The demand for Asian-style sauces, including curry sauces, is growing worldwide. The trend for bolder flavours has driven new applications of these deliciously pungent sauces. Snacks, dips, ready-meals and fast-food offerings with Asian-style seasoning are more popular than ever.
In fact, the global market in Asian-style sauces is currently valued at US$ 12.7 Billion – and it’s projected to nearly double over the next 10 years.
But what is the public health impact of our love affair with these sauces? While some of these traditional sauces can support healthy digestion and provide antioxidants, there is a problem that they all share. Asian-style sauces are one of the saltiest of all food categories, with excessively high sodium levels.
With both consumers and industry regulators seeking to reduce sodium intake, it’s time for food manufacturers to take up the challenge of sodium reduction.
Another favourite sauce found in the FDA’s Asian-style sauces category is curry sauce. The sodium guidance it gives is 3,400mg per 100g.
The WHO takes a different approach with curry sauce, assigning separate benchmarks for curry-flavoured condiments and curry-flavoured cooking sauces. The condiments have a sodium benchmark of 650mg per sodium, while the cooking sauces are 330mg per 100g.
We found a curry-flavoured condiment sauce with 1160mg of sodium per 100g – 78% more than the WHO recommendation.
The cooking sauces range in sodium content depending on the style of curry. While some of the creamier korma-style sauces tended to have less sodium, we found others with extreme amounts of salt.
One katsu-style curry cooking sauce has 4,160mg of sodium per 100g, exceeding the FDA’s guidance by 22%, and smashing the WHO’s 330mg benchmark by over 12x.
This ancient sauce made from fermented soy beans is used as both an ingredient in cooking, and as a condiment.
The FDA places soy sauce in its own category, with sodium guidance of 6,590mg per 100g. The WHO puts soy sauce in a category alongside Asian-style fish sauce, with the sodium benchmark for both of these at 4,840mg per 100g.
A well-known brand of soy sauce found on supermarket shelves in the US and Europe has 6,760mg of sodium per 100g. While this exceeds the FDA guidance, there are even higher sodium products. A premium authentic Chinese brand dark soy sauce has a massive 7,720mg of sodium per 100g.
Hoisin, oyster, and black bean sauce
These widely-used sauces are grouped into the Asian-style sauces category by the FDA, which excludes soy sauce. This group has sodium guidance of 3,400mg per 100g.
Included in this category are hoisin, oyster, black bean, teriyaki, and kung pao sauces. Demand for these has continued to grow as people new to Asian cooking try to make their favourite restaurant dishes at home.
Although these sauces have relatively high sodium guidance, there are still many products that exceed it.
Many oyster sauces found in supermarkets are over the 3,400mg sodium guidance, with the highest we found at 4,520mg of sodium per 100g.
Black bean sauce is another classic Asian-style sauce that’s very become very popular with Western consumers. This was one of the highest sodium products we spotted, with a massive 5,880mg of sodium per 100g. That’s 73% more than the FDA guidance.
A staple of Chinese Sichuan cuisine, Kung Pao sauce is growing in popularity around the world. Like other Asian-style sauces, it can be high in sodium. One Kung Pao sauce from a leading international brand has 3,760mg of sodium per 100g – exceeding the recommended sodium amount by 360mg.
Teriyaki sauce has been a favourite of consumers for a while, and remains popular today even with more and more Asian-style sauces available. One best selling brand of teriyaki sauce contains 4,640mg of sodium per 100g, well over the FDA guidance by 36%.
A traditional ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine, fish sauce is made from a fermented combination of fish, salt and water. A variety of fish can be used, from oily fish like anchovies and mackerel to shellfish like shrimp and krill.
Used as both a marinade and a condiment, fish sauce is found in many popular Asian foods like pad thai and kimchi.
As you might expect from its ingredients, fish sauce is the saltiest sauce of all – with sodium content as high as 10,188mg per 100g.
Fish sauce is given a recommended sodium level of 3,400mg per 100g by the FDA, and 4,840mg per 100g by the WHO. Most of the fish sauces available have double or triple the sodium amounts in nutritional guidance.
Healthier Asian-style sauces with less sodium
When it comes to their nutritional profile, Asian-style sauces have a big salty problem. These products require a powerful punch of flavour to appeal to consumers, but with more interest in healthier choices, how can food manufacturers balance taste with nutrition?
While there’s no substitute for the distinctive umami flavour of Asian seasoning, there is a substitute for regular salt.
Saltwell® low-sodium salt is the better way to bring bold, delicious Asian flavours to your customers. It tastes, looks and performs just like regular salt – but with 35% less sodium.
With no additives or chemicals, Saltwell® is a unique all-natural sea salt with true clean label appeal. A simple 1:1 substitution of Saltwell for regular salt is all it takes to achieve significant sodium reduction.