Whether it’s a salad, a snack, or virtually any meal at all, we always crave that finishing touch. A topping to add that satisfying extra kick of flavour that makes it complete.
Condiments have been around since the time of Roman empire. Fish sauce, mint sauce and mustard were among the first sauces. Since then, people have continued to create more and more ways to season their food, and the Industrial Revolution brought factory-produced condiments to market shelves.
Today condiments are a booming industry, with the global condiment sauces market expected to reach US$ 181 billion by 2025.
One factor contributing to the growth is the popularity of international cuisines among younger consumers. This trend has seen an expansion in sauces and seasonings from around the world. Examples of this are Japanese teriyaki, Mexican-style hot pepper sauce, Portuguese peri-peri sauce, and the immensely popular Asian sriracha sauce.
Across the globe, there has been a gradual cross-pollination in food trends. This has resulted in demand for more Western foods in the Asian Pacific region, and likewise, more interest in Asian cuisines in Western countries. Along with this exchange comes all the condiments and sauces that accompany different styles of food.
As is the case across all food categories, the increasing demand for healthier products is a key driver in the sauces, condiments and dressings market. We’ve seen a wave of better-for-you products that offer lower sugar, less fat, and even plant-based alternatives to old favourites.
But what about sodium? The salty flavour of so many condiments is exactly why we love them. So how can the food industry face the lower-sodium challenge? Let’s look at the levels of sodium in this very salty category.
Consumers have demanded more and more innovative flavours in prepared salad dressings.
Products that are bolder, spicier, and sweeter than ever have emerged. Ranch dressing has evolved into “buffalo ranch.” Classic vinaigrette dressing is being reimagined with more exotic flavour fusions that include jalapeño, agave, mango, and pomegranate.
Given the ever-increasing variety of dressings, it may seem surprising that both the FDA and WHO group them all together. Whether a dressing is cream-based, or vinegar-based, they will have the same sodium target. The FDA sets a target of 980mg of sodium per 100g in packaged dressings, while the WHO benchmark is 500mg of sodium per 100g.
There has been increasing awareness of the high sugar and fat content of many salad dressings, leading consumers to look for healthier options. As we’ve seen in other categories, high levels of sodium can get lost in the buzz around sugar and fat.
One premium sesame dressing is clearly labelled as having no added sugar, while its sodium level of 1120mg per 100g is way above healthy targets. Most of the packaged dressings we looked at exceeded the WHO sodium benchmark.
Tomato-based condiments like ketchup, barbecue sauce, and cocktail sauce are some of the most popular. The global tomato ketchup market was valued at US$ 19.7 billion in 2020, and it continues to grow.
As one of the original classic condiments, tomato ketchup has been around a long time. But it’s not what it used to be. Among today’s ketchup, you’ll find an array of new flavours like curry, beetroot, mushroom, mango, and chili. And the tomatoes used are sometimes different as well, with products made with organic and sundried tomatoes.
The FDA sets a sodium target of 1150mg per 100g for tomato ketchup, as well as barbecue and cocktail sauce. The WHO groups ketchup with brown sauce and mustard, with a benchmark for all of 650mg per 100g. The classic brand name tomato ketchup has a sodium level that falls between these targets with 720mg per 100g. A popular brand of organic ketchup has 1000mg per 100g. Some of the new generation of gourmet ketchups have the highest sodium levels, including a cayenne pepper ketchup with 1320mg of sodium per 100g, and a harissa ketchup with 1400mg per 100g.
Mayonnaise is one of the oldest condiments, invented in 18th century France. Originally made from just eggs, oil and vinegar, in today’s market mayonnaise has expanded into a wide range of flavours. The popularity of sushi has generated a range of mayos designed to complement it, including lime and wasabi. Spicy pepper-infused mayos are popular, with flavours like chimichurri and cajun spice.
The FDA sets a target of 730 mg of sodium per 100g for mayonnaise and tartar sauce, including vegan alternatives. The WHO’s benchmark for all emulsion-based sauces (including mayo) is 500mg per 100g.
Most of the classic big brand mayonnaise products are within the 600-680 mg per 100g range – only slightly higher than the WHO benchmark. Some of the highest sodium mayos are found in the flavoured and gourmet segment of the market. A spicy vegan mayo and a roasted garlic aioli product both had 840 mg of sodium per 100g. A popular brand of Asian sauce has a chilli mayo packed with sodium at 1480mg per 100g.
