As a population, we are still eating too much salt. Estimates from the Department of Health indicate that over 8,000 premature deaths from heart attack and stroke could be prevented with a reduction in average salt intake from 8g to 6g per day.
Food and drink in the out-of-home environment is currently an area that is facing a lot of scrutiny, with the UK government consulting on mandating calorie labels ,while Food Standards Scotland is considering proposals to improve the overall sector.
While there are several reasons why salt is popular as an ingredient, one of the principal ones is that it’s a very effective flavour enhancer. So what other foodstuffs can be used to create great taste?
Mushroom substitution into meat-based products is one strategy that has proven effective. A recent study found that mushrooms added to reduced-salt meat patties were scored similarly by consumers compared to the all-meat, full-salt patties.
Another benefit of adding mushrooms is that, like many vegetable, they are a source of potassium, which helps support the kidneys in excreting sodium.
While it may be a good idea to hide the salt shaker, black pepper can add flavour to many savoury dishes and even some sweet ones – adding pepper to strawberries, for instance, enhances their flavour.
Black pepper can improve the absorption of some nutrients and beneficial compounds as well. Piperine in black pepper has been shown to increase the absorption of curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, by 2,000%. Other studies suggest that black pepper bolsters the absorption of beta-carotene, a vitamin found in a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Though it’s a common seasoning, the promotion of its attributes is fairly uncommon, such as the fact that it contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds –although research on any potential health benefits is currently limited to test-tube or animal studies.
Garlic has many potential health benefits, from helping to reduce blood pressure, improving cholesterol levels and reducing oxidative damage.
Recent investigation has also found that it may be good for gut health due to its prebiotic fibre content, which helps promote good bacteria.
While customers may not be so keen on the effect garlic can have on breath, the addition of parsley, mint, green tea, spinach or milk can all help reduce some of the sulphur compounds emitted orally.
Seaweed is a natural source of the umami-inducing compound glutamic acid. This means it can be useful to maintain flavour, while reducing the need for salt.
Eat Balanced introduced seaweed as a salt replacement in pizza bases. They found that this maintained the flavour but reduced the sodium content of the pizza as the seaweed seasoning had less than 10% of the sodium content of salt.
In addition, seaweed contains a variety of nutrients such as iodine, iron and B12, in which vegetarians and vegans can be deficient.
Citrus and herbs
Adding citrus zest or juice is sure to excite taste buds. Lemons and limes provide vitamin C and a variety of beneficial antioxidants. The flavour also compliments many foods and can be used in salads, vegetable side dishes, dressings, sauces and baked goods.
Herbs and spices are useful as they help maintain a high, non-salty flavour intensity. Some herbs and spices, such as paprika, chilli, dill, mint, oregano and basil, have the ability to increase the flavour of a seasoning, even when the salt has been reduced.