There is still much to explore, and gain, in salt reductionPublished: 23-05-2017, | Member: NIZO
From soups to meat products, the Dutch R&D company NIZO has supported a broad range of food manufacturers in establishing significant salt reductions. “The secret is to look beyond simple sodium replacement by combining different salt-reduction strategies”, stresses Peter de Kok.
How can we maintain a product’s unique taste profile with reduced salt levels? Should the label mention lower salt content? Can we eradicate potassium’s metallic aftertaste? And stop or retard bacterial outgrowth in reformulated products? Such are the challenging questions manufacturers bring to NIZO.
“We focus on label-friendly salt reduction”, says Peter de Kok, NIZO’s Expertise Group Leader Flavour & Texture. “We do so by innovating natural solutions that need not be declared on the label or increase E-numbers.”
NIZO follows an integrated approach in three areas: modulation of salt release, taste-flavor interactions and natural, salt-enhancing components. “First we determine how much salt is released from a product, and at what speed”, explains De Kok. “In certain products 80% of the salt is consumed without people being able to taste it. The trick is to ensure every ‘grain’ released is noticed.”
In addition to increasing the availability of ‘tastable’ salt, the impact of salt can be intensified by distributing the salt unhomogeneously in food products rather than thoroughly mixing the salt in. With solid products this impact is, for example, achieved via layers of alternating high and low salt content. This solution was developed and tested within TiFN, a public-private partnership in which NIZO is a research partner. “The technology allows us to reduce bread salt levels by 20%–30% without affecting the salty taste of these products”, says De Kok.
Advanced confocal microscopy has become NIZO’s key tool when researching combined flavor-texture issues. “It allows us to visualize, in real-time, the ingredients present in complex food matrices and the nature of salt release”, says De Kok.
The flavor of the sea
Another exciting development path is the modulation of taste-flavor interaction. “It is common to say that something has a sweet aroma”, De Kok illustrates. “An aroma cannot be sweet, but people associate certain food aromas with a sweet taste.” Salt contains components that people associate with a salty taste. “When you are able to identify and isolate such components and their effects, you can use them, in almost any product, to enhance salty-taste perception.”
NIZO has invested in advanced, in-house technology to obtain these data: examples include a mass spectrometer for detecting volatile compounds coupled to a gustometer or an olfactometer, instruments that allow screening for components (taste and aroma compounds respectively) that could enhance salty taste. “Using these tools, in a recent project to reduce salt in meat using aroma compounds identified from bacon, we achieved a 20% cut”, says De Kok.
NIZO is also investigating the possibilities inherent in adding salt-taste enhancing ingredients, such as mushrooms, cheese and spices/herbs, to salt-reduced foods.
Cutting by half
According to De Kok, major salt-reductions are possible; far beyond the expectations of manufacturers. “In a recent consortium project, the Kraft Heinz Company challenged us to reduce the salt content of three of their products by 50%. In two out of three products this goal was achieved without any noticeable effect on the product’s taste”, he stresses. He advises producers to think beyond sodium replacement and use a combined strategy for optimum performance. “There is still much to explore, and gain, in salt reduction.”
Offering taste and smell separate from texture and mouthfeel offer methods for testing and optimising the sensory performance of a food. For salt reduction programs, salty taste enhancement and off-flavour masking (e.g. bitterness) were studied.
Olfactoscan, a proprietary NIZO technology allowing to scan the sensory effect of taste (gustometer producing reference stimuli of a taste) and aroma combinations (GC to offer “shots” of aroma packages) allowing an assessor to report synergy or masking effects. This technique was used to identify aroma systems that enhance salt intensity.
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