Too much sodium can negatively affect blood pressure. “Many studies in diverse
populations have shown that a high sodium intake is associated with higher blood
pressure,” Gascon says. “High blood pressure may then lead to heart disease, kidney
disease or stroke.” Research shows that people at risk for high blood pressure
reduce their chances of developing the condition by consuming less sodium. People
with high blood pressure are often put on sodium-restricted diets, which can help
blood pressure medicine work more effectively.
As bakers modify formulas to appeal to health-conscious consumers, they need to be
careful to use the proper wording. The FDA and USDA state an individual food using
the label claim “healthy” must not exceed 480 mg sodium per reference amount. “Meal
type” products must not exceed 600 mg sodium per labeled serving size. In order to
label a product “sodium-free” it must contain less than 5 mg of sodium per serving.
For reduced sodium products, the usual sodium level is reduced by 25 percent.
Unsalted or no-salt added products are made without salt, but still contain sodium
naturally found in the food.
“Reduced sodium baked products provide consumers with an additional choice in
helping them maintain an overall balanced diet,” says George Lutz, technical service
manager, Quality Assurance, Cargill.
When it comes to reducing sodium, bakers have many options. Salt substitutes usually
replace sodium chloride with potassium chloride, calcium chloride or magnesium
chloride. “Unfortunately, none of these sodium-free salts taste like regular salt,”
Gascon says. Calcium chloride is a highly hygroscopic white powder with an intense
chemical saline flavor characterized as bitter, and a sour and sweet aftertaste. The
bitter flavor increases with concentrations, Gascon adds. Magnesium chloride also
has a bitter, salty flavor, but unlike calcium chloride, its characteristic
bitterness reportedly remains low despite the concentration, but still can be
detected. Potassium chloride features a salty flavor more similar to that of table
salt, but it also has a bitter aftertaste, often described as metallic.
“Potassium chloride is generally the salt of choice for the food industry…but its
off-taste makes it unsuitable for all applications,” Gascon says. Taste modifiers
can assist in masking any off flavors that result from using a potassium chloride
“Unfortunately, the vast majority of these masking agents and flavor modifiers only
partially mitigate the bitterness, and residual bitterness can have an impact on the
flavor profile of the end product,” Lutz says. Cargill offers a brand of salt for
topical applications. This salt crystal is uniquely shaped to offer a larger surface
area and a lower bulk density for better solubility, which can allow for sodium
reduction in topical applications. Wixon, meanwhile, offers a 50 percent
reduced-sodium salt, made by combining a taste modifier with potassium chloride and
Formulating with less sodium
Before making formula changes, it is important to determine the sources of sodium.
“In most bakery items, “the sodium may come from the added salt, while in a cake the
sodium will be coming from leavening agents, mostly sodium bicarbonate,” Gascon
says. “In the first case where added salt is the culprit of the sodium levels,
consider whether adjusting the sweeteners, acids, starches or fats may help enhance
the saltiness perception.”
Sodium acid pyro phosphate (SAPP) is probably the most widely used leavening in
baking. SAPP has about 21,000 mg of sodium per 100 g of product, while calcium-based
leavenings have 0 g, Brodie says. “If you're switching from SAPP to a calcium based
leavening, your formula will drop anywhere from 20 percent to 30 percent sodium
content, which is a significant reduction.” While SAPP has an aftertaste, calcium
has a bland neutral flavor. “It's going to give you a cleaner flavor and other
flavors may actually come through better for you,” he adds.
In addition, while SAPP offers just trace amounts of calcium, calcium-based
leavenings offer the added benefit of increased calcium, and in some instances
bakers can achieve 20 percent of the recommended daily allowance for calcium and
make a label claim.
Bakers also must take into account the functional properties of salt in dough
development and rising. When salt is reduced, the yeast becomes more active, so
bakers may need to reduce the sugars to keep the dough from rising too quickly.
These changes should help reduce the sodium while enhancing the salty flavor. If the
changes fail to deliver the desired results, a bake-proof salt replacer can help
achieve the proper balance. If the sodium in the formulation is coming from sodium
bicarbonate, alternative leavening agents, such as potassium bicarbonate, can be
used as a replacement. “Potassium bicarbonate may impact the cost and also has some
off-flavor notes, so bakers may need to use a taste modifier to mask that off-note,”
Balancing taste perceptions can be complicated. Each application requires a unique
approach. “Reducing sodium levels involves a combination of different factors, not
one specific one,” Gascon says. “For drastic reduction of sodium levels, a lot of
fine tuning is required. This often drives the need for the food technologist to
work closely with the technical staff of taste modifier suppliers.”