Has salt finally reached its moment of truth as a staple of Western diets? US government experts estimate we consume at least twice as much as the recommended daily allowance, and that across-the-board reductions in salt consumption could save 150,000 lives per year.
Numerous health officials, Michelle Obama and New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg have all recently urged food makers to cut out some salt in their food. The prestigious Institute of Medicine actually wants the feds to force food makers to do so.
But this isn’t going to be easy, and it may not be possible. Salt is a cheap way to create tastes and textures that consumers demand in their food, so doing without salt can lead to reduced profit and therefore, unhappy investors.
Take Kellogg’s Cheez-Its, for example. A cup of the iconic snack contains one third of the daily recommended amount of salt. Part of the salt load is sprinkled atop the orange squares to titillate the tongue at the moment of contact, that’s obvious.
But did you know Kellogg adds salt to the cheese itself in order to give Cheez-Its their memorable crunch? Or that the food maker adds salt to the dough to block a tangy taste that develops during fermentation?
In fact, in a recent demonstration for reporters, Kellogg created a batch of Cheez-Its leaving out most of the salt. The snack’s pleasing orange color faded to brown. They were sticky after being chewed, with the gruel caking onto teeth. And the taste became downright medicinal.
Similarly produced Corn Flakes tasted like brass, and the buttery flavor of Keebler Light Buttery Crackers (which in fact contain no butter), simply vanished.
“Salt changes the way that your tongue will taste the product,” Kellogg vice president and food scientist, John Kepplinger explained. “You make one little change and something that was a complementary flavor now starts to stand out and become objectionable.”