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?


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  1. HotStuff says:

    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…

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  2. You can say that again. says:

    Goldman Sachs salt shorters should succeed.

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  3. Travis says:

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

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  4. Mike B says:

    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.

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  5. Robin says:

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

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  6. Kirk Strobeck says:

    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]


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  7. Peter says:

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

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  8. Jen says:

    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”).

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