The Power of Meat 2018 report shows that nearly half (45 percent) of shoppers want to see the sodium content of meat and poultry prominently highlighted on packaging. This is beyond the Nutrition Facts, with callouts on front of packages desirable. This information is more important to Baby Boomers (52 percent) than shoppers aged 18 to 25 (39 percent).

Why do they want this information? It’s because many shoppers are trying to purchase lower-sodium food products in order to reduce intake.

The Food Marketing Institute’s U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2018 report shows that more than one-third (35 percent) of shoppers seek out low-sodium claims when purchasing a food product. It’s more common with females (38 percent) than males (33 percent), and the effort increases with age.

The challenge is that while shoppers want less sodium, they do not want less flavor. Taste reigns.

Beyond salt replacers

There are many sources of sodium in meat and poultry manufacturing. The most common is table salt, chemically known as sodium chloride. Other sources include curing ingredients, phosphates and even some binders and emulsifiers. These ingredients provide functionality to meat systems, so reduction or replacement may impact more than just taste.

“Sodium reduction is quite complex and not easily solved by simply replacing sodium-based ingredients with a single technology,” says Tracy Matteson, technical business development director, taste, Kerry, Beloit, Wisconsin. “It requires a holistic approach, often leveraging multiple technologies and total reformulation of the finished application.”

To compensate for taste only, there are varied ingredient systems, many of which rely on delivering umami. Umami is a pleasant savory taste imparted by the amino acid glutamate, and a number of ribonucleotides, including inosinate and guanylate, which occur naturally in an array of foods including meat, fish, select vegetables and certain cheeses.

Using mushrooms in recipes, such as blended burgers, can reduce the sodium as well as calories and fat.

Mushrooms, for example, contain natural glutamates, which give them their deep, rich savory flavor. The glutamate level in the mushroom increases as it matures; thus, the more mature the mushroom, the more umami it contains.

Using mushrooms in blended burgers, meatballs and other ground meat products may allow for a reduction of sodium, along with a reduction in calories and saturated fat. This blending technique also increases the servings of vegetables in a dish and extends portions.

Any mushroom variety – white button, crimini, portabella, shiitake, etc. – brings umami, flavor, moisture and nutrients to meat and poultry dishes. Creminis and portabellas lend rich flavor and a darker color making them an ideal match for ground beef dishes. White button mushrooms blend seamlessly with ground chicken, turkey and pork. The key is to have the mushrooms match the texture of the meat. If you’re using ground meat for tacos or burgers, finely dice the mushrooms to mimic that crumbled texture. With larger chunks of meat in stews, consider halving or quartering mushrooms to match strips of meat in fajitas. Or for stir fry, slice mushrooms accordingly.

There are ingredient suppliers who have developed technologies to isolate the glutamates from mushrooms and provide them as a concentrated flavor booster.

Greenyard, The Netherlands, one of the world’s largest mushroom processors, developed an ingredient derived from the blanching water the company uses to process its mushrooms into canned, jarred and packaged products. It is 100 percent mushroom juice evaporated into liquid mushroom concentrate or dried into a powder. At a usage level of 0.2 percent to 1.0 percent, it has a neutral flavor with no mushroom taste and enables up to a 50 percent reduction in salt in meat products, ready meals and the seasonings used in meat and poultry.

"Sodium reduction is quite complex and not easily solved by simply replacing sodium-based ingredients with a single technology." -Tracy Matteson

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.

Yeast extracts are recognized for their ability to provide umami flavor and are often part of some salt-reduction system. Some yeast-based taste enhancers provide an additional dimension of flavor through the contribution of roasted flavornotes.

“Our portfolio of yeast extracts can be used to enhance consumer perception of saltiness without adding any additional sodium to the ingredient deck,” says Roger Lane, marketing manager, savory flavors, Sensient Flavors, Hoffman Estates, Illinois. “Since we are primary in yeast extracts and design our own products, we’re able to offer both baker’s and brewer’s yeast as well as provide specific solutions depending on the application challenges.

