This weekend the New York Times ran a fascinating, lengthy article, “The Hard Sell On Salt.”
The upshot of the article was that New York City and the Institute of Medicine have come out to urge food manufacturers to tone down salt content in their foods, and that this is a battle that has already been lost repeatedly in the past thirty years thanks to deft lobbying efforts from the food industry.
I’ve seen a lot of social media commentary on the article that pulls this quote:
“If all of a sudden people would demand lower salt because low salt makes them look younger, this problem would be solved overnight,” [Dr. Howard Moskowitz] said.
It’s a great soundbite, comparing the lack of enthusiasm for salt-slashing to the embraced push for lower sugar and fat.
However, the salient point that’s unspoken by the soundbit is that companies embraced the idea of lowering sugar and fat because they had a niche demand as well as alternatives that could maintain the taste and texture of their products.
Not only does low-salt lack demand, and not only does salt drive taste – it turns out salt is more than just taste. It’s texture. Witness the consistency changes when some of Kellogg’s key brands are prepared sans salt:
As a demonstration, Kellogg prepared some of its biggest sellers with most of the salt removed. The Cheez-It fell apart in surprising ways. The golden yellow hue faded. The crackers became sticky when chewed, and the mash packed onto the teeth. The taste was not merely bland but medicinal.
“I really get the bitter on that,” the company’s spokeswoman, J. Adaire Putnam, said with a wince as she watched Mr. Kepplinger struggle to swallow.
They moved on to Corn Flakes. Without salt the cereal tasted metallic. The Eggo waffles evoked stale straw. The butter flavor in the Keebler Light Buttery Crackers, which have no actual butter, simply disappeared.
Was this an elaborate smoke & mirrors demonstration for the benefit of the journalist? Partially. It’s also an example of how our nation’s bad nutrition habits are completely entrenched in our favorite brands.
Will anyone eat no-sugar, no-fat, no-salt Cheez-Its? Maybe the former two, but the Cheez-It is all about salt, and we love it that way.
The undeniable truth is that the majority of America’s culturally-reinforced consumer diet for everything – soups, crackers, cookies, and lunch meats – is built on a giant pile of salt.