One major issue of the food industry is reducing sodium content while maintaining food acceptability and liking. Despite extensive research in this field, little has been published on real complex food products. The aim of this study was to investigate whether the size of particles, a parameter easily adjusted in food processing, could influence the salty taste of low-salt food product. We thus evaluated the effect of ham particle sizes (4 levels, including a zero level) on salt perception and the consumer liking of flans varying in their overall salt concentrations (low- and high-salt content). Two consumer panels, composed of 107 and 77 subjects, rated, respectively, the saltiness of and liking for the developed flans (8 samples). The outcomes of this study indicated first, that the addition of ham to flans increased the salty taste perception and second, that a decrease in ham particle size (ground ham) increased the perceived saltiness. Moreover, low- and high-salt flans were equally liked, demonstrating that food manufacturers could reduce the salt contents (here, by over 15%) while maintaining consumer acceptability through the manipulation of the size of the salt-providing particles.
The results from this study can contribute to low-salt food design with a good acceptability by the consumers. Because salted ham particles are heterogeneously distributed in flans, the salty perception is increased compared to a homogeneous distribution of salt in flans. Moreover, a decrease in ham particle size increases the overall surface of particles, which efficiently increases the perceived saltiness. Salt content and particle size of some ingredients can be optimized to enhance saltiness of low-salt composite foods, without addition of any additive and without significant loss of sensory acceptability.