We continue to get good questions in the comments section of this blog. Recently, we heard from a reader who wanted to know more about using different salt crystal shapes and the steps that need to take place to bring a new food product to market. Those questions can be found here.
One of the things we are studying is the way a chip “holds” salt and salt perception. When you eat a chip, only about 20 percent of the salt actually dissolves on the tongue before the chip is chewed and swallowed while the other 80 percent is swallowed without contributing to the taste. Chips actually have comparable amounts of sodium (from salt) to other foods, such as breads and cereals, but those taste less salty because the salt is mixed in, while chips tend to taste more salty because the salt is usually on the surface.
The shape of the crystal is important because of how it interacts with your tongue. By studying the way salt functions naturally, including the shape and size of salt crystals, we will be able to better deliver the salty taste consumers want — but with less salt. The only difference between the 100 percent natural salt that we are studying and the salt that might be on your table at home is the shape. As is often the case, nature is really the best guide for us. Sea salt, for example, has a unique taste given its shape and other minerals.
Bringing a new food product to market is a very long process. It requires not only specific technology but a diversified team of food professionals including research and product development, consumer insights, regulatory, quality, procurement, engineering, nutrition, and packaging just to name a few. Using new ingredients in a product launch requires in-depth application and flavor science. In the case of salt, we have to study not just the salt taste but also the salt functionality in food. This means things like how it helps preserves the food, affects texture, and something called “mouthfeel” which is how a product interacts in the mouth when eaten.
We know that humans have sweet and umami taste receptors, but to this point there is no known salt taste receptor. We need to understand these receptors better to try to understand salt perception. Some studies show salt perception is through a sodium ion channel. By using spices and seasoning blends, savory flavors are often used to make up the difference in flavor when salt is taken out. This is a common practice with chefs and seasoning developers around the world. I hope that answered the question. As always, leave us a comment and let us know what you think.