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The role of sensory perception and sensory evaluation the development of reduced sodium foods
Carol Raithatha Limited, 44 Friars Quay, NR3 1ES, Norwich, United Kingdom

KEYWORDS: sensory evaluation, consumer sensory testing, sodium reduction, salt, food and drinks
ABSTRACT: Food and drink manufacturers are under increasing pressure to reduce the sodium (hereafter referred to as salt) content of their products. One of the factors making this difficult is the negative effect on the sensory profile of many products when salt (NaCl) content is reduced. Sensory evaluation is scientific discipline that aims to research and understand the sensory properties of products and the hedonic responses to them. This article is a selective introduction and review into how and why knowledge about sensory perception and the use of sensory evaluation tools are important for food and drink salt reduction efforts. The main objective is of the article is to introduce the reader to this area, rather than critique the strengths and weaknesses of particular techniques.

Many disease risk factors are associated with ‘unhealthy’ food and drink consumption, including excessive consumption of sodium or salt. According the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, too much sodium can increase blood pressure and the risk for a heart attack and stroke (1). In January 2013, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published guidelines saying that adults should consume no more than 2g of sodium, or 5g of salt per day. According to the WHO, public health measures to reduce sodium can include negotiating with food manufacturers to reduce the amount of salt in processed foods (2).
Government enforced limits on salt use have become a reality with the March 2013 signing of legislation requiring mandatory sodium reductions in several foodstuffs in South Africa by June 2016 (3). The possibility of similar legislation being implemented in other countries or regions is a topic of some discussion within the media, and political and commercial circles.
Along with a range of other challenges (such as safety, cost, process, shelf-life, etc.), the sensory properties of reduced salt products are often key to their success. In the modern world, many consumers will expect to be able to purchase foods that are healthy and that also taste good. According to Dr. Leon Bruner, Chief Science and Regulatory Affairs Officer for the Grocery Manufacturers Association; “Reducing sodium in products without negatively affecting consumer acceptance must be taken into consideration, because a ‘healthy food’ will not promote health if it is not purchased or eaten” (4). Understanding the sensory profile of food and drinks and how this relates to liking, acceptance and choice is therefore a key tool in the challenge to develop reduced salt foods.

The effect of salt reduction on the sensory profile of food and drinks
The most obvious effect of reducing salt in foods is to reduce saltiness, but other effects are also likely. For example reducing salt may increase bitterness, decrease sweetness, and decrease positive flavours associated with saltiness and sweetness (5). The problem is compounded by the fact that some salt substitutes or replacements can taste bitter, particularly potassium chloride (KCl) (6). Reduced salt foods will often need to be reformulated to ‘add back’ missing flavours, or with new ingredients that will mask bitterness.
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