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Salt reduction in Dutch Gouda cheese: 22% reduction in 2006-2016

Authors:
  • Dutch Dairy Association
  • Dutch Dairy Association

Abstract

Since 2006, Dutch cheese producers have made succesful inraods in reducing the amount of salt in Gouda cheese. Between 2006 and the end of 2015, participating cheese prodcuers achieved a salt reduction of 22.2%. A total of an annual 360,000 tonnes has been reformulated.
Reformulating dairy products
REPORT
We consume far too
much salt in the
Netherlands,
averaging around
9 grams of salt per
day. Because salt
aects blood pressure and increases the
chance of heart and vascular diseases, the
Health Council of the Netherlands recom-
mends an average intake of 6 grams of salt
per day. Most of the salt we eat comes from
cooked meals, but cheese and bread at
breakfast or lunch also contribute signifi-
cantly to our salt intake, followed by deli
meats. The average Dutch person consumes
around 20 kilograms of cheese per year.
1
Around 10% of our daily salt intake comes
Salt successfully
reduced in cheese
Since 2006, Dutch cheese producers have made
successful inroads in reducing the amount of
salt in Gouda cheese. Between 2006 and the end
of 2015, participating cheese producers
achieved a reduction of 22.2%.
This report is the first in a two-part series on product reformulation in
dairy. In the next issue of Voeding Magazine, we will turn our attention to
the reduction of sugar in dairy products.
1 Voeding Magazine 1 2016
from the consumption of cheese. About two-
thirds of this cheese is Gouda, which is why
it was chosen as the target for salt reduction.
Efforts reducing salt
In 2005, five Dutch cheese producers –
CONO Kaasmakers, DOC Kaas, Friesland-
Campina, De Graafstroom and Rouveen
Cheese Specialities – got together and
decided to reduce the salt content in their
Gouda cheese by 15%. Starting in 2006,
the companies implemented several
measures to gradually bring the salt
content down. Their starting point was
the sodium content listed for young
matured cheese in the Dutch Food Compo-
sition Database (NEVO) in 2006: 932 mg
of sodium per 100 g of cheese.2 In 2010,
their eorts appeared to have succeeded:
the average sodium content had dropped
to 805 mg per 100 g of cheese. This repre-
sented a 14% reduction in the amount of
salt. The cheese producers had achieved
their first goal.
Second salt reduction goal
After the first reduction of 14%, the com-
panies agreed to aim for an additional
10% reduction by 2015 compared to the
2011 NEVO. In 2011, the sodium content
in young cheese was 763 mg of sodium
per 100 g of cheese. This second reduc-
tion would bring this down to 687 mg
of sodium per 100 g of young cheese.
Shelf life and texture
Reducing the salt content in cheese was
a big challenge for the cheese producers.
Salt is an essential ingredient in cheese.
It gives cheese its characteristic flavor from
ripening, and it also acts as a preservative.
Salt is necessary for the formation of a rind
that supports the ripening process as well
as shelf life. The lower the salt content,
the shorter the shelf life. Salt also gives
cheese its texture and stability. Cheese
with low levels of salt is more fragile,
making it harder to slice, grate and process
in an industrial setting. The round form of
Edam cheese, for example, would flatten
out if salt concentrations became too low.
Monitoring in the store
To monitor the progress of the reduction
eorts, for several years, an independent,
external laboratory analyzed cheeses from
grocery stores every month to check the
salt levels. Blocks and slices of cheese
in various ages were purchased: young,
young matured, matured, extra matured
and old. The laboratory’s findings revealed
that the salt content in the cheese on the
market was slightly higher than expected.
Monitoring in the factory
Because the eorts of the cheese produc-
ers seemed less successful on the market,
it was decided to measure the salt levels
in cheese in the factories. An independent
party audited the salt concentrations in
young Gouda cheese from all participating
companies. The audit found that the
average salt percentage had dropped
below the target: 686 mg of sodium per
100 g of cheese. This means that since
2006, the salt content in Gouda cheese
has dropped nearly 25%. In 2015, 360,000
tons of Dutch Gouda had less salt.
Gouda cheese import
The dierence in salt content between
grocery store and factory cheeses can be
explained by the fact that a percentage of
reformulated Dutch cheese is sold abroad,
and that Gouda from abroad, which does
not have lower salt levels, comes onto the
Dutch market. Other countries do very
little in terms of product reformulation.
Salt’s function
in cheese
making
Salt plays an important role in
