Who Profits From Less Salt?

There is an attempt afoot in New York City and among various Federal agencies to significantly reduce the amount of salt in food. The idea is to make a healthier population, and that is certainly a worthy goal.

This won’t make everyone happy, of course. Chefs have already begun to grumble. Nor can the Salt Institute be pleased; its data show that food-grade salt sales have already been trending down over the past 10 years:

DESCRIPTIONGraph: Salt Institute

But who, I wonder, should be celebrating a low-salt future? There will certainly be low-salt winners for some food companies. But what substitutes will rise up to fill the void left by salt — as both a preservative and a flavor-enhancer? Will previously mild-mannered eaters learn to love Tabasco? According to this Boston Globe article by Sacha Pfeiffer, the American appetite has already gotten a lot spicier for a surprising reason: the large, aging Boomer generation who “are losing their ability to taste — and turning to spicier, higher-flavor foods to overcome their dulled senses.” Part of Pfeiffer’s proof:

“Thirty-five percent of all chain and white-tablecloth restaurants mentioned the word ‘spicy’ on their menus a decade ago; by last year that number had risen to 54 percent, according to MenuMine, a menu item database compiled by the Foodservice Research Institute in Oak Park, Ill.”

Question: who do you see most benefiting from a low-salt future, and what will you do to compensate?


What is Sacha Pfeiffer smoking? Coz I want some of that!

The increase in USA's diversity from the old 'continental & English' bland foods to the more exciting & 'spicier' Mexican/Latino, Indian (who box way above their weight in the food/restaurant industry), Chinese (who doesn't have a 'local' favorite?), etc has changed the American palate...

That (not dulling of any senses) has made our cuisine spicier...

You can say that again.

Goldman Sachs salt shorters should succeed.


Clearly the chemical substitutes for salt will be the winners. Not sure what the ultimate health impact will be though.

Mike B

Here's what I don't get about a lot of salted foods...you can always ADD salt, but its very hard to take it out once its mixed in. Just like salad dressing let salt come on the side where the consumer can add salt to taste.


Right wing pundits. This will give them something to yell about.

Kirk Strobeck

To salt: Natural alternatives seem scarce in our new age and it's plausible that the impending "nutri-salt" alternative may carry the same spoils as aspartate and the like. Butter is the definitive ingredient of French cooking, and its identity would likely be lost without it. Meanwhile, salt is a bit of a multiplier ingredient, which doesn't bring much to the table in-and-of itself. Salt, in my opinion, is an uncharacteristic additive, but nonetheless essential. I recall the importance that even the Bible seems to place on salt as it parallels the religious actions of a Christian with that of the saltiness of well, salt. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_5:13 ) All of that to say that it has a substantial history and its consumption control may have far-reaching effects. On that note, thank goodness for iodine. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iodised_salt )

To spicy: To add depth to your seemingly flat and likely accurate reasoning for spicy prominence, I would argue that marketing plays a large role. With Mexican culture playing a larger part in the United States, even the bi-lingual advertising or instructional assistance, which introduces Spanish into our daily lifestyle, conjures visions of Mexico and its exciting foods. Surely, if we integrated German into our language and culture in a similar fashion, we would serve spätzle at even McDonald's. Well, maybe not McDonalds. Combine Mexico's influence with our ever-growing obesity crisis and you'll have created a thickening agent to add to this data pool that promises substantial return for its investment of research.

- -

I am an avid Freakonomic thinker, and am currently in the midst of both books, as I will likely listen to them both at least three times thru. I am pleased to bask in the framework you have propagated that so closely resembles the natural construct I stumbled upon in my own attempt to understand everything. I'll be commenting as frequently as possible and would enjoy any discussion that may overflow to email. [kirk] at [strobeck] dot [com]




Here in Canada our over-taxed health care system should benefit from the health improvements from a lower-sodium diet.


Most of the salt that appears in processed foods is there for the purpose of preservation, rather than taste. So I agree that whatever chemical substitutes for salt that appear will be the winners, and I also agree that there will be some health impacts, though we don't know what those will be yet. I'm sure in about 30 years we'll be talking about banning whatever those chemicals are. We're all better off just not eating so much processed food (or, as Michael Pollan calls them, "edible food-like substances").


Its clear. At the turn of the century Italian, Jewish and Chinese immigrants, who arrived in great numbers, diversed our cuisine. Chinese food, pizza and pasta and bagels soon after appeared across the nation.

In the last decades the US has seen received many spicy food eating immigrants; as in Mexican and South East Asians. Naturally they have had their affect on our cuisine.

Christopher Strom

Once ADM figures out how to turn corn into a salt substitute...

Eric H

So, if the Boston Globe claims that America's aging tastebuds require "higher-flavor foods", why haven't we seen an increase in salt demand over the last 10 years? Have we stopped getting older?

Iljitsch van Beijnum

Ugh, the peer reviewers must have been asleep. Just because the menu says "spicey" more often doesn't mean that the food is spicier. The opposite could be happening: people like blander food so the same food is now more often labeled as spicey. Oh wait, _news_ papers aren't peer reviewed.


I saw this article in the WSJ and it made me sick. Gary Taubes debunked the salt-blood pressure hypothesis in his article in Science magazine 10 years ago. Why are our nutrition "experts" so thick?

Justin James

1. You have to be insanely unhealthy (or eating a rediculous amount of salt) to begin with for high sodium diets to be "unhealthy". The real problem is that most folks don't drink enough water.

2. The idea that Americans' diets are somehow "spicier" is laughable. Have you ever tasted what passes for "spicy" at most places? It usually means "colored red" and "black pepper". It isn't "spicy", it has some mild black pepper. The typical American thinks that a jalepeno pepper is crazy hot... it isn't. What an American thinks is "too hot to eat" is what someone in India, Thailand, etc. calls "mild".

3. That being said, considering the effect that truly spicy foods have on the metabolism, Americans would get much more heath benefit from eating spicy food than lowering their salt intake.



Call me crazy but food should be served properly spiced. Including with salt. The fact that chain restaurants all over-salt their food just means I will not eat there.

Steven F.

Divide salt sales by population and I think you will see that salt really isn't that much of an issue.

No need to compensate for a salt-less world. Why? Because innovative cooking has spread to the masses, making tastier spices for foods readily available with a plethora of options. 50 years ago a spice cabinet had salt and pepper. Now, take a look. Food has become globalized and for that reason, so has our flavors.

No need for salt in a globalized food world. Just culinary ecstasy.


The ingredients of Tabasco Sauce - red pepper, vinegar and SALT.


They can't be serious about legislating the use of SALT!?!?!
That's like a scene in a cheesy action movie where all restaurants have become Taco Bell...oh wait...


I'm with Jon @ 17. If you've ever actually been to Avery Island, LA, and toured the historical Tabasco operations you'd know that the peppers are aged for months in a thick brine which in turn becomes Tabasco Sauce. In fact that's why Avery Island was chosen: it sits atop a natural salt dome. Pundit FAIL.

A. Davidson

I believe gastro-enaterologists will make out well with lower salt diets. My experience is that digestion is better, on average, with higher salt.

In other words, the nation will be more constipated and less satiated.