Science - September 17, 2009

Less salt and still tasty

A Wageningen discovery can limit the use of salt in food without affecting its taste. The taste-buds can be manipulated by alternating salty and less salty layers. The Dutch consume twice as much salt as the amount advised by the Nutrition Board.

Less salt and still tasty
Thanks to a discovery by the Top Institute for Food and Nutrition (TIFN), working together with researcher Dr. Markus Sieger of the Human Nutrition Division and other researchers, the amount of salt in many food items can be surprisingly cut down by a quarter without affecting their salty taste. TIFN has patented a clever way to reduce salt in a product while the consumer gets the same or even a saltier taste.
'Man is a judge of differences; our senses are tuned in especially to pick out differences', says Prof. Rob Hamer of the Laboratory of Food Chemistry and the scientific director of TIFN. 'The first potato chip tastes a little saltier than the fourth or the fifth because one gets used to the saltiness.' The new discovery gets around this principle and prevents us from getting used to saltiness and tasting less of it. So if you distribute salty and less salty layers in bread or meat products, you stimulate the taste-buds to create the illusion that your bread is saltier while the amount of salt has been reduced.
'The amount of salt consumed daily in the Netherlands is much too high - about twelve grams - whereas the Nutrition Board has recommended half of that', is how he explains the significance of this Wageningen idea. As a result, five thousand lives per year are lost to cardiovascular diseases, according to health authorities. Bread and cookies, followed by meat products, cheese and ready-to-use meals, are the main sources of salt in our diet. Sodium salts do the most harm, but replacements are difficult to find. The food industry has tried to cut down the quantity of salt in food substances and to camouflage this by using aroma and taste additives. Potassium salts can also be used to replace a small portion of sodium salts but too much of these makes food taste bitter.
'We want to apply this discovery as soon as possible', says Hamer. 'This is foreseeable for products such as bread, while products such as meat and cheese will require more technological modifications.'  And it's exactly these products which should have less salt because they contain about seventy percent of our daily salt intake.