How important is saltiness when reducing salt?

By Caroline SCOTT-THOMAS contact

- Last updated on GMT

When it come to flavour, salt replacement doesn't have to mean mimicking salt
When it come to flavour, salt replacement doesn't have to mean mimicking salt

Related tags: Taste

Many different approaches have been taken to reducing salt, from mineral-based salt replacers to gradual reduction to alter consumer preference – but some ignore salty flavour altogether.

In humans, five basic tastes have so far been identified: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. But as new research allows us to better understand how we taste, some have suggested that we could have many more basic tastes, including calcium, fat, piquancy, coolness, metallicity, carbon dioxide and kokumi – a Japanese word referring to a hearty, rich taste.

This variety of taste qualities could help explain why herbs, spices and other flavourings have been found to be effective as salt replacers – not because they mimic saltiness, but because they make saltiness a less important component of flavour.

A recent study published in the journal Appetite​ suggests that consumer liking of a low salt tomato soup with added herbs and spices is not fixed. While liking of standard and low salt versions did not change, consumers’ response to other, more complex flavours improved over time.

“Repeated exposure to the reduced salt tomato soup modified with the addition of oregano, bay leaves, garlic and black pepper led to a significant enhancement in the overall liking and liking of flavour, texture and aftertaste, whereas no changes were observed for the standard and low salt tomato soups during the repeated exposure phase,”​ wrote the study’s authors, from the University of Reading in the UK.

Rich, slow-cooked flavour

Laith Wahbi, global product manager for taste in savoury at Givaudan, is another researcher looking at flavours beyond salt and umami to create full-flavoured foods. He spoke to FoodNavigator recently​ about recreating the richness of flavour that characterises slow-cooked homemade food.

“It’s not about the salt, or the MSG, or the next magic bullet ingredient. It’s about understanding what that taste matrix does, and how it integrates with the aroma, the texture, and the basic tastes,”​ he said.

Meanwhile, researchers repeatedly have demonstrated that playing up umami or sour tastes can help enhance consumers’ perception of saltiness, with amino acids, MSG, lactates and yeast products among the ingredients available to manufacturers.

Where next?

Meanwhile, ‘stealth’ or small-step reduction has seen promising results for gradually altering consumers’ liking of very salty foods, but there is a limit to how much salt can be taken out before people find products unpalatable – as the Reading soup study illustrated.

A similar study from Brazilian researchers​ also tested how adding herbs and spices affects preference for low salt foods. They found that all study participants preferred lower salt bread when oregano was added.

Next steps, according to the Reading team, include developing better understanding of how to choose herbs and spices to complement specific reduced salt foods, as large contrasts in flavour can polarise consumer preference.

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