The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2017 Annual Food and Health Survey showed that more than half of shoppers compare the sodium content of foods. For about a third of these shoppers, this is a new activity for them this year. It’s expected that others will join in on this effort as a way to improve health.
In response, food companies are reformulating current products to contain less sodium, and when doing so, not always necessarily flagging the reduction on product labels. This is because some consumers associate a reduction with inferior taste. Other processors do make reduction claims with hopes of converting shoppers back into purchasers.
Meat and poultry processors recognize that many of the ingredients used to make prepared and packaged products more delicious, visually appealing, safe and affordable, are sources of sodium. Therefore, it is essential that product developers look at all ingredients and their functions when attempting to reduce sodium in a finished product.
The primary source of sodium is salt chloride, or simply salt, which is used in brines, marinades and seasonings. Salt is included directly in batters and breadings, with the latter often based on chemically leavened bread crumbs, where the chemical leavening agent may be a source of sodium, e.g., sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). Curing agents, namely sodium nitrite, contribute to total sodium content, as do cure accelerators such as sodium ascorbate and sodium erythorbate. Common food safety ingredients based on acetates and lactates typically come as a sodium salt. Water-binding ingredients, specifically phosphates, can be significant sources of sodium, too. Other water binders and extenders, such as proteins and fibers, inherently contain some sodium and should also be considered in any sodium-reduction effort.
Altering any of these influential sodium-containing ingredients in a product formula could have significant impact on the finished product; changes require a high level of scrutiny so that the finished product remains on par, according to Janice Johnson, research development manager, Cargill, Minneapolis.
“Cost is also a consideration when contemplating the reduction of sodium in meat products,” Johnson says. “Manufacturers must consider the price of ingredients and replacement ratios, as often non-salt ingredients cost more than salt.”
For many processors, potassium chloride is an economical solution to salt. It mirrors salt’s function and flavor, making potassium chloride easy to formulate into existing product lines.
“Potassium chloride can help processors and foodservice operators dramatically reduce the amount of sodium in their products, while still meeting consumers’ taste and appearance expectations,” says John O’Dwyer, central sales lead, Cargill Salt. “We have provided potassium chloride to our food customers for a long time. However, as demand continues to grow, we are upgrading our potassium chloride portfolio and capacity to provide the supply our customers need.”
One of the company’s newer potassium chloride ingredients relies on patent-pending compacting technology to combine salt and other ingredients. The compacting process applies pressure to the ingredients to create an agglomerated, or clustered, thin flake with properties including uniform consistency, low bulk density, high solubility and a large surface area. The result is a great-tasting flake that, when compared to dry blended or granulated products, has superior adherence for topical applications, such as rubs and seasoning blends for meat products.
Potassium can also be used as a substitute for sodium on phosphates. Phosphates increase the water-binding capacity of proteins by raising their pH. Higher pH opens up fibrous proteins, allowing moisture migration, which the proteins grab onto. This binding of water increases yields. The proteins also are better able to retain marinade and cook juices, thereby reducing purge and assuring that meat is succulent once cooked.
In recent years, dairy-derived permeate has emerged as a partial replacement for sodium chloride in meat and poultry products. Permeate is a coproduct of the production of various dairy protein ingredients. To concentrate the protein in these ingredients, 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 labelled 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,” says Kimberlee Burrington, dairy ingredient applications coordinator, Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, Madison, Wisconsin. “The lactose in permeate provides an effective starter culture carbohydrate for the preparation of fermented sausages and cooked hams.”
A rather new player in this sodium-reduction space is Merisal Sea Salt, a business unit of Carolina Ingredients, Rock Hill, South Carolina. The company harvests mineral salts directly from ocean sea water, which allows the ingredient label to simply state “sea salt.” The ingredient is a natural blend of sodium and trace minerals and contains anywhere between 25 percent and 57 percent less sodium than regular table salt.
“Our lower-sodium sea salts are clean tasting and can often be used as a one-for-one replacement of salt,” says Addison Gilbert, product development coordinator at Merisal. “Depending on the application you may need to tweak the replacement level to meet specific sodium and sensory requirements. Applications include cured and processed meats, sausages, injected meats, and functional brine solutions.”
Mushrooms are a source of umami, the basic taste that assists with sodium reduction. This comes from the natural glutamates that give mushrooms their deep, rich savory flavor. The glutamate level in the mushroom increases as it matures from a button to a flat mushroom, according to the company. Generally speaking, the more mature the mushroom, the more umami it contains. These valuable glutamates from mushrooms are isolated from the blanching water the company uses to process its mushrooms into canned, jarred and packaged products.
“The presence of umami can naturally enhance the saltiness of a product, helping food developers increase flavor sensation while keeping sodium content to a minimum,” says Semaat Direnc, sales manager. “The ingredient also highlights sweetness, lessens bitterness, counterbalances saltiness and can contribute 25 to 50 percent of a salt reduction without compromising flavor.
“The ingredient is 100 percent mushroom juice evaporated into liquid mushroom concentrate or dried into a powder,” Direnc says. “At a usage level of 0.2 percent to 1.0 percent, it has a neutral flavor with no mushroom taste. As a concentrated source of umami, it allows for a reduction in salt in meat products, ready meals and the seasonings used in meat and poultry.”
Orange, New Jersey-based Lycored offers a natural taste enhancer derived from specialty tomatoes. This extract – available in liquid and powder form – is declared simply as tomato concentrate.
“It is designed to foster a balanced roundness, intensity and lingering taste in foods,” says Christiane Lippert, head of marketing. “Our tomatoes provide a high concentration of naturally occurring compounds that provide a combination of umami and kokumi, the Japanese term for deliciousness. Thanks to these natural taste effects, there is less need to use artificial or unhealthy ingredients such as salt and monosodium glutamate.”
Using this tomato extract allows for a reduction of up to 30 percent sodium in many applications, including deli-style meats. It is extremely versatile and can be used in spice blends, seasonings and marinades.
Salt of the Earth, Israel, developed a proprietary savory mix of quality sea salt and vegetable extracts rich in umami. The new formula is designed to reduce sodium and monosodium glutamate in processed meat applications. The savory profile is derived from three extracts: tomato, shiitake mushroom and kombu seaweed. In precise combination with pure Red Sea salt, it can enhance flavor while helping reduce sodium by up to 45 percent in hamburgers and meatballs and by 33 percent in hot dogs and similar sausages without affecting the taste of the final product.
“Consumers are concerned more than ever about sodium content in their foods, but refuse to compromise on taste-and, of course, they also demand a clean label,” says Revital Ben Shachar, marketing manager. “Our sodium reduction ingredient is designed to address these needs and keep the consumer-craved salty, savory flavor. This highly cost-effective ingredient thus allows processors to meet all consumer demand targets.”
The company received the IFT17 Food Expo Innovation Award for this ingredient at the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) annual meeting this past June in Chicago.
At IFT, Lenexa, Kansas-based Corbion launched a clean-label antimicrobial for mold inhibition and pathogen protection in meat and poultry products, even in applications most vulnerable to mold such as high-moisture meat snacks. Based on cultured sugar and vinegar, the antimicrobial system has been shown to be effective in some meat snacks with lower salt contents and higher pH. The powder system itself contains 35 percent less sodium when compared to competing powdered antimicrobial products.
When it comes to lowering the sodium content of meat and poultry products, it’s important to look at all sources of sodium, not just salt. Greater reductions are often possible when more ingredient swaps are made.