Savoury aromas may aid salt reduction, say Unilever

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The addition of savoury aroma compounds into foods may aid salt reduction efforts.
The addition of savoury aroma compounds into foods may aid salt reduction efforts.

Related tags: Salt, Sodium

The addition of savoury smells to foods helps to mask the taste of sodium replacers such as potassium chloride, according new research from Unilever scientists.

The study, published in the Journal of Food Science​, finds the combination of a potassium chloride based salt replacer with savoury aromas could allow for 30% reduction in salt levels without altering flavour profiles. The researchers propose the method as a new element of the wider ‘toolbox’ for reducing sodium levels in foods.

“This study shows that it is possible to compensate salt reduction in instant bouillons by adding higher levels of savoury aroma,”​ said the researchers, 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 replacer,” ​they said.

Batenburg and his colleagues added 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. They noted that each different​combination of ‘extra’ savoury aroma with a salt replacer “could replace significant amounts of sodium chloride while keeping the original flavour profile intact.”

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,”​ noted the authors.

However, they explained that a decrease in sodium content is often associated with decreases in consumer acceptance – noting that it is therefore important for industry to compensate for the sensory effects of salt as they reformulate lower sodium products.

Such 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 new 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

Batenburg and his team investigated the practical applicability of using aroma and taste interactions as a tool to reduce salt content without changing sensory profiles, finding that that at least a 15% salt reduction can be ‘compensated’ for by the use of savoury aromas. They added that the combination of a savoury aroma with a mineral-based salt replacer could offer a reduction of around 30%.

The Unilever team did, however, note that even a 30% reduction in salt levels – though 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.x
“Saltiness Enhancement by Savory Aroma Compounds”
Authors: M. Batenburg, R. van der Velden

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