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Cutting down on the salt

Bakers at Cigi are showing international customers how to bake bread with less sodium

The bakers at the Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi) are hearing the same message as the rest of us: Cut down on the salt.

“The aim of Cigi’s pilot bakery is to replicate what the industry does,” says Yvonne Supeene, head of baking technology. “We reduced the salt level in all bread formulations, and in our test bakery as well. It’s a great initiative, and the right thing to do.”

Supeene says that, in addition to Canada, bakers in many other countries are reducing salt use, with the U.K. taking an early lead.

Cigi’s baking technical specialist Yulia Borsuk concurs. “When we visited commercial bakeries in Latin America last year, for example, sodium reduction was of primary importance.”

The Canadian baking industry, has been gradually reducing salt levels in commercial breads in response to a Health Canada initiative aiming to decrease sodium consumption as a health risk contributing to rates of hypertension and heart disease. According to Health Canada, Canadians consume twice the recommended amount of sodium, largely from processed foods.

In 2008 Health Canada established the Sodium Working Group to set guidelines for a gradual voluntary decrease of sodium in the Canadian food supply by December 31, 2016. A document Health Canada published for the food industry in 2012 set a target level of 330 mg per 100 g for pan bread.

The Baking Association of Canada says that between 2009 and 2015 the industry voluntarily reduced sodium levels by 13 per cent in white pan bread and 16 per cent in whole wheat breads.

Lower salt requires better wheat

However, Borsuk says salt is an essential ingredient in baking around the world.

“Sodium has a huge impact. It not only enhances the flavour but is also very important functionally in that it strengthens the gluten (protein) and makes the dough feel stronger in addition to other reactions.”

Supeene says salt is typically added at a level of 1.5 to two per cent, and slows the rate of fermentation, controls bacterial growth, and acts as a preservative. Salt reduction not only affects protein functionality but also end-product quality and shelf life.

“Salt is the major, but not the only, source of sodium in bread as even water contains it so the sodium level depends on the formulation of all ingredients,” she says. Cigi used a calculation to reduce sodium to the target level in formulations then sent the bread samples to a lab for verification.

Supeene points out that sodium reduction is also of importance to wheat growers because it affects the quality of wheat used for different commercial bread products.

“Globally, the expectation of high wheat quality is going to become even more critical because a lack of sodium stresses the gluten or protein quality.”

She says that when meeting with international customers who are reducing sodium levels, Cigi will need to demonstrate that Canadian wheat will still perform well, providing the end-product quality they have come to expect.

“Different markets have varying degrees of sophistication and knowledge and many customers prefer a higher protein class such as CWRS to blend with other (weaker) wheats for their products,” Supeene says. “We can help customers with any challenges they face with sodium reduction, provide technical information on alternatives or the impact of changing formulation. Some may be willing to lower product quality while others may want the identical quality and to know what they can do to compensate.”

She adds that for the 2017-18 crop year Cigi will use its lower sodium levels when evaluating bread quality for the annual harvest assessment in preparation for the new crop missions, as well as for potential new wheat varieties submitted to Cigi for Prairie Grain Development Committee testing.

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