In praise of salt

NYT had a really interesting story yesterday about the role of salt in processed foods (cool slide show, too).  With the FDA looking to place limits on this, the industry has responded with a counter-offensive.  Essentially, if you want your foods without salt, here try this:

As a demonstration, Kellogg prepared some of its biggest sellers with most of the salt removed. The Cheez-It fell apart in surprising ways. The golden yellow hue faded. The crackers became sticky when chewed, and the mash packed onto the teeth. The taste was not merely bland but medicinal.

“I really get the bitter on that,” the company’s spokeswoman, J. Adaire Putnam, said with a wince as she watched Mr. Kepplinger struggle to swallow.

They moved on to Corn Flakes. Without salt the cereal tasted metallic. The Eggo waffles evoked stale straw. The butter flavor in the Keebler Light Buttery Crackers, which have no actual butter, simply disappeared.

There is, of course, no doubt, that salt is a contributing factor to high blood pressure, but it is clearly a complicated relationship as plenty of people with high sodium intake (e.g., me) have perfectly healthy blood pressure and low-sodium diets only have a modest impact on blood pressure. actually has a nice summary of the warring science on the issue.   The simple truth is salt makes food taste way better.  Maybe some day if I have blood pressure problems, I might worry about it (though, I’m planning on exercise to carry me through), but for now, I’ll stick with my salt.

In a quasi-related note, it reminded me of one of my favorite Malcolm Gladwell column’s ever, about ketchup and the power of Umami (I’m all about MSG ever since).

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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