The range of sodium chloride (salt)-to-moisture ratio is critical in producing high-quality cheese products. The salt-to-moisture ratio has numerous effects on cheese quality, including controlling water activity (a w). Therefore, when attempting to decrease the sodium content of natural cheese it is important to calculate the amount of replacement salts necessary to create the same a w as the full-sodium target (when using the same cheese making procedure). Most attempts to decrease sodium using replacement salts have used concentrations too low to create the equivalent a w due to the differences in the molecular weight of the replacers compared with salt. This could be because of the desire to minimize off-flavors inherent in the replacement salts, but it complicates the ability to conclude that the replacement salts are the cause of off-flavors such as bitter. The objective of this study was to develop a model system that could be used to measure a w directly, without manufacturing cheese, to allow cheese makers to determine the salt and salt replacer concentrations needed to achieve the equivalent a w for their existing full-sodium control formulas. All-purpose flour, salt, and salt replacers (potassium chloride, modified potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, and calcium chloride) were blended with butter and water at concentrations that approximated the solids, fat, and moisture contents of typical Cheddar cheese. Salt and salt replacers were applied to the model systems at concentrations predicted by Raoult's law. The a w of the model samples was measured on a water activity meter, and concentrations were adjusted using Raoult's law if they differed from those of the full-sodium model. Based on the results determined using the model system, stirred-curd pilot-scale batches of reduced- and full-sodium Cheddar cheese were manufactured in duplicate. Water activity, pH, and gross composition were measured and evaluated statistically by linear mixed model. The model system method accurately determined the concentrations of salt and salt replacer necessary to achieve the same a w as the full-sodium control in pilot-scale cheese using different replacement salts.
- Salt replacer
- Water activity