Salt is a natural flavor enhancer, has conserving effects, and is essential for our organism as long as we do not eat too much of it. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 5 g a day, Europeans consume 8–12 g of salt a day. According to Dominic Wimmer, Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV, Freising, Germany, “around 77 % of our salt intake comes from industrially processed foods”, mainly from bread, cheese, snacks, ready meals, cold meats, and sausage products. Sodium is the biggest problem; it can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, and even kidney ailments, osteoporosis, and stomach cancer.
In the EU-funded TASTE project, Wimmer and colleagues from Iceland, Ireland, France, Spain, Slovenia, and Germany investigate how the saltwater algae Ascophyllum nodosum, Saccharina latissimi, and Fucus vesiculosus could be used as a salt substitute and help to reduce the salt content of industrially processed foods. These brown algae are native to Europe and can be cultivated in coastal regions or harvested wild. Saltwater algae taste naturally salty and contain minerals such as potassium and magnesium, as well as trace elements.
The researchers studied what substances the algae contain and how they can be processed industrially as a salt substitute by preserving the minerals they contain, while removing odor-intensive substances. On a pilot scale of up to 400 liters, they produced a brownish-green seaweed powder. A first test with white bread – one of the biggest culprits of our excessive salt intake – shows that the brownish-green color is still apparent after baking. The salty taste is not as strong as with salt. However, the salt substitute is easy to process and can help to reduce the salt content.
- Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV, Freising, Germany