Many food companies have been actively reducing the sodium content of their products for some time however the task presents a number of challenges as reflected in recent research from Malaysia.

Sodium reduction efforts in the future should combine successful methods into one single effective system, according to a review entitled “Sodium reduction: Optimizing product composition and structure towards increasing saltiness perception” published in Trends in Food Science & Technology.

The review’s research team, led by S.M. Goh of Universiti Malaysia Sabah, said that careful integration of the different sodium reduction approaches will “maximise their potential scope and keep their limitations to a minimum.

“Future studies should be aimed towards quantifying the encompassing relationship between sodium distribution and sodium release from food structures and saltiness perception,” they said.

The reviewers added that there are three key principles towards sodium reduction in foods – product structures designed to optimise the delivery of salt to the taste buds, shifting the perception of saltiness, and the chemical stimulation to increase the saltiness perception peripherally.

Many countries and policy makers have recently engaged in salt reduction programmes due to the increasing salt intake from foods. This work is being driven by the World Health Organisation (WHO) – it is organising exchange forums and technical meetings on sodium reduction strategies as part of its Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health information.

However, Goh and his team noted that salt reduction processes are not easy. This is because salt acts not only as a flavour enhancer, but is used to also increase the shelf lives of food products, control fermentation and improve the functionality of foods. Recognising the other functions of salt in food is important in the development of new and integrated approaches to sodium reduction.

“Other sodium salts are added to food products for specific technological reasons. For example, sodium bicarbonate and sodium benzoate are respectively used as a leavening agent and a preservative,” they said.

“These other properties of salt or other sodium salts beyond taste and flavour also need to be considered upon sodium reduction.”