The experiences of countries that have implemented measures to reduce salt intake in population diets show that salt consumption should be reduced systematically and gradually. Salt (NaCl) affects different properties of food: flavor, preservation and texture. All of this happens in different sizes depending on the type of food product. If salt is used for sensory purposes only, reducing salt in food products is relatively straightforward.
Because foods require some salt for functional reasons, it is an important first step to engage with the food industry to understand the feasibility of reductions in specific foods and also to encourage reformulation efforts. A lack of salt in a food product can lead, for example, to unstable meat emulsion products or bread with a quickly stale and brittle texture and lighter crust color. One of the strategies when dealing with tissue problems with low salt content is to find solutions that have salt-like ionic strength. That’s why salt reduction means striking a balance between taste and side effects. For example, when preparing meat products, salt is not only added to make the food palatable, but also extends the shelf life of dried products.
NaCl is used as an essential ingredient in processed meat due to its antimicrobial effect, its ability to enrich the flavor of the product, and its functionality to dissolve myofibrillar proteins that increase the adhesion and cohesion of meat particles in processed meat products. The antimicrobial effect of salt is based on its ability to reduce water activity. Inhibition of the growth of microorganisms is related to the amount of salt in the aqueous phase of the food. The addition of sodium ions to the meat causes water loss through the semipermeable bacterial membrane. Dehydration is an osmotic shock that can cause bacterial cell death or cause serious injury and cause a significant decrease in bacterial activity.
Salt can also affect the solubility of oxygen, reduce enzymatic activity, or consume energy to exclude sodium ions from cells, which can reduce the growth rate of microorganisms. However, taste and microbial stabilization are not the only reasons for using high sodium / salt levels in food. The salt level is often kept high because of the additional practical roles it provides. The presence of salt in meat products makes meat proteins soluble, activates the extraction of proteins, increases hydration, water holding capacity and the formation of heat-resistant emulsions. Salt increases the cooking efficiency and water of the product. The consequences of salt reduction can affect the shelf life and quality of processed meat products.
Current approaches to reducing salt intake include secretly reducing the salt content, using salt alternatives, or using flavor enhancers. Abatement through stealth consists of stepwise salt reduction over a longer period of time. The main result is that the modification in salinity is not detected by consumers. The result should be acceptable salinity of the product without visible organoleptic changes as determined by consumers. This strategy shows some weaknesses: It is time consuming and also needs to be implemented on a large scale to reach everyone. All producers should be included in the project without compromise, otherwise success will not be achieved. It is unrealistic to expect the industry to do this voluntarily.
Food producers should be encouraged by a well-prepared regulation to gradually limit the amount of salt in products. Although a step-by-step approach to a less salty taste in the initial reduction stage should work, in general only a limited amount of salt can be reduced so that the product does not have an unpleasant taste. An unusual taste is enough reason not to buy a product. When consumers are only informed about a salt-reduced product, they can actually make a preference for a product with a significantly lower salt level. The results of many studies show that salt perception is crucial for consumer acceptance and that a reduction in levels is difficult to achieve without the use of salt substitutes.
A useful strategy for increasing the flavor of reduced-salt foods is based on the use of common salt substitutes (salt substitutes). Among the various options, potassium chloride (KCl) has proven to be the most suitable nutritional component for this purpose. It provides similar properties with general salt (NaCl). Calcium and magnesium salts have many side effects; Calcium chloride (CaC 2) tastes salty but very off, bitter, MgSO taste 4 is generally perceived only at high levels; CaCl 2 can cause tongue irritation. Bidlas and Lambert’s study results confirmed that KCl calculated on a molar basis has an equivalent antimicrobial effect in all foods, including cheese, bread and meat, compared to NaCl.
KCl has many undesirable side effects, the most important of which are relatively unnatural stains: bitterness, astringency, and metallic taste. Commercially available substitutes are usually mixtures of salts containing sodium chloride, potassium chloride, and magnesium sulfate. Many studies have shown that partial substitution of NaCl with salt mixtures has no negative effects on technological and sensory properties. A study of minced meat patties with a mixture of potassium chloride, magnesium sulfate and l-lysine hydrochloride salt found no significant differences in taste compared to those with sodium chloride. However, there are opposite studies.
They evaluated the effect of substituting sodium chloride with potassium chloride, potassium lactate and glycine on the texture, taste, and color of fermented sausages and dry hardened pork fillets. The results confirmed that even partial substitution of sodium chloride with potassium chloride often has a negative effect on the sensory properties and texture of a product.
Grummer et al. analyzed the use of mineral salt substitutes to reduce the sodium content in cheese; KCl, MgCl modified KCl NaCl or sea salt mixtures, 2 or CaC! 2 is used. While potassium chloride did not cause any side effects, both calcium and magnesium chloride caused significantly bad tastes (bitter, metallic, dirty and soapy flavors).
We can conclude that the side effects of alternative recipes are related to the nature of the base material and the concentration of salt substitutes. When consumed in excess, potassium can be harmful for some people. Many people with kidney problems are unable to excrete excess potassium, which can lead to a risky situation as we mentioned in the introduction. People taking heart, kidney or liver medications should consult their personal doctor before using salt substitutes for sodium.
Flavor enhancers are another category of ingredients used to alter the flavoring properties of salt. The most commonly used flavor enhancers are yeast extracts, yeast and vegetable protein hydrolysates, glutamic acid, monosodium glutamate and various nucleotides. Sausages and similar processed meat products are products where low-sodium options are successful. When flavor enhancers are used, the structural functions of salt-soluble proteins need to be partially changed by the addition of gum, soy or milk proteins and starches. Yeast extracts can be successfully added to any food. Functionally, they are used to cover any unwanted bitterness that may be caused by the addition of potassium chloride.
Hydrolyzed vegetable and yeast proteins are flavor enhancers that also contain high levels of glutamate that helps kick-start the umami taste. Partial replacement of salt with monosodium glutamate (<1.0%) did not cause adverse sensory properties of patties, but some studies found high degradation in quality, such as high cooking loss. Some L-arginyl dipeptides have recently been identified as salt flavor enhancers, and as a result there is an increased likelihood of reducing dietary salt intake without sacrificing flavor.
The use of spice mixes and herbs is a promising alternative to improve the quality of reduced-salt food products. By giving a spicy taste and distinct flavor, these mixtures can also suppress or reduce the negative effects caused by the use of potassium chloride and other substitutes. In general, the alternative is easy to apply in industry, restaurants or home cooking.
Author: Ozlem Guvenc Agaoglu