Turkey’s love-hate relationship with salt
Making turkey products with lower sodium continues to be in high demand among restaurant and foodservice operators. But keeping sodium in check and producing moist consistent turkey is a balancing act!
Enter Foster Farms R&D gurus Tim McConnell and Dennis Crenwelge. In this Wing It Podcast, Tim and Dennis chat with podcast host Chef Andrew Hunter about the ups and downs of lower sodium.
Balancing salt also comes with goals of maintaining shelf life, food safety and consistently moist turkey. Fortunately there are a few all-natural tricks up the meat scientists’ sleeves.
Listen in to the podcast below. And fear not if you can’t listen to the show. Below the podcast is the show transcript.
Lower sodium podcast transcript
TIM: Salt… it sounds like such a basic of all flavoring elements but the American public is growing accustomed to lower and lower and lower sodium. But in the world of meat science salt is our main ingredient. It is the most functional ingredient that we have to be able to both give attributes for food safety and flavor.
Nobody wants anything to taste salty briny anymore. And then once we get something we like then nutritionally chemical wise it has to be analyzed. And if it’s not on the nutritional panel as being desirable then we have to go back and figure out OK how can we get to the level that marketing wants in order to be competitive in the marketplace and that level is growing lower and lower every year.
As the government gets involved with it and just the general public, the chefs, the back of the house people… salt is still a flavor element. But nobody wants it. So we have to find the perfect range to be able to get a functional level of salt and to make operations happy because operations are our partners. If we cannot make them happy then we’re creating a product that cannot be made. And that’s not what we are. We have to take our partners into consideration when we’re making a product.
We can make the perfect product that marketing wants and we take it to our plant operations group and they say we can’t make this consistently and he says take it back, I don’t want it. So we don’t ever get to that point. We’re not going to show anybody in operation something that in our experience we don’t think we can make.
Whether we can make it easier or not… well, we don’t cut them any slack but it’s got to be within the realm of capabilities.
Going from idea to reality
ANDREW: Do you bring products to operations that you think have a lot of promise that marketing is very interested in and that you know isn’t there. But you bring to operations anyway so they might have ideas to help bring it there?
DENNIS: They definitely can help. They’ll say we’re not going to be able to successfully run that product in this part of the process in terms of salt. Salt a big one. If you don’t have sufficient salt in a product and you try to cook it… then you come up with the Thanksgiving turkey that is just great right out of the oven. But once it’s chilled down and the next day it’s not quite so great anymore. And we face the issue of having to have a product that’s going to be flavorful and good days down the road. And so you have to solve for having a certain level of salt and if you don’t you don’t give the plant the opportunity to operate at a level of an ingredient like salt, then you can have a difficult time making a successful product. Something marketing will be able to take out and say hey look at this.
Keeping turkey moist consistently
ANDREW: A lot of the fine tuning of salt has to do with moisture. Is that right? And moisture retention in in the turkey?
DENNIS: Yes it has a lot to do with texture and moisture of the of the finished product.
ANDREW: Can you talk a little bit about salt percentages or levels because you’ve referenced a fair amount about percentages. What does an amount mean? I know it probably varies from product to product. But what is a 10 percent saline solution and what does it really mean?
TIM: Well let me start with marketing. Let’s say they want 300 milligrams of sodium per two-ounce serving. That’s what they want on their nutritional analysis panel. That’s a low level. It’s not very low it’s not health care style but it’s not a normal product. A normal product is going to run 450 to 500 milligrams per two-ounce serving. So we’re working in about two thirds of its quantity out there. So from that we translate it into a salt level and it’s relatively easy to translate milligrams of sodium into a salt level. And then we have some magical hurdles that we have in the plant where they feel that they need 1¼ percent salt to 1½ percent salt. They can function in that range. Would they like to have 1.6 to 1.8? Absolutely. It gives them a bigger margin of error and it enables them to have a better handle on consistency compared to when you’re at the 1¼ percent salt to 1½ percent range. The processes have to be right. They have to be consistent. They have to be followed and if everything works right it all comes out in the finished lower sodium product.
Going beyond salt
Now it’s most products are not made up of just salt and water. You usually have sugars, usually have some functional ingredient, usually have some micro inhibitor ingredient, and then we have other ingredients that we change the material function and look in appearance of the product. All these things fall into the categories of what is desirable for the marketplace and what level are we going after.
If we’re going at the top white tablecloth functional level out in the marketplace, we need minimal ingredients and maximum functionality. And in their mind the chef has to be able to open that product carve it put it on the center of the plate and it be just like Thanksgiving turkey 60 days down the road. And it has to be that way on Monday, that way on Friday, and that way on the carving buffet on Sunday. That’s what the chefs expect or the back of the house expects.
Our product has to be consistently and uniformly produced each day every time we make it. So that’s the science that we do here in the plant when we deliver it to the operations group, it’s been pretty well vetted. We know that we can make this lower sodium product and then they they turn it into 10-, 12-, 15,000-pound batches and they run with it.
So, we start with the concept and work our way through the functionalities and what marketing wants to put on the marketplace to sell. You don’t learn that in a book. That’s just experience and that’s why we support the marketing folks and we’re in the background. They’re the ones that are going to go out and try to explain it to their customers and the functional characteristics. Were there to try to give them the functional characteristics.