Cigi mirrors global efforts to reduce sodium in commercial baking

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Reflecting worldwide efforts to reduce sodium consumption Cigi has decreased the salt level in bread formulations it uses to evaluate and demonstrate the baking quality and performance of Canadian wheat to international customers.

“The aim of Cigi’s pilot bakery is to replicate what the industry does,” says Yvonne Supeene, Head of Cigi 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.”

Salt is one of the basic ingredients in pan bread.

Salt is one of the basic ingredients in pan bread in addition to flour, yeast and water.

She notes that, in addition to Canada, efforts to reduce sodium content in processed foods are occurring in many markets with countries such as the U.K. taking an early lead.

Yulia Borsuk, Cigi Baking Technical Specialist, 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 in 2012 providing the food industry with recommended sodium levels in processed foods set a target of 330 mg per 100 g for pan bread.

Between 2009 and 2015 the Canadian baking industry voluntarily reduced sodium levels by 13% in white pan bread and 16% in whole wheat breads, according to the Baking Association of Canada.

However, salt is also an essential ingredient in baking around the world, Yulia says. “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.”

Salt is typically added at a level of 1.5 to 2%, and slows the rate of fermentation, controls bacterial growth, and acts as a preservative, says Yvonne. 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.

Yvonne points out that sodium reduction is also of importance to wheat growers because it impacts 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,” Yvonne 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.

A version of this story also appears in the May/June 2017 Country Guide west edition.