I think many of my fellow home cooks will understand when I say I don’t measure ingredients unless I’m baking. I tend to sprinkle a generous amount of herbs and spices into sauces and soups and over meats, but when it comes to salt, I try to be careful about how much I add. Too much salt not only spoils a good dish, it’s not good for your health. So I was interested to read a new research study suggesting that adding spicy seasoning to dishes lessens the need to add salt, which in turn can decrease your risk of heart disease!
A recent study published in the journal Food Quality and Preference looked at taste perception in older adults when it comes to differing amounts of salt and seasonings added to a dish. This study included 39 participants between the ages of 60 and 85 years old. Participants tasted three different variations of a white sauce commonly found in ready-to-eat Cajun chicken pasta meals.
The first sauce didn’t contain any herbs, while the second mixture was seasoned with basil leaves, garlic powder, and black pepper. The third sauce had all of those seasonings, plus a pinch of chipotle seasoning to add some heat. Each sauce was portioned into five batches, each of which was seasoned at different sodium concentrations to see if participants could tell which one contained less salt.
Researchers found that the herbs alone didn’t disguise a lack of salt. However, the sauce combination containing herbs plus chipotle seasoning made it difficult for the participants to identify how much salt was used, making them less likely to add more salt.
Study co-author Carolyn F. Ross, PhD, gives us insight into the way that salt influences the flavor impact of a dish. “If you remove salt, you need to replace that attribute or perception with something else,” she explains. “Otherwise the food will be lacking or just not be as tasty, even if you can’t pinpoint the difference due to the decreased saltiness.”
Although this study used white pasta sauce for the experiment, Ross believes that these findings could apply to other sauces and dishes. Essentially, replacing some of the salt in a recipe with other flavor add-ins like spicy chipotle seasoning and herbs can ensure that it’s just as delicious. And using less salt in your everyday cooking is a plus if you’re trying to avoid high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease over time.
You can pick up a bottle of chipotle seasoning in stores and online. (One to try: Dash Southwest Chipotle Salt-Free Seasoning Blend — Buy from Walmart, $3) It’s also worth experimenting with other seasonings that are known to pack a spicy kick, like cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes.
As someone who loves spicy food, these findings really speak to me — and give me another reason to cut down on the salt and up the spiciness in dishes without skimping on flavor!
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