Salt’s Influential Role in Dairy Products
A look at how salt plays an important role in the functionality of different dairy products.
Per capita consumption of fluid milk has been declining for decades in the US, but to see which dairy products are bucking the trend look no further than yogurt and cheese. Sales of yogurt exploded between 2010 and 2013 increasing 7.8 percent to 10 percent year to year. Although growth has been lighter more recently, sales continued to grow between 2013 and 2014 at 3.4 percent, with 2014 sales reaching $8.9 billion.i Similar to yogurt’s recent rise in sales, February 2015 total U.S. cheese production (excluding cottage cheese) achieved a 3.9 percent increase above February 2014 production, reaching 884.3 million pounds compared to February 2014’s 850.9 million pounds.ii
Salt is added to cheese either through direct salting or brining, and plays an important role in the flavor and functionality of dairy products. In cheese, the salt level markedly influences flavor, aroma, rheology and texture properties, cooking performance and overall quality. It can enhance cheese flavor with salty or acid characteristics or by reducing bitterness in cheese.iii Moreover, salt can also help control bacteria growth, which allows salt to do a number of things:
· Assist in cheese preservation by minimizing spoilage
· Create the correct salinity for desired microbial (culture) growth
· Help slow down bacteria when the desired pH is achieved
Finally, salt gives cheese texture and body. Salt has an essential water binding and protein modification function that affects textural properties. It indirectly impacts texture through bacteria control because if it is allowed to continue growing, cheese will become soft through the breakdown of protein.
Salt is a traditional ingredient in butter but with the advent of electricity, its functionality has shifted. Prior to widespread use of refrigeration, salt was initially added to butter as a preservative. It still plays a preservation role today, but because access to refrigeration is possible throughout the entire supply chain, salt’s role in preservation has lessened. However, the current flavor of butter was influenced by earlier salt flavors when salt was used as a preservative; therefore, taste and flavor development are the main drivers for common levels of salt in butter today.
Dairy Dips and Sauces
Salt also plays a role in dairy-based dips and sauces, both as a flavor enhancer and to control microbial growth. Other dairy products, such as yogurt, ice cream and puddings, contain sodium naturally from low levels of sodium-containing ingredients.
Salt continues to play an essential role in the production of dairy products today by aiding in flavor, preservation and textural properties.
[i] Elizabeth Crawford, “Yogurt makers expand when and who eats yogurt with different product platforms,” Dairy Reporter, last modified April 1, 2015, http://www.dairyreporter.com/Trends/Greek-Yogurt-Revolution/Yogurt-makers-expand-when-who-eats-yogurt-with-new-products.
[ii] “Production of U.S. cheese climbs while butter falls,” cheesemarketnews.com, last modified April 3, 2015, http://www.cheesemarketnews.com/stories.html#story3.
[iii] Cargill Proprietary Research