How to reduce salt: Add a little spice
- A new study published in Hypertension, the journal of the American Heart Association, finds that the same part of the brain is activated when a person eats both salty and spicy foods, according to Quartz Media. The conclusion by researchers is that spice makes people more sensitive to salt, allowing them to enjoy low-sodium food items as much as full-sodium ones.
- Researchers at the Third Military Medical University in Chongqing, China tapped 606 local adults for the study. In addition to their main finding, they discovered that participants who enjoyed spicy food the most had lower blood pressure and consumed less salt.
- “If you add some spices to your cooking, you can cook food that tastes good without using as much salt,” said Zhiming Zhu, a lead author on the study, in a statement. “Yes, habit and preference matter when it comes to spicy food, but even a small, gradual increase in spices in your food may have a health benefit.”
Consumers in the U.S. eat entirely too much salt. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 90% of children and 89% of adults consume more than the recommended daily amount of sodium. The American Heart Association reports that 75% of this salt intake comes in the form of processed, prepackaged and restaurant foods.
This new research out of China could be one solution for food manufacturers trying to reduce their sodium levels without sacrificing the bold flavors consumers have come to expect.
If the researchers' findings are accurate, food makers could boost the spiciness of a recipe while lowering the salt content to create a food product that still tastes good to average consumers.
This could also be a win-win for food manufacturers, as there is increased demand for spicy and ethnic food, especially among millennial consumers. CPGs could get a reduced salt health halo while also appealing to shoppers with more adventurous taste buds.
Home cooks have caught on to this trend. The practice of using spices to reduce salt has resulted in strong sales growth. Spice powerhouse McCormick posted $1.19 billion in revenue during its third quarter this year, up 9% from $1.09 billion in the same period a year ago, according to a company release.
If manufacturers wanted to experiment with the high-spice, low-salt equation, they could turn to tastes already familiar to U.S. consumers. A recent look at flavors most often mentioned in American cookbooks dating back to 1796 found that eight popular ingredients have endured: black pepper, vanilla, curry powder, chili powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG and Sriracha. It would follow that the spicy ingredients on this list would be popular choices when modifying recipes.
These changes could also be a way for manufacturers to hit the FDA’s voluntary sodium reduction targets. The goal is to limit sodium consumption to 3,000 mg per day in two years, and 2,300 mg each day in a decade. Today's average sodium intake is 3,400 mg per day.