In the fourth part of our series on salt reduction, we look at the rise of sea salt-flavoured products, predominantly in the snack-food area.
The presence of sea salt on labels, particularly in products that would otherwise just be salted, is increasing. According to Mintel’s Global New Product Database (GNPD) there were 1,573 product launches across Europe in 2007, 1,971 in 2008, and an impressive 2,621 last year. There have already been 171 launches in 2010.
But why the increase in sea salt products? Is it tapping the ‘natural’ trend, the ‘healthy’ trend, the ‘premium’ trend, or all of the above?
A spokeswoman from Tyrrell’s Hand Crafted Potato Chips in Herefordshire in the UK said that products are not marketed for the extra mineral content of the salt. “There is a perception of sea salt being a premium product, but we chose it because it provided a very nice seasoning,” she said. The company’s range includes lightly sea salted, cider vinegar and sea salt, or sea salt and black pepper. Tyrrell’s is supplied exclusively by Maldon Sea Salt in Essex.
“Maldon presented their product and we got good feedback from taste panelists,” said the spokeswoman. “And it’s supplied in a format that we can easily use to season our potato chips.”
Better or less bad?
Salt is of course a vital nutrient and is necessary for the body to function, but the average daily salt consumption in the western world, between 10 and 12g, vastly exceeds recommendations from WHO/FAO of 5 grams per day to control blood pressure levels and reduce hypertension prevalence and related health risks in populations.
A perception amongst consumers is that sea salt is somehow better than table salt, based on the presence of additional minerals in sea salt such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, as well as bromide, and bicarbonate.
Alison Lea-Wilson, a partner at the Anglesey Sea Salt Company, said that the company cannot make health claims. “What we can say is that it’s less unhealthy given that it’s additive-free. Sea salt does not contain any anti-caking agents.”
“We can also prove that there are trace elements. And you need less of our salt to season food to obtain the same taste profile [as you’d get from table salt],” she added
A spokesperson for the UK’s Food Standard Agency said it is regularly asked the difference between sea salt and table salt.
“Sea salt is no better for you than table salt,” said the spokesperson. “They both contain sodium chloride.”
Katharine Jenner, nutritionist and campaign manager for salt reduction campaigners the Consensus for Action on Salt & Health (CASH) echoed the FSA’s stance. “Any salt is salt,” she said. “Where we are concerned, in hypertension and stroke, and so on, there is no difference.”
The scientific literature is also lacking in studies to support the potential benefits of sea salt compared to table salt, despite claims by some that the presence of other minerals actually helps reduce blood pressure, or boost kidney health.