Salt – the ultimate multifunctional ingredient

By Tim Hutton - 27 June 2012

It is about 12 years since I was asked by the Food and Drink Federation to do an independent review of the literature on the technological functions of salt (1). This was part of a data gathering exercise that industry was undertaking in preparation for discussions with government departments about the potential to reduce salt levels in certain foods. It is true to say that some parts of the food industry were very concerned that they might face insuperable problems. In fact, the industry has risen to the challenge admirably - difficult though some of the issues have been to solve.

The opening paragraph in my salt review stated: "The reasons for using salt can be divided into three broad categories: processing, sensory (taste) and preservation. In some cases it performs all three of these functions, and in many situations the distinction between them is not clear-cut; for example, the role of salt in the development of cheese also has an effect on the final flavour of the product."

It is the multifunctional nature of salt that makes it difficult to replace or reduce. We have been involved in many pieces of work for industry clients to help them explore ways to reduce salt levels in specific projects. We also reported to government on the likely effect on microbial growth in meat products of salt reduction (see R&D Report No. 216).

Recently, a member-funded research project has been looking more closely at the challenges of producing bread with less salt - specifically to develop strategies for helping plant bakers to meet the demands to reduce salt levels in bread to 1 g/100 g final product (a 25% reduction on average levels 10 years ago). The strategy investigated replacing some of the salt with equimolar amounts of potassium chloride. Reducing salt can cause the dough to become sticky, leading to major processing problems; although no issues have been encountered in this work so far, it still remains to be seen whether problems would emerge in full-scale production. This work is reported in R&D Report 326.

In a parallel project we are also looking more generally at salt reduction methods - including salt replacers and flavour enhancers. It is clear that what might be suitable for one particular situation might be completely inappropriate in another. We will shortly be issuing a fact sheet on the current initiatives being pursued in the industry. This will set the scene for our forthcoming seminar on salt reduction, which is happening on 11 October, and will focus on taste perception and flavour profile retention – well worth attending.

1. Hutton, T (2002) Technological functions of salt in the manufacturing of food and drink products", British Food Journal, 104 ( 2), 126 - 152

For a fact sheet on the latest developments in salt reduction/replacement, send an e-mail to with the subject line: send replacers

For an electronic copy of our salt analysis fact sheet, send an e-mail to with the subject line: send salt

For a full copy of R&D Report No. 216 send an e-mail to with the subject line: send RD216

Members only copy of R&D Report No. 326 send an e-mail to with the subject line: send RD326

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