At €0.21 a kilo, any alternatives to salt will add unwanted costs to new product formulations. But salt, a seasoning and preservative composed of 40 per cent sodium and 60 per cent chlorine, plays a pivotal role in multiple foods on the market.
However, eating too much salt is a significant risk factor in developing high blood pressure, itself a cause or contributing factor in the rising incidence of heart disease, the world's number one killer.
Recent figures from the UK's food agency claim that every day at least 26 million people eat more than the recommended daily limit of 6g of salt. Men are eating the most with a daily average of 11.0g of salt while women consume an average of 8.1g a day.
Targets published last month by Blair's government in the White Paper on Public Health say the food industry must contribute to reducing the salt intake of the population to 6g per person per day by 2010.
The government estimates that processed foods, from soups and sauces to breakfast cereals and snacks, contribute about 75 per cent to people's salt intakes.
But slicing salt, a widely available cheap ingredient, from food products is a challenge for the food technologist, and for the financial controller. Used in a multitude of foods, salt adds taste; and not only this, sodium chloride suppresses the growth of unwanted organisms.
Food makers can opt to simply remove the salt from their recipe without providing a replacement. An option that Kellogg's, for example, has done this week for the launch of its salt-reduced corn flake brand.
Removing the salt, the firm opted for to increase ingredients (corn) already present in the food product recipe, instead of bringing in a flavour enhancer to replace the salt.
"Salt is so cheap that any replacement will add costs to the product. But if a food maker is unable to achieve the same tasting product once the salt is removed, they will look at enhancers," says John Margetts, general manager of the UK's flavour division at Ungerer.
The UK arm of privately-held US flavour supplier Ungerer recently rolled out two new flavour enhancements systems onto the European market, aimed at manufacturers looking for salt alternatives that deliver the 'salty taste' without adding sodium.
"Salt is absolutely unique in its flavour, and nothing else tastes like it. Capturing the 'saltiness' is a challenge," Margetts comments to FoodNavigator.com.
While costs will rise using a flavour enhancer, Margetts believes food makers looking to reduce salt in added value products will look for the natural flavour option.
Based on natural food extracts, the UnSal range, declared as a natural flavouring on labels, can be used in combination with Potassium Chloride or salt, said the firm, declining to disclose the price of the product.
UnSal 20 delivers a 20 per cent reduction in the salt required 'to give an acceptable 'salty' taste in a typical food recipe', claims the supplier. UnSal 50 can be used to replace up to 50 per cent of salt levels. The firm will also tailor products for the manufacturer, says Margetts, nodding at bespoke formulations.