Using seaweed to reduce the salt content of bread: Consumer perception and the influence of product informationUsing seaweed to reduce the salt content of bread:

Reducing salt in food is a public health issue, as excessive consumption is associated with cardiovascular disease and hypertension. Bread is one of the most important sources of sodium, due to its high consumption. The authors of this study propose to reduce the salt content of bread by 10-50%, and to see whether the sensory consequences can be mitigated by incorporating brown seaweed. The impact of information about salt reduction and the incorporation of seaweed on consumer perception of the product was also explored.

Determining the salt reduction threshold

First, 102 Canadian consumers evaluated 6 breads: the control bread and the reduced salt breads (10%, 20%, 30%, 40 and 50%). Seaweed was added at a rate of 4%.  The breads were presented one by one and the panellists rated their appreciation of appearance, flavour, texture, and overall taste on a 9-point scale. They also gave their impression of the salty taste on a 5-point JAR (Just About Right) scale and ticked the criteria they had perceived in the product from a proposed list (CATA for Check-All-That-Apply).

Overall appreciation and appearance were not significantly different between the control bread and the -10% and -20% salt breads, and were higher than for the breads with a higher salt content. The flavour of the control bread was less appreciated than that of the -10% and -20% salt breads: more than half of consumers thought it was too salty. The addition of seaweed probably reinforced the perception of a salty taste. With a 10% reduction, 36% of consumers felt it tasted salty enough, compared with 48% for -20% bread. Breads with -10 and -20% salt, like the control, have no aftertaste, are salty, sweet, tender, and soft. Beyond that (-30, 40 and 50%), they are perceived as denser, drier, with an aftertaste and a fishy taste.

Impact of information on perception

A new group of 98 Canadian consumers first evaluated the control bread and the -20% salt-reduced bread in a blind test. The breads were then presented with the information ‘Seaweed bread’ and ‘Reduced salt seaweed bread’. Consumers answered the same questions as in the previous test (ratings, JAR and CATA).

In the absence of information, the two breads were appreciated equally. With the information, consumers liked the flavour and texture of the seaweed bread more overall. In the absence of information, 50% of consumers judged the reduced-salt bread to be just salty enough, compared with just 23% with the reduced-salt information. Those who thought it was not salty enough rose from 23% to 39%. Information on the presence of seaweed in bread increases the proportion of consumers who find it too salty from 46% to 75%. In the absence of information, the two breads were perceived as close and described as sweet, soft, with no aftertaste and moist. In the presence of information, the bread with reduced salt content was perceived as hard, bitter and with a fishy taste. The presence of information on seaweed bread reinforces the perception that it is crumbly, dense, dry, grainy, and nutty. Overall, the presence of information on both the presence of seaweed and the reduced salt content is more closely associated with negative criteria.

On the contrary, other studies show that information about the presence of seaweed can lead to more positive expectations. We can hypothesise that presenting 2 seaweed breads with and without reduced salt content may have focused consumers on the perception of a salty taste. It is regrettable that there was no bread without seaweed as a control, which would have enabled us to measure the real impact of incorporating seaweed. The negative impact of information on salt reduction, and more generally of a health claim, has already been observed, as if consumers expect products that are good for their health to have less taste. It would be interesting to see whether these results depend on consumers’ sensitivity to health, whether the same trends are found with French consumers, and even whether the negative effect cannot be reduced by adding a sensory claim.

Gorman, M., Moss, R., Barker, S., Falkeisen, A., Knowles, S., McSweeney, M.B., 2023. Consumer perception of salt-reduced bread with the addition of brown seaweed evaluated under blinded and informed conditions. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 103, 2337–2346.

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