The method could be applied to a raft of products, it said, from breakfast cereals, snacks and dough to soups, beverages and dairy products.
Carbon structure key
The cereal giant investigated the carbon structure of natural bioactive compounds – plant, fungi and microbial – and found that ingredients associated with increased salt perception had common carbon structure patterns.
Examples included horse chestnut [aesculus hippocastaneum], chili pepper [capsicum annuum], English lavender [lavandula officinalis] and apple guava [psidium guajava].
These findings, it said, enabled a selection of bioactive compounds and combinations that could improve the perceived saltiness of a product, thus enabling a reduction in sodium content. Use could either “elicit the perception of saltiness or enhance saltiness”, it detailed in the patent filing.
For breakfast cereals and snack products, sodium content could be reduced by as much as 10 mg per serving using these compounds, it said.
Snack products it could be used in included potato and corn chips, pretzels, fruit snacks to trail mixes, among others. For grain-based goods like breakfast cereal, dough and bars, the compounds could even be used for products made using pseudo cereals like sorghum, millet and teff, General Mills said.
The upside of replacing sodium with bioactive compounds was taste, the company said.
Many attempts had been made to provide salty tasting compositions as a substitute for table salt that would give the same or a similar seasoning effect, it said, such as potassium chloride, ammonium chloride and other similar compounds. However, it said use of such options left “much to be desired as to taste”.
“Neither of them individually or in combination positively affects other taste modalities and tastes like sodium chloride. Each alone has a disagreeable taste, as do mixtures of such salts. For example, potassium chloride has a strong aftertaste that is characterized as ‘bitter’ by most people. Ammonium chloride also has a bitter aftertaste.”
The bioactive compounds could be extracted using water, solvents, supercritical carbon dioxide or other volatilization methods, it said, and then stabilized with encapsulation or chemical reactions to simple sugars or small chain fatty acids.
The compounds would have to be ‘carried’ in the product, General Mills said, with water, ethanol, oil or even starch.
Previous sodium reduction work
Late last year, General Mills filed another patent on an alternative sodium reduction and fat replacement method that relied on salt-flavored fat particles.
It developed shortening chips (fat particles) that incorporated salt flavoring, meaning use of salt flavor could be slashed by around 50%.