Findings from a new study could mean that soon manufacturers will be able to cut salt without compromising flavour.
Researchers from Birmingham and Nottingham universities in the UK have been studying ways to boost the flavour of a range of snack foods, while lowering their salt content.
Manufacturers are coming under pressure to lower salt levels in their products as many scientists have suggested that diets high in the compound can lead to increased blood pressure (hypertension) and cardiovascular disease.
However it is a common ingredient in almost all snack foods and efforts to find an ingredient which can adequately mimic its distinctive taste have proved difficult.
By using a multi-modal perception technique, the Flavour Research Group at Nottingham discovered the way in which consumers perceive flavour is more complex than originally thought - multi-modal perception means that flavours are not just registered in the mouth but also in the nose.
By using a flexible sodium ion electrode placed in the mouth, they were able to examine the way salt is released on the tongue and are looking to progress the research by provoking the same reaction with salt substitutes.
Professor Andy Taylor who co-ordinated the study said at a recent seminar for the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA): "The challenge is to formulate and deliver flavour to customers to get the best taste but with minimal salt."
In addition, the study could help manufacturers cut costs arising from product loss.
Currently, dust-on seasonings are used widely in snack production but, according to the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council which funded the study, around 10% of these seasonings applied to the surface of the product are lost which puts a financial burden on the industry.
Using flavour science, particle technology and food engineering, the Chemical Engineering department of Birmingham University looked at how to improve the adhesion of flavours and equipment design with a view to reducing waste.
Researchers examined the properties of a variety of snack food surfaces according to their composition and what processes they had undergone as well as determining what flavour carriers were most effective.
Researcher Daniel Wong told bakeryandsnacks.com that the work on manufacturing equipment at Birmingham would be incorporated into the flavour study already carried out at Nottingham and used to produce healthier food in the future.
Pilot trials were undertaken in which crisps were placed in a vibratory conveyor rig and measured for reduction of quality.
European companies United Biscuits, Flavours Direct and KMG Systems were also involved in the €1 million UK government-supported study which will be completed in September and will have taken place over three years.