Imagine cutting sodium levels in a baked good by 25 percent or more. Then imagine using ingredients that at the same time can hike healthful calcium levels by 500 percent. It can be done.
Most medical experts agree that while salt is an essential nutrient, most people consume too much—Americans get 75 percent of their sodium from processed foods. Diets high in sodium can contribute to hypertension, heart disease and other related medical conditions.
The American Medical Association and the Center for Science in the Public Interest have petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to revoke the generally recognized as safe status of salt and develop regulatory measures to limit sodium in processed and restaurant foods. The AMA is also asking the FDA to improve sodium labeling, making it easier for consumers to understand the amount of sodium in foods. And both the AMA and the CSPI are asking the FDA to lower the recommended daily value for sodium by 50 percent (it’s currently 2,300 mg a day). Globally, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Canada and other countries have initiatives in place or are considering regulations to reduce sodium consumption.
Currently in the United States, the FDA allows manufacturers to make a health claim on a low-sodium food label that associates diets low in sodium with reduced risk of high blood pressure. The FDA allows the following labeling of sodium:
Sodium free: less than 5 mg per serving.
Very low sodium: 35 mg or less per serving or, if the serving is 30 g or less or 2 tablespoons or less, 35 mg or less per 50 g of the food.
Low sodium: 140 mg or less per serving or, if the serving is 30 g or less or 2 tablespoons or less, 140 mg or less per 50 g of the food.
Light in sodium: at least 50 percent less sodium per serving than the average reference amount for the same food with no sodium reduction.
Reduced or less sodium: at least 25 percent less sodium per serving than a reference food.
Economical and nutritious alternatives to salt
The challenge for the baking industry is to reduce sodium content while keeping the same product characteristics (volume, texture, crumb structure) and flavor profile. Approximately 95 percent of the sodium in baked goods comes from just three ingredients: salt, sodium bicarbonate and the leavening agent.
Salt, which contains 39 percent sodium, provides multiple functions in baked goods. In cake-type products, it adds flavor, enhances the taste of other ingredients and balances sweetness. The baking industry already offers economical and nutritious alternatives to salt.
Bakers primarily use three types of bicarbonates: sodium, potassium and ammonium. Bicarbonates (for example, baking soda) are the source of CO2 that aerates baked goods. Manufacturers most often use sodium bicarbonate. It contains about 27 percent sodium and is the least expensive of the three bicarbonates. Potassium bicarbonate contains no sodium and has 39 percent potassium—a much-needed nutrient. Because it has similar baking characteristics, potassium bicarbonate makes a fine replacement for sodium bicarbonate, and manufacturers have used it for years in low-sodium niche markets. However, potassium bicarbonate costs more than sodium bicarbonate, and bakers need to use 19 percent more of it than sodium bicarbonate to achieve the same CO2 level. Ammonium bicarbonate has limited use in baking.
Most formulators consider salt and bicarbonates first when attempting to reduce sodium. They sometimes overlook leavening acids, even though selecting the proper leavening agent can significantly reduce sodium and increase calcium content. There are three main types of leavening acids: sodium aluminum phosphates, sodium acid pyrophosphates and calcium phosphates. Each leavening acid has unique characteristics that contribute properties such as grain, texture, volume and flavor to a finished baked good.
Sodium aluminum phosphate (SALP) is a heat-activated leavening agent widely used in cake, pancake and biscuit mixes. It gives large volume and a tender, resilient texture, fine grain and a neutral taste. It contains 2.1 percent sodium and a minimal amount of calcium. SALP is not allowed in Japan and some European countries due to concerns with aluminum.
Sodium acid pyrophosphate (SAPP) is a widely used leavening acid for cakes, cake donuts, muffins, canned biscuits and many other baked goods. Various different grades of SAPP are numbered for their rate of reaction (for example, SAPP 28 releases 28 percent CO2 at two minutes), from very fast acting to slow acting. SAPP gives a soft, moist texture with fine grain and a slight chemical aftertaste. The sodium content is about 21 percent, with a trace amount of calcium.
Calcium phosphates come in various types. Monocalcium phosphate monohydrate is very fast acting while the anhydrous type has a delayed action. Dicalcium phosphate dihydrate is activated by heat, as in an oven.
The newest of the leavening acids is CAPP/MCP (calcium acid pyrophosphate/monocalcium phosphate). It has a rate of reaction similar to SAPP 28, and thus can replace SAPP 28 in most applications without changing the final baked-good texture. All calcium phosphates contain no sodium and have about 18 percent calcium. CAPP/MCP leavening allows manufacturers to create healthier baked goods without altering taste, and it can be used as a one-to-one replacement for SAPP 28 without increasing costs.
In most formulations, replacing SAPP 28 with this calcium leavening will reduce sodium content by approximately 25 percent (allowing for a “reduced sodium” claim) and increase calcium levels by 10 percent or more.