Formulators use spices and spice blends both to replace some salt and to mask the taste of substitutes. McCormick (www.mccormick.com), Sparks, Md., has a large line of Perfect Pinch spice blends, for example. Soy and other sauces, yeast extracts and monosodium glutamate have been used to enhance and brighten foods. Sensient's Umami Natural clean-label flavor enhancer consists of a blend of dehydrated vegetables that can be used to provide a flavor boost, Lane says.
Flavor houses offer customized masking solutions for reduced-sodium products. Saltiness can even be influenced by vinegar, which studies show either enhances or suppresses the perception of salt, depending on the concentration, notes Esmond Joseph, R&D director for Mizkan America (www.mizkan.com), Mt. Prospect, Ill. "Vinegar possesses some of the characteristics of salt (acidic, tangy and sour), and if used at the right concentration in a dressing, sauce or flavor base, can lead to the reduction of the overall salt level," he says. "It also increases microbial stability, because of its high acidity. Increasing acids decreases the overall pH of a product or formulation. Companies are also exploring herbs, lemon, yeast extracts and various cooking techniques such as roasting and stewing to help concentrate flavor without adding salt."
Jean Shieh, marketing manager at Sensient Natural Ingredients, Turlock, Calif., says don't forget umami. "It's found naturally in meat, fish, dairy and many vegetables," she says. "To compensate for a reduction in a salty taste, the most natural way might be to boost the umami taste to brighten up the remaining tastes and round out the overall flavor profile."
Sensient's sodium reduction solutions are designed to remove a portion of the sodium while maintaining a saltiness perception. SensaSalt yeast extracts contain high 5' nucleotides to enhance specific flavors of a product while reducing sodium levels by 33 to 50 percent, adds Lane.
Salt icon Morton Salt (www.mortonsalt.com), Chicago, offers a range of salt alternatives such as KaliSel high-purity potassium chloride, used as a taste enhancer, processing agent, stabilizer, gelling agent and preservative. Morton Lite Salt Mixture is a 50/50 blend of salt and potassium chloride, and Morton also makes topping salts that help reduce sodium in snacks. "Our food-grade dendritic salt, Star Flake, is a powdery, fine-grain crystallized version, formed in porous, star-shaped modified cubes," says Denise Lauer, director of communications & corporate brand strategy. "It imparts a rapid saline taste that can be used in cracker applications. Often, when salt is reduced, two or three ingredients may have to compensate. The product developer may have to reduce the cost of other ingredients if cost parity is needed."
Lauer admits, no single substitute ingredient works effectively in all food applications. "There's no magic bullet. But alternatives such as potassium chloride can help consumers increase potassium in their diets along with other sources such as fruits, vegetables and dairy products."