Salt reduction a bitter challenge

In the wake of Australia's health conscious consumer, food manufacturers are having to address sodium reduction in their recipes, but this isn't as simple as it sounds.

The negative impact of excessive sodium consumption has sparked initiatives around the world. Currently there are 32 countries having active sodium reduction campaigns in place to encourage food manufacturers to reduce the amount of sodium in their products. 

Of these 32 countries, 26 initiatives are led by the government and five are led by non-government organisations, such as the likes of AWASH (Australian World Action on Salt and Health) who keep up the pressure on the food industry to remove sodium voluntarily.

AWASH currently has very active promotional campaigns in place to help raise awareness for low sodium diets and are hoping to achieve a 25 percent drop in sodium across the majority of products for the food industry. 

Sodium reduction is considered such an important global tool in improving the health of consumers, that the WHO (World Health Organisation) considers it to be one of the most cost effective strategies in terms of reducing the burden on national health services. 

Reformulation of food products to achieve a reduction in sodium will save lives and money. Global companies with presence in countries around the world have all pledged to remove sodium from a range of their products, including companies such as General Mills, Kraft Foods and George Western Foods – all taking the lead to reformulate their products in a bid to make them healthier for the consumer.

Sodium reduction is most commonly associated with salt (sodium chloride) – a widely used ingredient around the world. Within the baking industry, bread is a staple part of the diet and traditionally very high in salt. Salt reduction in bread is not an easy task – it is a critical ingredient in production to control yeast activity and preserve shelf life. Removing salt from bread will lower the sodium levels, however this can only go so far until functionality is lost and quality is affected.   

Although not as big as the bread segment of the baking industry, the consumption of sweet confectionery goods such as cakes is increasing in western diets.  Sweet confectionery goods rely on chemical leavening systems to provide them with lift, rather than the yeast as used in bread. 

In a typical raising agent, the leavening system will contain an acid – most typically a phosphate, and a base – most typically a bicarbonate. The phosphate component of the baking powder is the most functionally important ingredient in any raising agent system. It is the phosphate that controls the rate of reaction, and the variety of phosphates available gives bakers the flexibility to fine tune their end products. 

The most commonly used phosphate in the baking industry is the highly functional SAPP (sodium acid pyrophosphate); the only problem being it contains 20.4 percent sodium.  Replacing this highly functional ingredient with sodium-free phosphates may assist with sodium reduction initiatives, however will impact on the volume, texture and quality of the end products.

The bicarbonate source in a chemical leavening system is most commonly sodium bicarbonate – it has been the work horse of the industry for many years, however it is also high in sodium (27.4 percent sodium).  The role of sodium bicarbonate is to simply provide the source of carbon dioxide which is released upon reaction with the phosphate.

By changing the sodium bicarbonate for a non-sodium containing alternative such as potassium bicarbonate, you can reduce the sodium content while still utilising the functional range of sodium phosphates.

Potassium bicarbonate is the new work horse of the industry and is quickly becoming the widely accepted alternative to sodium bicarbonate. In order to be totally functional in a recipe, it is critical that the potassium bicarbonate is a specific bakery grade product.

The product used must have a very fine particle size distribution to allow for full dispersion and dissolution even in dry dough products. Complete reaction of all the bicarbonate in the leavening system will help to maximise volumes and prevent unsightly spots and taste issues often associated with coarse grade products. Up to 50 percent reduction in sodium can be achieved by using a specific bakery grade of potassium bicarbonate, with no impact on the quality of the end product.

There are other sources of sodium in a bakery recipe which will also contribute to the overall sodium level in a cake. Small quantities of sodium can come from some of the emulsifiers e.g. sodium stearoyl lactylate, and from other ingredients such as butter, eggs and flour.  Although these contain sodium in small amounts, the contribution is nowhere near as high as the contribution from the salt and raising agents.

The UK bakery market is leading the rest of world in terms of sodium reduction. The government-led legislation helped to encourage food manufacturers to reformulate their products to be lower in sodium. The food industry very quickly worked on re-formulating their products thus sparking a nationwide drop in sodium consumption. As a result of this, the UK now has the lowest known sodium consumption of developed countries – something which is referred to as the “most successful nutrition policy since the Second World War”.  Kudos Blends has helped many of the UK bakeries to reformulate their products to be low sodium with the help of the bakery grades of KUDOS potassium bicarbonate. 

Although the UK is very much ahead in terms of legislating and implementing sodium reduction, it is quite clearly a global food processors issue. There are methods of sodium reduction available currently for the baking industry, which will not impact the end product quality.

Bread remains a difficult product to reformulate, however we can successfully contribute to overall sodium reduction by reducing sodium in chemically leavened products through the application of bakery specific grades of potassium bicarbonate.  

Michelle Briggs is NPD/Technical Manager and Steph Skellern is Technical Manager at Kudos Blends which provides bakers with technically driven raising agents that optimise the quality, texture, taste and shelf life of baked products.

Image: docakilah.wordpress.com and www.photo-dictionary.com


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