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How to Lower Your Salt Intake, Without Sacrificing Flavor: The Science Behind Naturiffic Gourmet Salts

Science, ArticleSirPorkalot (John)Comment

By now, you may have heard about the recent launch of our new Gourmet Salt line, and you may have even read about the history of my wife's health problems, which was the genesis of us being much more diligent about what we were eating.

However until now, I haven't shared the science behind the development of our Gourmet Salt line.

One of the (many) food restrictions my wife had come across in her journey back to health, was a ban on anything considered a "nightshade", and the list is long:

  • Tomatoes
  • Tomatillos
  • Eggplant
  • Potatoes
  • Goji Berries
  • Tobacco
  • Peppers (bell peppers, chili peppers, paprika, tamales, pimentos, cayenne, etc)

She doesn't just need to avoid these, but anything that is a derivative of these (IE: Tomato paste, Paprika Powder, Potato Starch, etc)
Through the process of trying to figure out how to feed her safely and still be able to provide great meals for the family, I found that using a high-end sea salt mixed with select herbs and citrus provided great flavors without getting other complex ingredients involved.

During a late night session onthe computer seeking out recipes and options to BBQ spice rubs (she can't eat many of the ingredients in a typical rub), I stumbled upon what turned out to be the secret behind our new Gourmet Salts.
Buried deep in a 500+ page white paper from the Institute for Medicine was the answer to the question; How can you reduce salt, without sacrificing flavor?

The report is titled:  Strategies to Reduce Intake of Sodium in the Unites States -  and I will be quoting from it often in this post.
(Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake; Henney JE, Taylor CL, Boon CS, editors. Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2010) and is available here in PDF format for those that want to read more of the paper.

In percentage; Where our salt intake comes from
a:Includes salt added in food preparation and cooking.
b.Salt added by the consumer at the table.

There are many interesting and important tidbits in this report, but one of the most enlightening ones is shown in the pie chart to the right.  The data shows that 94.3% of our salt comes from the salt added in food preparation and cooking. It goes on to further explain that the largest part of this (77% of the our salt intake) comes from processed and restaurant food (think fast food). Less than 5% of our salt intake comes from table salt

In a study, participants were served low sodium beef stew and then given a salt shaker and instructed to add as much salt back as needed. They discovered that only 22% of the removed sodium was replaced by table salt. Another separate study had correlating data that showed less than 20% was added back.

For example, in one study, sodium intake from clinically prepared foods decreased from an average of 3,100 mg/d to an average of 1,600 mg/d over a 13-week period, and participants were permitted unlimited use of a salt shaker to salt their food to taste. Importantly, less than 20 percent of the overall sodium removed during food preparation was replaced by increased use of table salt—the use of which was measured without participants’ knowledge (Beauchamp et al., 1987).
— Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake; Henney JE, Taylor CL, Boon CS, editors. Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2010. 3, Taste and Flavor Roles of Sodium in Foods: A Unique Challenge to Reducing Sodium Intake.
 

 

The study continues and goes in depth on how we have seen sodium increases over the past 40 years (see bar chart on right) and then delves into the challenges of getting society to consume less salt.

Their recommendations are many, and include FDA limits on sodium in processed food, along with encouraging food manufacturers and restaurants to voluntarily reduce the use of sodium in food preparation. However it is the following advice that hit home (and it is reiterated throughout the report)

 
Further, there is considerable progress to be made if broader alterna-
tive salt reduction approaches are incorporated..... These
include flavor strategies and culinary techniques that do not rely as much on salt, but rather
on increased use of food ingredients naturally low in sodium. For example, use of fruits
and vegetables and other minimally processed fresh foods as well as herbs, spices, and aromat-
ics may hold potential for reducing sodium in restaurant/foodservice items. Additionally,
alternative cooking techniques and strategies, such as searing to intensify non-sodium
flavors, may also be useful strategies to reduce
sodium.
 

:For example, use of fruits and vegetable and other minimally processed fresh foods as well as herbs, spices, and aromatics..: Wow okay, now there is something I can grab onto.

We had already reduced our use or processed foods to the point we hardly eat canned foods of any type, we have also curtailed eating at fast food restaurants.
Because we are eating more fresh foods and minimally processed meats, making the jump to using less salt to cook with and at the table seemed to be the next logical step.

More broadly, the addition of certain ingredients with high flavor impact to the cooking or manufacturing process may assist in reducing the need for added salt. For example, the addition of fresh herbs and spices, citrus, mustards, and vinegars that impart distinctive flavorings may sometimes be used instead of or in conjunction with added salt, as has been suggested by many authors writing about strategies for lowering sodium in the diet (e.g., Beard, 2004; MacGregor and de Wardener, 1998; Ram, 2008). Some cooking techniques (e.g., searing) may also help reduce the need for added salt in many foodservice operations and in home cooking, in part because they result in the production of new flavors (Ram, 2008).

There is the road map; use fresh herbs, spices and citrus to help enhance the salt we use, thereby using less of it and reducing the sodium in our diet.

Bingo! Naturiffic Gourmet Salts were born.

We use a very high quality coarse Sicilian sea salt and add herbs, spices and citrus in roughly a 50/50 ratio. So when you use a teaspoon of our salt, you get roughly 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the herb mixture. Citrus plays the role of salt enhancer.

The end result is you get a teaspoon worth of salty flavor while only ingesting the equivalent to a 1/2 teaspoon of sodium. The coarse grains of the Sicilian sea salt play an important role as well, allowing you to meter the amount of salt you are adding through feel and sight.

The opportunities to successfully combine higher-sodium foods with other foods that are naturally low in sodium (e.g., fresh fruits and vegetables) in dishes or meals in ways that meet consumer taste demands suggest a set of flavor questions that have not been adequately studied. However, at least for foodservice and home cooking—if to a lesser extent for food manufacturing—the salt taste challenge might be as much a matter of reconsidering flavor options in recipe selection and menu development (e.g., less aggregation of high-sodium ingredients in a single dish) as needing to overcome technical challenges with salt substitutions.

Try our Gourmet Salts on your next meal and you will be surprised at how much flavor can be achieved without using an excess amount of salt.