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Seeking more funding to further develop and market the product, the men reached out in 2011 to a third ConAgra veteran, Don Mower, who has sales and marketing experience with several major food manufacturers.
Potassium chloride has a bitter, metallic aftertaste, especially when heated in cooking, and Fila Shoes White
Rao's salt research was funded by Tom Manuel, a former president and chief operating officer of the former ConAgra Meat Cos.
in 2006, a year after he retired from ConAgra Foods as a vice president. Rao had experience making a familiar product Le Coq Sportif Court Suede Trainers healthier without turning off customers. He was behind the company's Ultragrain flour, which ConAgra says has the nutritional value of whole wheat flour with the refined appearance, taste and texture of white flour.
But AlsoSalt's product carries the advice, "For the best flavor, do not taste it directly from the packet or bottle."
Major food manufacturers including ConAgra, Kraft and Heinz have been trimming sodium from their products for several years, using a combination of salt reduction, the addition of other flavors and spices and the use of low sodium alternatives. Those alternatives pose some challenges, though, whether sold to food factories or for home use on supermarket shelves.
Nor would "Salt for Life" or the brand names of its competitors show up in a list of ingredients. The low sodium component in most of these products is potassium chloride, a naturally occurring compound just like the sodium chloride more familiar as table salt.
For one, Nu Tek says its product tastes more like real salt even on its own.
makers of salt alternatives usually mask the taste by combining the potassium with a form of natural acid or traditional salt. Nu Salt covers the bitter taste with the acid salt potassium bitartrate, known to cooks as cream of tartar. Another competitor, AlsoSalt, combines potassium chloride with the amino acid L lysine to mask the bitter metallic taste.
Salt substitutes and low sodium salt products like Salt for Life have been widely used for years to reduce the sodium content of foods like canned soup and processed meats and breads, but those products are rarely stamped "low sodium." Food marketers want to lower the sodium content on the "nutrition facts" label without suggesting to the shopper that the product might taste bland.
Salt is just one area where food manufacturers and fast food restaurants have been quietly reformulating products. Other examples include McDonald's new whole grain, egg white breakfast sandwich; improved low calorie sugar products; and a new starch ingredient from Cargill that tastes like a refined carbohydrate but acts like fiber in the digestive system.
Nu Tek's inventor, chemist Sam Rao, started looking at developing a salt replacement Le Coq Sportif Brancion
Cargill, for example, recommends its SaltWise product for salad dressing but not peanut butter, and for sprinkling on crackers after they're baked but not before.
Nu Tek says its new formula overcomes some of those traditional challenges.
Nu Tek's bakery industry distributor, Cain Foods Industries of Dallas, also is selling the product to manufacturers that are using it as an ingredient in baked goods available in supermarkets.
Nu Tek says its product works better across more applications.
The story of the product's development sheds light on the ways food makers are responding to consumers' health concerns, the challenges manufacturers face and the conflicted relationship consumers have with products billed as more healthful. While processed food sometimes is blamed for the nation's problem with obesity and other health ills, Nu Tek's makers say the interest in their product shows an industry making efforts to improve Americans' diets.
The group made presentations to venture capitalists, and in February 2012, Nu Tek announced it had secured "significant" investment from Khosla Ventures, a San Francisco area venture capital firm founded by Vinod Khosla, founder of Sun Microsystems. Nu Tek said it would use the investment to fund an expansion of its production capacity, along with more marketing and research and development.
Nu Tek executives and health organizations say that the average American consumes more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day. High sodium consumption has been linked to high blood pressure, a factor in heart disease and stroke, and the American Heart Association recommends the low level of 1,500 milligrams daily for everyone. The Institute of Medicine recently revised its recommendations, saying everyone including groups at higher risk for disease can consume up to 2,300 milligrams.
The sodium chloride in the process remains in its natural state, keeping a salty flavor and appearance, Rao said. Also key, he said, is that the product can be used instead of salt in a 1:1 ratio across many types of food manufacturing, cutting sodium by up to 50 percent while eliminating the need to "re engineer" each recipe.
The bottom line of both of the influential organizations' recommendations is: Most people need to cut back.
The food industry has been under scrutiny for its use of salt because most sodium consumption comes from processed and restaurant foods.
Rao's method, patented in 2011, involves more than just mixing the potassium chloride with a flavor improving acid, a method he said doesn't work well for food processing. He actually binds the compound to the potassium chloride molecule in a process developed in rented lab space at the University of Nebraska Lincoln.
"The challenge is, how do you make potassium chloride taste like a salt without these metallic off notes?" Rao said.
But reducing sodium isn't as simple as cutting salt out of commercial recipes. Not only does salt make familiar processed foods taste good, but it's also an important preservative and is essential to the texture of bread, cheese and sausage.
The use of low sodium salt as in ingredient isn't always obvious on the packaging.
Another problem is that available products perform unevenly across different manufacturing processes. A February study of salt trends by market research firm Packaged Facts said, "It is highly product dependent and there is no one size fits all or magic bullet solution that will facilitate sodium reduction equally well in all processed foods."
Containers of Salt for Life are not for sale yet on Nebraska supermarket shelves, but you may Fila White Sneakers
Hobbs is cooking for Nu Tek Food Science, a firm led by four former ConAgra employees who say they have made a scientific breakthrough with a new low sodium salt product, Salt for Life. With a patent and industry awards to show, Nu Tek is now shopping the product to supermarket chains, packaged food manufacturers and suppliers, restaurants and institutional food service providers.
have eaten the product without knowing it. Nu Tek executives said they are already selling a commercial version to five of the 10 largest consumer packaged goods companies and three of the top 10 fast food restaurant chains.
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