Less Salt, More Flavor
Reduce your reliance on salt to flavor your foods, and you’ll discover fresher ways to bring out flavors.
Put down the saltshaker! Not that there’s anything wrong with sodium in the diet (in fact, we need a certain amount of this element, to regulate blood pressure and allow for proper functioning of nerves and muscles). The current recommendation for healthy adults is no more than 2,300 milligrams a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control. (Even less—1,500 milligrams—if you’re over age 51, African-American, or have diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure). That’s a number you can exceed pretty quickly if you consume processed foods—such as canned soups or processed meats—often, rely too heavily on salt in cooking, or grab the shaker to season meals eaten out.
Whether you need to reduce salt intake on your doctor’s orders or you just want to be more mindful of how much sodium you’re taking in, you don’t have to cut the seasoning out cold turkey. Give your palate some time to adjust to less-salty foods, suggests Panera Bread® Food Team member John Taylor: “It’s like a lot of things—replacing bad habits with good takes time, and there’s an adjustment period for your palate” as you slowly reduce your reliance on salt as the way to enhance your dishes, especially while cooking. The good news is that what you have to look forward to once you begin making an effort to cook and eat without automatically reaching for that shaker is a whole range of bold, intense, interesting flavors—no salt required. Use these ideas to punch up the taste of food without adding salt.
Give citrus a squeeze. Lemons and limes are the usual citrus suspects, but oranges or grapefruit can also give your dishes a fresh, arresting flavor that replaces the boost of salt, John notes. “The acidity in citrus fruits brightens flavors at the end of the cooking process,” he says. Squeeze juice on meat or fish right off the grill; create lively citrus vinaigrettes for salads; or add lemon zest to soups, marinades, and sauces.
Simmer down. As foods like soups or sauces cook on the stove, liquids slowly evaporate, leaving behind a deeper, more concentrated flavor. When you have a soup, stew, or pasta sauce assembled and the ingredients cooked, lower the heat and let the dish simmer gently to intensify flavor without added salt.
Up the acidity. Vinegar—similar to citrus—adds a bright, acidic tang to foods, says John. A drizzle of good-quality vinegar (such as balsamic) is a delicious replacement for salt on veggies, for example. Dress salads with your favorite flavored vinegar and some olive oil. Tip: Put some balsamic vinegar in a saucepan and gently simmer until it’s reduced to a syrupy consistency. This makes an excellent sauce for meat or fish.
Eat seasonally. Try to buy the freshest seasonal foods that you can; because their flavor is at its peak, these items need the least enhancement during cooking, John explains.