Producing healthier products is a constant requirement for food manufacturers and retailers. Pressure for this may come, for example, from publication of new government targets, customer initiatives, and/or a desire for commercial advantage.
Targets to be met usually involve salt, sugars, fat and/or saturates. Since trans-fatty acids have largely been removed from foods, this is no longer much of an issue.
Looking at salt, it should be firstly said that the salt level given in a nutrition panel is not the quantity of salt crystals added to the product. The salt is actually calculated from the sodium level and should really be called ‘salt equivalent’. This sodium can come from a variety of sources, including additives such as bicarbonate of soda and natural ones such as anchovy.
It’s important to know where all the sodium is coming from within a recipe. We need to know how much sodium each ingredient is contributing, including those in sub-recipes. NutriCalc provides this information.
Often, it will be seen that there are one or two major contributors, and the weight of these in the recipe can be often reduced to achieve the target. Sometimes however there are several ingredients providing smaller amounts, which is a trickier situation.
Substituting one ingredient for another can sometimes work, for example replacing salted butter with unsalted.
In all cases of salt reduction however, there is likely to be a noticeable change to the taste of the product. Will this be acceptable to the consumer? Salt can also have other functions in the product. It may for example contribute to the preservation of the product, extending the shelf-life.
Working on lowering levels of sugars in products gives some different opportunities since sweetness can be provided by non-sugar ingredients, including artificial sweeteners.
Adding polyols such as lactitol, xylitol and maltitol is another approach being adopted: these substances are not digested.
There is also the opportunity to use inulin, a soluble fibre with a sweet taste, one example being FOS or fructooligosaccharide. Again, this is not digested.
It’s worth noting the definition of sugars for labelling purposes. They consist of one carbon ring (e.g. glucose) or two (e.g. sucrose). Anything with three or more rings does not count as sugars (oligosaccharides). This means that some ingredients such as glucose syrups may contain say 80% carbohydrate, but less than half of this might actually qualify as sugars.
Once again, making substantial reductions to sugar content can have a detrimental effect on microbiological safety, since sugar is very good at slowing or stopping growth of harmful bacteria. Indeed, in one example, death was caused by substituting sugar with a sweetener in a hazelnut yoghurt (1).
Dr. David F. Bartley
(1) O’Mahony et al., Epidemiol. Infect., 1990, 104, pp389–395