Ingredients provider DairiConcepts received an Innovation Award at the 2018 Food Tech Summit & Expo for Ascentra, a sodium-reducing flavor enhancer.
The product is made from a proprietary whole milk-based fermentation process, the company said, and can lower sodium content by 25% to 50% while enabling a wide range of flavor.
"Not only do consumers seek healthier options and natural ingredients, they want their food to taste great,” Steve Arrick, DairiConcepts vice president and general manager, said in a release. "With Ascentra, our customers have confidence their foods have unmatched flavor while knowing the natural fermentation process presents a clean label."
Food manufacturers have been trying to reduce sodium in their product formulations as consumers become increasingly wary of high levels of it on product labels. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 90% of Americans exceed the recommended dietary guideline for sodium. In response, CPG companies limited salt and sugar in about 20% of their items in 2016 and reformulated 180,000 products that year — double the amount from the year earlier, Bloomberg reported.
It's not a simple thing for manufacturers to find the right balance between savory, sweet and salty tastes in their processed food products, so it has to be done carefully and gradually. Removing or reducing one or more ingredients could cause problems with taste, consistency, texture or mouthfeel, leaving consumers wondering what happened to the brand and potentially causing them to turn to a competitor instead.
According to DairiConcepts, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dairy Farmers of America, Inc., there is no compound able to perfectly duplicate the taste of table salt. Sodium also provides other taste attributes, including mouthfeel, body and flavor enhancement. Because of this, partial replacement of sodium chloride in food formulations is the best approach to keeping levels down yet avoid negatively impacting the finished product, the company said.
The fact that Ascentra is made from a proprietary whole milk-based fermentation process may be a problem for those who are lactose-intolerant or have milk allergies — or are vegan and avoid all animal-derived ingredients. For others, it may be an asset since some consumers may view dairy-based ingredients as inherently healthier.
Ascentra isn't the only dairy-based sodium replacer out there. Whey permeate, a byproduct of milk or the whey membrane filtration process, has been used to limit sodium content in cheese, sauces, dips and spreads, according to Food Business News.
Yeast extracts are another sodium-reduction method being used in the food industry, typically appearing on food labels as "baker's yeast extract," "yeast extract" or "natural flavor." There are organic and non-GMO varieties, and the extracts are acceptable for vegan and vegetarian recipes, Food Business News reported.
Yeast extract makers are targeting a number of applications for their products. Israeli-based Salt of the Earth said its Mediterranean Umami product is capable of reducing sodium use by as much as 45% and sugar by up to 25%. Primary applications are savory sauces with a high sugar content, such as ketchup, barbecue and cocktail sauces, as well as dressings, chutneys, pizza and pasta sauces and sauces for ready-to-eat meals.
For DairiConcepts, the ideal sodium replacement strategy is one that amplifies the perception of salty and boosts savory nuances and umami effects. Flavors taste brighter and the ingredient lets flavors linger, allowing the consumer to enjoy the product a little longer, the company said.
If Ascentra and other sodium-reduction ingredients are able to do all that without calling undue attention to themselves, manufacturers are more likely to give them a try and consumers to appreciate seeing lowered sodium numbers on product labeling and make their purchase decisions accordingly.