Mustard & brown sauces
Both the WHO and the FDA place mustard and brown sauces in the same category of their sodium guidance. Prepared mustards range from mild to extra spicy. Nearly all of these exceed the WHO sodium benchmark of 650mg per 100g, and many products also break through the FDA’s target of 1190mg per 100g. One own brand wholegrain mustard has 1320mg of sodium per 100g, and a Dijon style mustard has 2480mg of sodium per 100g.
Brown sauces like Worcestershire and steak sauce have these same targets. While the classic British brown sauce has relatively modest levels of sodium, its well-known US counterpart has 1647mg of sodium per 100g. One organic vegan Worcester sauce may seem like a healthier choice but has 1560mg of sodium per 100g.
Soy & Asian-style sauces
Asian cuisine has been enthusiastically adopted by much of the West, with Chinese food being among the most popular in the US and UK. The little packets of soy sauce that come with a takeout order, and the bottles of oyster and teriyaki sauce on restaurant tables are a familiar part of enjoying Asian food. These traditional tasty sauces are actually the highest sodium condiments in the entire sauce and condiment category.
The FDA sets a target of 3400mg of sodium per 100g for packaged Asian-style sauces like fish sauce and hoisin sauce. Soy sauce is in a separate subcategory, with an even higher target of 6590mg of sodium per 100g.
The WHO takes a different approach, grouping soy and fish sauce together with a sodium benchmark of 4840mg per 100g – and other Asian-style sauces like oyster and teriyaki in their own subcategory with a sodium target of 680mg per 100g.
Although these targets represent eye-watering levels of sodium, many products actually exceed them. A popular brand name soy sauce has 6760mg of sodium per 100g, and a supermarket brand Thai-style fish sauce has 7600mg of sodium per 100g.
Dips & spreads
Although more substantial than condiments, dips and spreads are included in the same food category in both FDA and WHO sodium guidance.
One of the largest groups are dips made from vegetables and fruit. Salsa and guacamole have been the breakaway stars of the dips and spreads market. Demand for salsa has grown with the popularity of Mexican-themed QSRs. And with consumers eagerly seeking to recreate their favourite restaurant meals at home, the market size of pre-made salsa in the US alone is estimated at $1.4 billion.
Salsa is regarded as a healthy dip because it’s naturally fat-free and its tomatoes give it a sweet flavour without the need for added sugar. In many cases, however, the added salt exceeds the WHO benchmarks of 360mg per 100g. A popular gourmet range of salsas contains 720mg per 100g.
Guacamole and other mashed avocado products have seen a surge in popularity owing to the many healthy properties of avocadoes. While the fruit itself naturally contains unsaturated fats, the salt added to prepared guacamole can cancel out its heart-healthy benefits.
Another food in this category that’s seen explosive growth over recent years is hummus. This smooth and creamy chickpea-based spread has gone from a Mediterranean specialty food to a weekly shop must-have for many families in North America and Europe. Its high-protein, high-fibre nutritional profile helped to grow its reputation as a healthy snack. From its traditional recipe of chickpeas, lemon juice, and sesame paste, hummus now comes in dozens of flavours. It’s many of these flavoured varieties that contain higher levels of sodium. One premium store’s own brand caramelised onion hummus has 572mg sodium per 100g.
Cream-based dips and spreads, including mayo-based ones, are grouped together by the FDA and WHO in their sodium guidance. These have a higher sodium target than bean-based or vegetable-based products. Favourite dips like sour cream and onion, and cream cheese spreads can be high in salt. One gourmet flavour cream cheese has 892mg of sodium per 100g.
Along with salsa and guacamole, the popularity of Mexican food has boosted sales of queso and nacho cheese dips. These cheese-based sauces are thick and rich, seasoned with hot pepper and green onions. They have a WHO benchmark of 500mg per 100g, which many products exceed. One popular nacho cheese sauce has 660mg per 100g. Although the FDA sets a higher target for this group of 950mg per 100g, there are products with a significantly higher salt content. One classic American brand of cheese sauce smashes all targets with 1638mg of sodium per 100g.
Sodium reduction with all the flavour
It’s clear that consumers want sauces and condiments that deliver a big punch of flavour. But while manufacturers are developing the next wave of trendy flavour fusions, it’s important not to lose sight of sodium content.
As both public health guidelines and consumer sentiment continue to move toward better-for-you processed foods, formulating with lower sodium makes sense.
But what about those big flavours that drive big sales? No problem. SALTWELL® is the simple, natural solution to reducing sodium without sacrificing that satisfying salty taste!
Simply replacing SALTWELL® for standard PDV salt reduces sodium by 35%. And as a natural sea salt, it’s a perfect fit for your clean label products.