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Less salt please chef

Reducing the salt content of meals sold in restaurants, bars and cafes is an important job for all chefs.  Below we discuss why and give you some handy hints on how to go about this task.

“… A high salt diet poses many health risks and I urge all chefs to consider how much salt they add to their dishes.”- Gordon Ramsay

So here's the how and why...

There is no doubt salt enhances flavour when added to food.  Chefs know this better than most and use this to their advantage when preparing meals.   However, salt has a negative impact on health, and therefore the general public are being advised to reduce their salt (or sodium) intake.  So how do we come to a middle ground where the food being sold in restaurants and cafes is tasty, appeals to people’s innate preference for salt and sells well, while only containing moderate amounts of salt?

Firstly, let’s start with our taste preference for salt.  It may seem obvious but people who regularly eat salty food develop a preference for saltier food.  Likewise people who reduce their salt intake adapt to this reduction and prefer less salty food.  Chefs can often have a higher taste tolerance to salt (ie. need a lot more salt before they can taste it) as they are tasting food throughout the day and adding salt to meet their taste level.  Customers often don’t have such a high taste tolerance to salt, so the meals served run the risk of being too salty for them.  For this reason it is important to set an appropriate level of salt in a recipe and stick to this.  Don’t always rely on your taste.  And you can re-adjust your pallet to lower levels of salt - it just takes time.  So it’s important to help customers adjust their pallets to accept lower salt levels, rather than higher.

Secondly, it is important to remember that salt is only detected if it comes into contact with the tongue.  All the other salt in the food will slip down unnoticed, as far as taste goes.  For this reason foods that have had salt added to the surface will taste saltier than foods that have the same amount of salt bound within the food.

Here are a few tips to help you produce great tasting foods with less salt:

  • Wherever possible salt the outside of foods sparingly rather than mixing it through
  • Boil potatoes, pasta, rice and vegetables in water without salt
  • Reduce the salt in your recipes by 10-25%, at this level your guests are unlikely to even notice.  Then stick to the recipe amount of salt and don’t rely on your taste
  • Set the salt level in a dish so that there is a maximum of 600mg of sodium per serve- Use the Food Standards Authority Nutrient Panel Calculator to work out how much sodium is in your recipe
  • Drain and rinse with fresh water all canned beans and vegetables

Taste enhancement doesn’t have to come from salt:

  • Season foods with the other basic taste sensations and reduce the amount of salt added.  The other tastes are sweet, sour, bitter and umami.
  • Umami flavours are possibly the most important of the basic flavours when reducing salt, as umami has been shown to maintain the taste satisfaction of low salt foods.  Umami is broadly described as a savoury flavour.  Umami flavour can be enhanced by fermenting, pickling and roasting ingredients.  Some foods with a pronounced umami flavour are seaweed, mushrooms, onion, and meat and fish.