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Back to Experts' Summaries

Sodium Reduction in the Canadian Food Supply: Challenges for Cheese

Paul Paquin Paul Paquin, PhD

Professor, Institute of Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods (STELA/INAF), Laval University

Steve Labrie Steve Labrie, PhD

Assistant Professor, Institute of Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods (STELA/INAF), Laval University

In July 2010, the Sodium Working Group of Health Canada released their recommendations for reducing sodium intakes of Canadians to 2,300 mg/day by 2016.1 Although sodium consumption in Canada is too high, its reduction in foods such as cheese is challenging.

Highlights

  • Salt is responsible for the safety, functional properties, texture and taste of cheese.
  • Efforts to reduce sodium in cheese must consider safety, quality and consumer acceptance.
  • Certain cheeses are particularly challenging for sodium reduction such as: artisanal, specialty (blue, bloomy rind, curd, and aged Cheddar) and raw milk cheeses.
  • Reducing salt may greatly impact the variety of cheeses that could be offered.

Cheese contributes about 5% of Canadians’ total sodium intake. Canada produces more than 300 varieties of cheese, many of which are known throughout the world for their quality and flavour. Salt is the major sodium source in cheese and plays a unique role specific to each variety of cheese.

Role of salt in cheese

Salt (sodium chloride) in cheese is an integral part of the cheese making process, serving many crucial roles (see Table) such as: inhibition of pathogens, control of enzymatic activities, modulation of starter cultures and ripening flora, texture and functional properties (e.g., stretching, melting) and taste. Salt is also essential for controlling moisture content and ensuring safety.2

Some specific challenges for cheese

Some cheese categories, mainly specialty cheeses such as blue cheese, bloomy rind cheeses (e.g., Brie and Camembert), curd cheese and Cheddar that is aged one year or longer represent more challenging issues for sodium reduction.2

  • For blue cheese, salt’s main role is controlling the activity of Penicillium roqueforti, the mold that generates the cheeses’ blue veins.2
  • For soft, bloomy rind cheeses, the most important factor to consider is food safety. In particular, Listeria monocytogenes can survive the cheese-making process and grow during ripening. Therefore reducing the salt content of these cheeses could increase the potential for health risks.2 It would also substantially reduce the variety of cheeses that could be offered.2
  • Since fresh curd cheeses are kept at room temperature postproduction for consumption within 24 hours, the production process must be strictly controlled to prevent pathogen growth. This is accomplished partly with salt.2
  • For aged cheeses, optimum salt content (in particular the salt: moisture ratio) has a narrow range and, outside that range, cheese quality is directly affected. Thus, sodium reduction represents a huge technical challenge.
Role of Salt in Cheese
Acts as a barrier against pathogens
Controls starter culture activity
Helps enable the positive role of certain secondary flora bacteria in the ripening process
Modulates the enzymatic activity to potentiate the ripening process
Controls texture (e.g., runny, hard, stringy) and functional properties (e.g., melting ability)
Controls syneresis and moisture (i.e., water content)
Contributes to the taste characteristics of different cheeses

Adapted from Paquin and Labrie2

References

  1. Health Canada. Sodium reduction strategy in Canada, Recommendations of the sodium working group. Minister of Health Canada 2010 cat. no. H164-121/2010E ISBN: 978-1-100-16232-4.
  2. Paquin P, Labrie S. Scientific evaluation of targets proposed by Health Canada on sodium reduction in cheese: Experts’ report. Laval University; Feb. 7, 2011.

Keywords: cheese , Health Canada , sodium , recommendations


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