Yeast extracts are used in a similar way as sodium chloride and are declared on ingredient decks simply as yeast extract. They don’t produce any of the bitterness or chemical notes that can sometimes be a byproduct of the sodium reductionprocess.

“They can be added at the same step as sodium chloride since they are produced in a powder format,” Lane says. “Since our products are designed to each customer’s specific needs, reduction can range from 25 to 40 percent.”

Processors like Oscar Mayer offer a number of lunchmeat products in lower-sodium formulations.

Edlong Corp., Elk Grove Village, Illinois, offers a variety of flavor enhancement technologies to reduce sodium in batters, breadings, marinades and meat seasonings. These solutions may contain yeast and are based on fermentation.

“Both culture and enzyme fermentations have been developed to produce concentrated ingredients that enhance salt perception, therefore allowing reduced sodium levels,” says Beth Warren, chief commercial officer. “Natural dairy flavors or dairy-free flavors with dairy taste profiles, such as sharp cheddars, Parmesans and even bleu cheese flavors can be used to add a savory and umami character that is often missing in reduced-sodium applications.”

Other fermented foods, such as traditionally brewed soy sauce, act as natural flavor potentiators and umami contributors.

“Soy sauce, with a base consisting of four simple ingredients – water, wheat, soybeans and salt – can be used in place of sodium chloride,” says Yusuke Hiraiwa, senior manager, national industrial sales and research and development, Kikkoman Sales USA Inc., San Francisco. “Soy sauce comes in both liquid and dehydrated form. It can be a powerful tool as a flavor enhancer, salt replacer and precursor for reaction flavors, and can create rounded, balanced flavor for virtually any meat or poultry application.”

For extra sodium reduction, Kikkoman offers a soy sauce with 45 percent less sodium than its regular soy sauce.

“We’re using a proprietary process to remove excess sodium and create a higher total nitrogen,” Hiraiwa says. “The resulting ingredient boasts strong flavor and no dilution.”

Za’atar, an increasingly popular Mediterranean-style seasoning based on dried wild thyme, as well as other ethnic seasonings, may assist with reducing sodium while also adding a layer of flavor adventure that today’s consumers crave.

“Our za’atar condiment and spread adds bold and healthy Mediterranean flavor to any meal. It’s plant based, gluten free, clean label, low sodium and sugar free,” says Alexander Harik, co-founder and CEO, Zesty Z: The Za’atar Co., Brooklyn, New York. “It can be mixed into ground meats to make burgers, loaves and balls. Raw meats can marinate in it and then get baked for a crunchy coating. It can be used to encrust meats or applied as a topping to fully cooked meat prior to serving.”

Using potassium chloride as a sodium-reduction solution can help decrease sodium in meat products such as hams and turkey products.

Specialty salts

Remember, sodium chloride provides important functionality to meat and poultry, not just taste. In many applications, partial replacement with potassium chloride delivers both function and flavor. Further, by using potassium chloride as a sodium-reduction solution, meat processors help consumers decrease sodium intake and increase potassium intake, the latter often lacking in many diets.

“When blended with sodium chloride, potassium chloride makes an ideal sodium replacer in meat products, reducing sodium levels by up to 50 percent without significant impact to taste sensory perceptions,” says Tom Katen, senior technical services specialist, Cargill Salt, Minneapolis. “In part, that’s because sodium chloride has bitterness blocking properties.

“Potassium chloride also mimics table salt’s other properties,” Katen says. “Like the sodium chloride it replaces, potassium chloride improves yield and texture, and aids with microbial management for longer shelf life and food safety. From a texture standpoint, potassium chloride can maintain salt’s functional benefits, such as water-binding, to help achieve desired texture attributes like hardness, juiciness, cohesiveness and resistance. Salt plays an important role in food safety, and potassium chloride can be equally as effective at preserving the shelf life by reducing water activity.”