cheese’s shelf life, stability and
flavor. At the end of the ripening
period, the quality and safety of
naturally ripened cheeses like
Gouda must be guaranteed. This
is why salt reduction efforts re-
quire a great deal of time and
research. Consumers must also
slowly get used to less salt in
their cheese. Salt reduction in
cheese must therefore be a
gradual process
The round form of Edam
Cheese would flatten out if salt
concentrations became too low
2016 Voeding Magazine 1 2
Gouda cheese from abroad, however, was
included in the analyses of grocery store
cheeses, thus bringing the average salt
content higher.
Another reason has to do with how salt is
dispersed in cheese. The natural ripening
process irregularly disperses salt across a
block of cheese. Naturally ripened Dutch
cheeses, like Gouda and Edam, are salted
though brining. The pressed curd is sub-
merged in a brine, and salt from the brine
is absorbed into the cheese. As the cheese
ripens, the salt spreads gradually towards
the middle of the cheese. Salt concentra-
tions vary across dierent parts of a single
block of cheese. This is why the outside of
cheese is saltier than the inside, and this is
also what makes measuring salt content a
complicated endeavor. The sample used
for measurement is key. Slices, wedges,
or pieces of the same cheese can have
dierent levels of salt. Logistically
speaking, it is also not possible to brine
all cheeses for the same amount of time.
At a cheese producer, cheeses are placed
into the brine one after the other; the first
one in is the last one out. To reduce the
amount of salt that comes from brining,
either the salt concentrations in the brine
are reduced or the cheese is brined for
a shorter period of time.
Reaching the limits
Cheese producers have indicated that
they will run into major technological
barriers if more salt reductions are
required. The eects on cheese shelf life
and its stability would be too high, and
would cause the cheese to tear and droop.
In addition to the technological limits,
consumer preferences for various types
of cheese are also changing. A taste panel
conducted by the NZO found, for example,
that young matured cheese with extra
salt reduction tastes the same as young
cheese without additional salt reduction.
Additional salt reductions will mean that
consumers who preferred younger cheeses
in the past will choose more matured
cheeses that are saltier from the longer
ripening time.
European efforts
Dutch cheese producers’ reduction of salt in
Gouda cheese demonstrates that product
reformulation in a free market is a major
challenge. This is one of the reasons that
Minister Schippers of Health, Welfare and
Sport is taking the opportunity of the Dutch
European Union presidency in the first half
of 2016 to get product reformulation on
the European agenda. The Ministry hopes
this begins a process in which producers
in the European Union jointly reformulate
products, with the goal to create a level
playing field for food producers in Europe.
During an EU conference held February
22-23 this year, the Ministry drafted a road-
map.3 This roadmap was endorsed by
two European countries, several European
umbrella organizations (including Food-
DrinkEurope), and non-governmental
organizations (including the European
Heart Network). In addition to salt reduc-
tion, the roadmap targets reduction in
saturated fat and added sugar, with the
goal that these reductions help make
the healthy choice the easy choice.
TEXT PETER WOLFS, STEPHAN PETERS (NZO)
ILLUSTRATION DANNES WEGMAN
For more information, contact Stephan Peters
of the Dutch Dairy Association (peters@nzo.nl)
From young to
old
Lowering salt content in young
matured Gouda cheese means
lowering salt content in other
types of cheese, like extra ma-
tured and old. Every cheese
starts out as young cheese. The
natural ripening process is what
makes cheese older. During this
process, moisture in the cheese
evaporates, increasing the salt
content. This is why old cheese
is saltier than young cheese. References
1 http://www.zuivelnl.org/wp-content/
uploads/2015/12/Zuivel-in-
cijfers-2014.pdf, table 61
2 http://nevo-online.rivm.nl/. To convert
sodium content into salt content, the
sodium content is multiplied by 2.5.
The chemical name for table salt is
sodium chloride. The effect of table salt
on blood pressure is caused by sodium.
Because salt is a recognized term, this
article has chosen the term for
simplicity. Therefore, “salt” should
actually read “sodium”.
3 https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/
ministeries/ministerie-van-
economische- zaken/documenten/
formulieren/2016/02/22/roadmap-
for-action-on-food-product-
improvement
Reformulating dairy products
REPORT
3 Voeding Magazine 1 2016
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