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Taste-Testing An Incredibly Realistic Salt Replacement (That You’ve Been Eating All Along)

Nu-Tek Salt contains 70% less sodium than your traditional table salt. Big food producers have already started using it, but soon you’ll be able to buy it yourself. Can it replace what’s in your shaker?

Taste-Testing An Incredibly Realistic Salt Replacement (That You’ve Been Eating All Along)
Salt via Shutterstock

For a week this past May, I used a new salt substitute called Salt for Life in all of my foods. I sprinkled it on soup and cooked dishes. I even tried a little bit without any accompanying food at all. It tasted slightly different from regular salt–a little sharper, somehow. But I didn’t notice the difference at all when I cooked with the product. And in any case, I–along with everyone reading this–have probably eaten the salt replacement in processed foods without even knowing it.

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Salt for Life comes from Nu-Tek Salt, a Bill Gates-endorsed company that sells salt replacement products that contain 70% less sodium than traditional salt. Unlike salt replacers of the past, Nu-Tek’s products actually taste like the real thing, as evidenced by my week-long experiment. According to Nu-Tek president and COO Don Mower, 10 of the top 13 food producers in the world have started incorporating Nu-Tek’s Advanced Formula Potassium Chloride (one of the salt replacement products) into meats and other items since its launch in 2010.

“We have taken a logical path on how we have developed the technology and put it in the marketplace. First, we wanted to establish ourselves in the marketplace as a good ingredient, so we’re available for food applications in processed meats, bakery, dairy, and cheese,” says Mower. “The next logical step is a product for service operators and consumers that uses the same technology in a way that’s more consumer-friendly.”

That consumer-friendly product is Salt for Life, which will begin rolling out online and in grocery stores in August and September of this year. The salt replacement will be available in a tabletop shaker, retail-sized canister, and as individual sachets.

Nu-Tek’s secret sauce, says Mower, is what it calls “single crystal technology.” Traditional sodium reduction products mix potassium chloride with salt and flavoring (to cover up potassium chloride’s metallic taste). All the ingredients are blended in a dry mix–but the different flavor components hit the tongue at different times, so eaters still pick up the metallic flavoring. Other companies have tried pressing all the materials together, but they come apart easily in food processing, and then that metallic taste appears again.

Nu-Tek takes potassium chloride and salt, turns it into a wet slurry (diluting it), blends it in an organic acid like lemon juice, and recrystallizes it. “Those materials no longer separated. They’re now bound together in a single crystal,” explains Mower. “You don’t get that traditional bitter metallic note, and you can use [the salt replacement] at much higher levels.”

At first, Salt for Life will probably appeal to people who are actively trying to keep their salt intake down (in fact, a family member of mine with high blood pressure begged me to hand over the sample I had been testing). But Mower envisions the product appealing to a more general market in the future–kind of like how sugar replacers are now used by people who don’t have diabetes or high blood sugar. The big difference: Salt for Life tastes more realistic than most sugar replacers.

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Consumers in the U.S. are increasing their sodium consumption by 63 mg per day every two years, according to Medical Daily. Nu-Tek’s products may be an option for a populace that has grown accustomed to ever-higher amounts of salt in their foods–and who may be unknowingly eating large amounts of the stuff in processed items (when cooking, it’s easier to simply cut down on salt use altogether).

“The whole paradigm on the importance of nutrition in food is really having a dramatic shift with consumers,” says Mower. “I think that will spawn more and more food companies and more and more startup companies to look to technology to address some of these issues.”

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more

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