Natural salt alternative could make low-sodium diet reality

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Taste

Growing pressure on food manufacturers to cut salt levels has led
to a frantic search for alternatives. Joan Watsabaugh tells why AlsoSalt could provide the
industry with a viable solution.

There is no question that salt consumption in the American diet needs to be reduced. One in three Americans regularly consumes more salt than is recommended, and most of this is in processed food.

Food manufacturers have therefore found themselves under growing pressure to find ways of reducing salt, and the market for healthy alternatives to salt is beginning to look very attractive.

"The Institute of Medicine states 25 percent of the American population is salt sensitive,"​ said AlsoSalt managing director Joan Watsabaugh.

"This translates to 74 million people. This is not a niche market."

It is this market that Watsabaugh hopes to tap into with AlsoSalt. She believes that the product's unique selling point is that it is both palatable and all-natural.

"Until now, there really hasn't been an acceptable solution to reducing the sodium content in processed foods while maintaining flavor,"​ she said.

"With AlsoSalt, the food industry has the ability to offer low sodium versions of most foods. I don't believe anyone really knows how big the market for low sodium foods is because there has never been a palatable salt substitute."

This has clearly frustrated food manufacturers and led to a number of discontinued product lines.

"Several food companies have introduced low sodium products to the market and most have been discontinued due to disappointing sales figures. The problem is, these foods are either flavorless or they leave a bitter aftertaste.

"It is my educated guess that people have bought, as an example, one can of a low sodium soup, and never bought another. The sales figures would look completely different if that soup was edible."

The problem of finding a palatable low-sodium alternative, a subject that was tackled at the recent IFT conference in New Orleans, is that the salty taste is physically unique. Taste receptors inside the human tongue require the shape and size of the sodium ion in order to register a salty taste.

And despite its bad press, salt has a number of distinct characteristics that make it extremely attractive to food makers. Apart from being the world's oldest preservative, it can block bitterness in foods, and humans have an innate liking of salt, related to a specific body need, that makes salty snacks attractive.

Consumers, used to salty snacks and salt-laced ready meals, are therefore reluctant to buy products that do not conform to contemporary tastes.

"While scientists and the food industry have found acceptable substitutes for sugar, fat, and other ingredients, it has been unsuccessful in finding one for salt despite two decades of effort,"​ said Watsabaugh.

Potassium chloride has been the closest alternative, but it has an undesirable metallic taste. Several major food companies, in an effort to lower sodium content in their packaged foods, have experimented with the use of potassium chloride by adding bitter blockers and masking agents.

AlsoSalt on the other hand is a patented combination of potassium chloride and L-lysine, an essential amino acid. The combination masks the bitterness of the potassium chloride.

"AlsoSalt doesn't add anything your body can't use,"​said Watsabaugh.

The company is confident that the product is set for take off. Several food manufacturers are in the process of testing AlsoSalt, and while it is still early days, studies appear to be going well.

"I am confident that AlsoSalt​ will be widely used as an alternative to salt,"​ she said.

"I would call the industry reaction intrigued and excited. The common thread is that consumers try every salt substitute and every low sodium food they can find hoping to find one they can actually eat."

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