Researchers at the University of Nottingham found that a compound called dextran made water taste saltier and could have the same effect on processed food. The Food Standards Agency has long been campaigning for food manufacturers and fast food restaurants to reduce their salt content to help reduce high blood pressure and heart problems, but consumers prefer meals that contain high levels of salt.
The study’s leader Professor Bettina Wolf said; “Though reducing the salt content in processed food could significantly improve the health of the population, the detrimental change in flavour presents a major challenge as consumers generally find low salt products unacceptable.”
Previous research has found that thickening agents can improve the taste of ready meals, but these can usually only be used in low quantities so as not to affect the quality of soups and sauces.
Dextran is a molecule that behaves like starch, a common thickening agent, that is found in the bacteria that causes dental plaque and is used in medicine to help promote blood clotting.
Professor Wolf added; “High concentrations of low molecular weight thickeners could be used to enhance saltiness perception in low salt products.”