations?

While we do not have studies specific to testing bakery items, the sensory studies we have done in other categories have shown our sodium-reduction flavor-enhancement technology can be preferred over full-sodium versions when tasted side-by-side.