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Savoury smells could help to slash salt: Unilever study

By Nathan Gray , 24-May-2011
Last updated the 31-May-2011 at 16:17 GMT

Savoury aromas may help to boost salt reduction strategies by masking the tastes of sodium replacers such as potassium chloride, according to a new study from Unilever scientists.

The research, published in Journal of Food Science, reports that a combination of potassium chloride based salt replacer and savoury aromas could compensate for a 30 per cent reduction in sodium without significantly changing flavour profiles. It is proposed as one element in a wider toolbox for reducing salt in food products.

“This study shows that it is possible to compensate salt reduction in instant bouillons by higher levels of savoury aroma,” said the Unilever scientists, led by Dr Max Batenburg of Unilever R&D Vlaardingen.

“The extra aroma was also found to ameliorate the off-flavour of potassium-based salt replacers, and combinations of extra aroma and salt replacers could replace significant amounts of sodium chloride while keeping the original flavour profile intact,” they said.

Batenburg and his colleagues said that with the food industry under high pressure to significantly reduce the salt levels in their products, the new findings could help formulators to reach reduction targets without affecting product quality.

Salt reduction

According to the World Health Organisation, the current sodium chloride daily intake in western countries ranges between 9 and 12 grams per day (and has been reported to be as high as 16 grams per day in the USA). The current recommendations are to reduce this level to around 5 grams per day.

“Approximately 75% of the salt consumed is derived from processed foods, and hence, the food industry is urged by national authorities and intergovernmental bodies to reduce the sodium levels in their products,” said the authors.

However a decrease in sodium content is often associated with a decreased consumer acceptance. It is therefore important for industry to compensate for the sensory effects of salt as they reformulate lower sodium products.

These compensatory strategies include using salt replacers sourced from other minerals (such as potassium), using salty aromas and ‘top notes’ to boost the flavour perception of sodium, developing innovative texture solutions which allow for high and low salt areas in foods, and the use of taste enhancers to boost the perception of salty flavours in low salt foods.

Study details

The new study investigated the practical applicability of aroma and taste interactions as a tool for salt reduction without change of sensory profile.

The researchers demonstrated that at least a 15 per cent salt reduction can be compensated by the use of savoury aromas.

They said that the combination of aromas with mineral-based salt replacers can offer salt reduction of around 30 per cent.

“Not only could saltiness be enhanced by addition of extra savoury flavourings … it was also found that this can be accomplished without significant change of the overall flavour pattern,” they said.

However, Batenburg and his colleagues noted that although a 30 per cent sodium reduction is significant, it is not sufficient to meet the WHO guidelines, “and hence, our toolbox for compensation of salt reduction urgently needs further extension.”

Source: Journal of Food Science
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2011.02198.
“Saltiness Enhancement by Savory Aroma Compounds”
Authors: M. Batenburg, R. van der Velden

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