There is no single ingredient that can substitute for all the effects of salt; therefore different approaches have been developed.
The main approaches taken to reduce salt have been (either alone or in combination): lowering the level of NaCl added; replacing part of the NaCl with either chloride or non-chloride salts; adding hydrocolloids; using packaging technology.
Before considering the use of salt substitutes some important points to consider are:
- the meat to be processed should be kept at a low temperature and a low bacteria count
- the brine should be prepared correctly
- appropriate raw products should be selected (e.g. pH, weight, free of surface fat, suitably trimmed etc.) depending on the product.
The amount of research put into salt reduction differs between products; in the case of wet-cured hams and bacon, the industry has taken the initiative and successfully lowered sodium in the formulations without much research behind this change.
The likely success in reducing salt content depends on various factors:
- Type of meat processed product
There are some processed meat products where salt reduction can have detrimental consequences for the product. This is the case for dry-cured hams, and more markedly for fermented products, where salt plays a role in the fermentation itself and thereby in the development of the product. On the other hand, in some products such as patties and restructured meats, where the role of salt is not as fundamental, salt can be replaced, reduced to very low levels or even omitted without having major effects on the final product.
- Organoleptic effects in the product
Reducing or replacing salt can influence the sensory quality of the product (including colour, mouth feel, aroma, juiciness and tenderness) and this can affect its overall acceptability.
Some new technologies can potentially produce an acceptable final product with reduced salt content. However, these technologies need to be cheaper in order to be adopted by commercial processors.
New formulations are being tried constantly and new technologies keep developing. If this continues into the future, we could be returning to the salt intakes consumed by our ancestors, but this will be with processed products.