Adding Flavour Without Adding Salt

Written by Optimity Team

(4 min read)

Heart disease is the leading cause of death globally, taking an estimated 17.9 million lives each year. Salt intake is a huge part of heart disease as too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure which over time can cause complications. Sodium brings out the flavour in so many of the foods we eat so it can be difficult to cut it down. But fret not, we’ve got you covered! Put down your salt shakers and continue reading to learn how to add flavour with less salt. 

One benefit of cooking at home is being able to control your sodium intake. Did you know that the salt we add, when cooking, accounts for just 5% of our daily sodium intake, while the salt from processed and take-out foods contributes to almost 80% percent of the salt in our diet? That’s a lot — so it’s better to get in your kitchen and cook.

One problem still persists — store-bought sauces and dressings. Many home cooks rely on bottled sauces and dressings to add flavour to their meals, but these condiments can be really salty. This chart shows the sodium content, per tablespoon, of common condiments. Keep in mind that you often use more than one tablespoon when you’re making a meal, so don’t be salty and use these condiments sparingly:

Sauce (per tbsp)Sodium content
Fish sauce1400 mg
Soy sauce1000 mg
Sodium-reduced soy sauce750 mg
Teriyaki700 mg
Hoisin sauce300 mg
Dijon mustard204 mg
Caesar salad dressing185 mg
Worcestershire sauce165 mg
Barbeque sauce163 mg
Italian salad dressing148 mg
Ketchup 138 mg

Add more flavour!

Instead of bottled sauces, there are many other ways to add flavour to your food! Try:

Alliums: That’s the culinary word for garlic, onions, scallions, shallots and other flavour-enhancers. Mince some up as you begin to prep your soup, stir-fry, curry or stew. Once these aromatics are heated in a bit of cooking oil, they release wonderful flavours that enhance your dish. They can also be used raw if you prefer an assertive bite.  

Fresh Herbs: Fresh, leafy green herbs such as cilantro, mint, dill, basil and parsley add brightness and bold flavour to meals. Beyond garnish, they can be used by the handful in salads, pasta and this amazing chickpea dish. Dried herbs have a more subtle flavour. Play around with oregano, basil, rosemary, chives, parsley and others to discover your favourite pairings. Keep this guide handy to see which herbs pair best with different dishes. 

Spices: Many people confuse the term “spices” with “spicy”; they are definitely different. Spices aren’t always spicy – unless it’s cayenne or chillies! Spices can actually have sweet undertones – cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom are often used in dessert. Other spices are used in savoury dishes – think cumin, coriander and turmeric. You can also get spices already blended – like curry powder, Chinese 5-spice and Jerk spice. Learn more about spice blends here.

Citrus: Want a quick boost of flavour? Use the juice from citrus fruits, such as lemon juice, lime juice, orange and grapefruit. Squeeze in the juice, but don’t forget the zest, which carries so much flavour! Pro tip: always zest your citrus before you cut and squeeze out the juice! 

Umami: Known as the fifth taste (along with salty, sweet, bitter and sour), umami is described as savoury. Using umami foods can reduce the need for salt because the taste profile is complimentary. Try nutritional yeast, tomato paste, mushrooms, parmesan cheese and seaweed (like nori or kelp). 

Remember, the salt we add to cooking doesn’t impact our daily sodium intake very much (just 5%) – so it’s okay to use some salt to enhance the flavour of your dishes. You are not aiming for a no-salt diet; the body does need some salt for normal functioning (1500-2300 mg/day). Combine the ideas on the list above along with a sprinkle of salt to make your dishes pop with flavour. More flavour with lower-sodium, what more could you want! 

What’s your favourite way to add flavour without adding salt? 

Canada’s committed to reducing sodium. Learn more about the sodium reduction strategies here.

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