Saturday, February 9, 2013


With sodium assuming the villainous role in human diet, attempts are continuously being made to reduce its level in thousands of processed food products marketed every where in the world. Besides national and international agencies concerned with the undesirable effect of too much salt in the diet on human health are tirelessly carrying out campaigns to educate and persuade the consumers to cut down drastically on salt consumption. Food industry in many countries are trying to lower the salt concentration in their products through research and development efforts. Though salt provides the typical taste and flavor of many foods, its reduction to low levels can hurt the sensory quality of the final products. Salt has also functional properties such as preservation, textural modification and flavor enhancement in thousands of processed products. Against such a background industry is bound to be some what reluctant to reduce salt levels that can adversely affect the characteristics of their branded products. Of all foods Cheese presents the biggest challenge for the Dairy industry in reducing salt in products like Cheddar cheese, well liked and consumed by millions regularly as a part of their diet. Recent attempts in developing low salt Cheese seem to be successful if the claims of a group of scientists in the US are to be believed. Here is a take on this interesting development. 

'Low-sodium cheddar cheeses have been marketed for decades. But they "account for only a trivial percentage of total retail sales of cheddar cheese," the National Dairy Council said in comments earlier this year to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is seeking to reduce Americans' salt consumption.  "The lack of consumer acceptance is indicated by the lack of market growth of the low-sodium cheese category," the dairy council wrote. But it's not for a lack of trying by cheese makers. "Low is hard," Schoenfuss said. Salt acts not only to flavor cheese, but to preserve and give structure to it. "Cheese is basically this biochemistry thing going on, and salt helps control that," Schoenfuss said. Under federal rules, to qualify for a "reduced sodium" claim, a cheese maker must cut sodium chloride by 25 percent. A "low-sodium" claim, rare commercially, often entails a significantly greater reduction, 55 percent in cheddar cheese. Schoenfuss' lab reduced sodium chloride in cheddar cheese by 53 percent, replacing the mineral in different trials with calcium chloride, magnesium chloride and potassium chloride. The first two were losers, leading to cheddar that was metallic-tasting and soapy. Potassium chloride, a sodium chloride replacement, can also impart a metallic or bitter flavor. But with the cheese cultures and production process Schoenfuss used - combined with the right amount of potassium chloride - the metallic flavor wasn't there.  An independent taste panel found the potassium chloride cheddar not appreciably more bitter than a control cheddar made the conventional way, Schoenfuss' lab concluded.  "Potassium chloride can be used successfully to achieve large reductions in sodium when replacing a portion of the (sodium chloride) in cheddar cheese," said a study published in the Journal of Dairy Science by Schoenfuss and four UM colleagues." 

Potassium chloride, per se does not possess the typical taste associated with common salt, Sodium Chloride but it has been tried in many products to lower the sodium levels when blends of these two salts are used in different combinations. The findings by the above group that sodium level can be reduced by 53% in Cheddar cheese with least effect on the desirable qualities of this product, are indeed noteworthy and if accepted by the Dairy industry can have significant impact on the health of populations in Europe, America, Canada, Australia etc where cheese is consumed in high quantities. One note of caution that must be kept in mind is whether such high levels of Potassium can have any adverse effect on people with high blood pressure, taking some medications regularly to control the same as there are reports that high potassium can lead to heart attacks some times in some people.


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