In pepperoni, Cargill scientists have been able to cut sodium content in half using a 50-50 blend of potassium chloride and sodium chloride.

“No additional changes to processing, handling or formulation are required,” Katen says. “We’ve also used potassium chloride to cut sodium chloride levels in half in dry-cured hams.

“To confirm potassium chloride’s impact on yield, we compared the change in yield of 80/20 ground beef cooked to 165˚F,” Katen says. “In our test, we found the yield was similarly improved by the addition of either salt or potassiumchloride.”

Omaha, Nebraska-based NuTek Food Science uses a patented, all-natural process to transform standard potassium chloride into a unique potassium salt crystal. This process increases the potassium salt crystal surface area and eliminates the bitter off flavors commonly associated with standard potassium chloride, according to Barry Knudson, senior vice president, sales.

“Its unique attributes offer clean and simple label opportunities by avoiding the need to use expensive flavor modulators or bitter blockers,” he says. “Our sodium-reduction technology is effective in all meat and poultry applications, including seasoning blends, batters and breadings, brines, tumble-marinated or injected-whole muscle products, chopped and formed patties, hot dogs, and sausage links and patties.”

Potassium chloride is used and functions the same as sodium chloride, because they are both chemically considered salts.

“We performed extensive academic studies of our potassium salt and validated its functionality is equal to sodium salt as it relates to protein extraction, water-holding capacity, cook yields, microbiological inhibition, shelf life, and more,” says Steve Zimmerman, senior director technical sales. “The functionality is critical not only from a food safety perspective but also from an economic and product quality perspective. Simply removing salt in a meat or poultry application to achieve sodium reduction can increase costs due to reductions in yield and shelf life.”

Currently in the US, food companies using potassium chloride in a formulation are required by the US Food and Drug Administration to declare it as such. After an independent survey revealed that some consumers found the chloride portion of the name both less understood and less appealing, and some mistook it for a chemical ingredient, NuTek Food Science submitted a request to FDA asking for the voluntary and optional labeling of potassium chloride as potassium salt by food companies. 

“This petition has gained the attention of other countries where some consumers have a similar impression and lack of understanding of the term chloride,” says Brian Boor, president and chief operating officer. “In markets including Canada and the European Union, the formal requests to allow for the optional and voluntary labeling of potassium chloride as potassium salt are also well underway.”

SaltWorks Inc., Woodinville, Washington, offers an extensive variety of crystal and flake sea salts. Using proprietary processing, the company provides exact and consistent grain sizes that are never chemically treated or bleached.

“Our all-natural sea salts are organic compliant and ideal for clean-label products, a necessity for today’s health-conscious consumers,” says Megan O’Keefe, business manager. “Sea salt can be used in meat and poultry applications that call for salt as an ingredient, from brines and marinades to batters and breading.

“With our wide range of grain sizes and textures, from sea salt as fine as powder to kosher flakes that mix perfectly with other dry ingredients and dissolve quickly for even flavor distribution, we offer natural ingredient salts for practically any meat and poultry formulation,” O’Keefe says. “Our all-natural sea salts offer clean, pure salt flavor with less aftertaste. Some manufacturers have found they are able to reduce their total sodium content without compromising flavor simply by making the switch from refined salt or salts with chemical additives to all-natural sea salts. These salts provide balanced flavor that is never muted or adulterated by anti-caking agents, additives or chemicals.”

SaltWorks provides naturally flavored sea salts to further assist meat and poultry processors with balancing flavor all while keeping labels clean and simple. The cold-smoked sea salt, for example, is simply sea salt smoked with natural wood.

“No liquid smoke or artificial flavorings are added,” O’Keefe says. “This salt adds a smoky flavor note to the application. We offer a large variety of naturally flavored sea salts, from espresso to Thai ginger. No artificial colorants, extracts or processing agents are ever used.”