Potassium Chloride Successfully Reduces Sodium in in Cheddar Cheese
Food scientists wanted to determine the best sodium reduction solution by testing and comparing cheese made with reduced sodium sea salt, blends of sodium chloride and potassium chloride, sodium chloride and sea salt, and potassium chloride with mineral salt replacers.
When investigating how to reduce sodium in processed foods, perhaps one of the best models to serve as a benchmark is natural cheese. Sodium reduction in natural cheese is inherently difficult. Salt plays a critical role in its production, affecting flavor, moisture levels, texture, enzymatic activity, and preventing bacteria growth and an overly acidic product (1, 2, 3). What’s more, studies indicate that cheese is one of the largest contributors of known sources of dietary sodium in the American diet, maximizing its subjection to consumer scrutiny (1).
The wide array of sodium reduction solutions on the market will often pose a perplexing question to food manufacturers – which method is the best? Potassium chloride, reduced sodium sea salt, mineral replacers, or combinations of each? Researchers at the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota confronted this challenge by examining the manufacturing of reduced sodium cheddar-style cheese with mineral salt replacers.
The goal was to determine the best sodium reduction solution by testing and comparing cheese made with just sodium chloride (control), naturally reduced sodium sea salt, blends of sodium chloride and potassium chloride, sodium chloride and sea salt, and potassium chloride with mineral salt replacers. The purpose of these mineral salt replacers (MgCl2 and CaCl2) is to maintain the salty taste and functional benefits (1). The idea is that by adding additional mineral replacers to a sodium reduction solution, even lower sodium can be achieved while maintaining all of salt’s functional benefits.
The food scientists added as much salt, sea salt, and mineral replacers as necessary in each combination to consistently achieve “equal water activity” of full-sodium cheese made with the same procedure. Ensuring equal water activity for all cheese samples means the overall quality should be consistent due to even salt-to-moisture ratios in the cheeses (1). The result was varying amounts of sodium present in each cheese sample.
While the reduced sodium samples with mineral replacers had the lowest sodium levels, further analyses uncovered a variety of negative effects for all samples that included magnesium chloride or calcium chloride. A trained sensory panel determined that the CaCl2 and MgCl2 consistently delivered off flavors in their cheese samples, described as bitter, metallic, unclean, and soapy. Similarly for the reduced sodium sea salts, which also produced samples with lower sodium, the final products were unfavorable in texture. Due to the way the minerals in the reduced sodium sea salts interacted with the cultures, these cheeses were firmer, more brittle, and less sticky than the controls (1).
The cheddar cheese samples that were made with blends of sodium chloride and potassium chloride, however, delivered positive results that were most reflective of the controls. No significant discrepancies were observed, and so the potassium chloride formulation was deemed to be the most favorable solution out of those tested. Therefore, researchers were able to determine that potassium chloride can be used successfully to achieve large reductions in sodium when replacing a portion of the sodium chloride in cheddar cheese (1).
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