Low-sodium turkey processing wins consumer taste test

While not a salt-free solution, using blends of salt and alternatives produces low-sodium turkey preferred to conventional products by consumers in a recent research trial.

(Roy Graber)
(Roy Graber)

Processed meat is a notorious source of sodium in American diets, but new research suggests can't tell the difference between turkey processed with conventional and low-sodium brine.

For a study published in LTW - Food Science and Technology, researchers from the University of Massachusetts prepared turkey breast in a series of different brine combinations: a conventional brine made with sodium chloride, an alternative made with disodium phosphate, and a third made with a blend of the two salts. By using alternative salts or blends of salts, meat processors could reduce the amount of sodium in finished meat products by as much as 20-46%, and, according to the researchers, consumers may actually prefer the low-sodium results.

When offered samples of turkey breast prepared using the three brines in question, a panel of 46 untrained consumers ranked the turkey cooked in the sodium-disodium blend more favorably than the conventionally processed turkey, awarding the trial product an average score of 3.6. The conventional product received an average score of 4.4 on a scale of 1-9, with 1 indicating a higher degree of satisfaction.

Despite the conventional wisdom that low-sodium products are inferior in flavor compared to conventional products, this study suggests there are low-sodium processing alternatives that could be viewed favorably by consumers, according to Amanda Kinchla one of the co-authors on the report.

“I know some products have tried to tout reduced sodium, and while the quality is the same, consumers don't want it because it's perceived that the quality is bad,” Kinchla said. “But then we tested it in a sensory study, where consumers didn't know what they were eating....and it was interesting because they couldn't tell the difference, which is an indication that with these blends you can have you cake and eat it too.”

Nutritionists have for years looked for means to reduce American's salt intake without much progress, Kinchla said. While the 20-46% reduction made possible by the alternative salt blends evaluated in this study “isn't a grand slam,” she said, it suggests this strategy holds promise as an approach that is acceptable to consumers and could lend itself to holistic sodium strategy of “a little less here, a little less there, that might be a more successful strategy than going cold turkey.”

Pun intended, with respect to the study subject matter. But while this proof-of-concept research only applied to turkey products, it could also apply to other meat products that are processed in water or brine, such as sausages.

Still, there is more work to be done to evaluate alternative salts for processing meats, before these methods can be adapted for use in commercial settings, Kinchla said. For example, Massachusetts study did not evaluate questions of food safety and preservation. “But in proof of concept,” she said, “it shows promise.”

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