How can one make lowsodium cheese

Although sodium is an essential component in the human diet, excessive intakes have undesirable physiological effects, the most significant of which are hypertension and increased calcium excretion (which can lead to osteoporosis). The recommended daily requirement of sodium for the adult human is -2.4 g Na+, which is equivalent to -6 g NaCl, per day. Sodium intake in the modern western diet is 2-3-fold higher than recommended. This has given rise to recommendations for reduced dietary intake of Na+ and an increased demand for reduced-sodium foods, including cheese. However, owing to the important role of salt in cheese [39], reduction in salt level must be such that the quality and safety of the cheese are not compromised. Probably the most effective approaches to date for reducing sodium are:

• reducing added NaCl to the minimum level required for optimum quality;

• partial substitution of NaCl with KCl.

Maintaining the salt content at the minimum level required for optimal quality of any given variety requires large databases showing the relationships, if any, between the salt content and grading scores/cheese quality [80]. Published information of this type is readily available for Cheddar cheese [100], but less so for other varieties. Studies investigating relationships between composition and quality/grading scores of Cheddar have identified four key compositional parameters that have a major influence on quality. These include levels of salt-in-moisture (S/M), moisture-in-non-fat-substances, pH and fat-in-dry-matter. S/M level has a critical effect on quality, with grade deteriorating rapidly at S/M levels <3.0 and >6% (w/w). The recommended ranges for S/M are 4.7-5.7% S/M for first-grade Cheddar, and 4-4.7% and 5.7 to 6% S/M for second-grade Cheddar. Reducing the S/M to the lower end (4.7-5.0% S/M) of the range prescribed for first-grade quality cheese enables a 12% reduction in sodium content while maintaining excellent cheese quality. The implementation of this approach would necessitate a high degree of process control to ensure that the mean salt concentration is consistently kept within a narrow window of tolerance. For cheeses other than Cheddar further studies relating quality (grading scores, consumer acceptability) to salt level, are required so as to establish the minimum level to which the NaCl can be reduced without compromising quality.

Owing to the varying effects of different anions and cations on saltiness, the partial substitution of NaCl by an alternative salt with a non-sodium cation offers potential as a means of reducing sodium in cheese. Consequently, KCl, MgCl2 and CaCl2 have been extensively investigated as potential substitutes for NaCl in the production of low-sodium cheeses. These salts on their own or in 1:1 mixtures with NaCl are unsuitable because of associated sensory defects such as crumbly, soft greasy texture, and metallic and bitter off-flavours in the cheese. In contrast, the partial substitution of NaCl with NaCl : KCl mixtures with weight ratios >70:30 does not markedly alter biochemical, textural and microbiological characteristics of cheeses, and offers significant potential for reducing sodium level (by <30%) in cheese.

Other approaches to salt reduction include (i) protein-enrichment of cheese-milk by supplementation of cheesemilk with reverse osmosis/ultrafiltered milk retentate [16], and (ii) the addition of flavour-enhancing substances to natural cheese. The potential of protein-enrichment of cheesemilk as a means of salt reduction has been ascribed to the higher levels of calcium and phosphate in the resultant cheese, which contribute directly to its 'saltiness'. They also increase the buffering capacity of the cheese and thereby prevent the likelihood of low pH and associated defects such as excessive proteolysis and bitterness, which are otherwise likely in low-salt cheese. However, major differences have been found in the effectiveness of this approach between the limited number of studies undertaken. Flavour-enhancing substances added to compensate for the reduced saltiness include autolysed yeast extract, gluconic acid-6-lactone, glycinamide hydrochloride, monosodium glutamate and/or 5'-ribonucleotides. While such substances may enhance the perception of saltiness, they have often been associated with the development of off-flavours described as metallic, bitter, burnt, scorched, meaty and brothy.

For cheese and other food products, our long-term ability to reduce sodium will be further enhanced by developments in sensory research investigating product factors (e.g. structure, rheology, texture) affecting the release of salty flavour during mastication and how the perception of saltiness during mastication is affected by the presence of other taste and/or odour compounds.

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