Hardly a day passes without hearing about the "Salt Reduction Campaigns" being undertaken in different countries, the noble intention behind such moves being protecting their population from the ill-effects of high salt content in foods on their health. True, sodium is one of the critical nutrient minerals, essential for many biological functions in human beings and its health protecting role is well established. The delicate solute balance in body fluids influence many body functions and maintaining this balance depends on the diet and the life style followed by a person. Of course genetics also can play a role in sodium balance and thanks to modern day medicines such handicaps can be overcome. In contrast excessive sodium intake through unsound diets can be dangerous, the expressed syndrome being high blood pressure or hyper tension and many other health afflictions.
Pickle is considered an essential food adjunct in many parts of India and they are invariably made from salt stocks of raw fruits or vegetables prepared during the season. Naturally such salt stocks can contain high amounts of salt though during pickle making its concentration is diluted to some extent but it is still considered too high for regular consumption. Daily pickle consumption can vary between 5 gm to 25 gm per person depending on the eating habits of people and daily consumption of salt from pickle alone can be as high as 1-4 gm per day equivalent to 300 mg to 1300 mg of sodium. what about other foods like savories, breakfast foods, curry preparations, papads, soups, salads etc all of them adding on to the daily salt consumption very significantly. In the UK, Australia and the US, recommended daily intake levels of salt are between 4 gm and 7 gm. Many nutrition experts feel that an intake of 500 mg of sodium equivalent to 1.4 gm of salt would be adequate to maintain electrolyte balance in the body. Of course healthy human kidneys generally ensure electrolyte-water balance by regulating the fluid intake and out put up to a limit.
Knowing well that hypernatremia situation can raise the risk of developing osteoporosis, ulcers, gastric cancer etc it is advisable to restrict the salt intake as much as possible. One sure way is to restrict consumption of high salt products like pickles, snacks and savories both home made as well as from processed food industry. In India the two products that contain extremely high salt levels are pickles and papads. Having used to the consumption of these two items of almost every day consumption, it is necessary to moderate the salt content rather than banning them due to fear of damages from salt. Salt as a preservative was being used for centuries before the advent of modern preservation technologies and probably did not get the focus it deserved from food scientists because of its low technology status, the major production of salt preserved products being confined to cottage scale sector. The situation has now changed with organized sector getting into pickles in a big way and any alternate technology developed to reduce salt in this product will have better chance of adoption. As for papads the precise role of salt in its quality is still not clear though some studies indicate it has more to do with lateral expansion during frying than as a preservative.
If one can take a leaf out of Japanese pickle Umeboshi which is a salt preserved product made from the plum like fruit Ume and used as an adjunct with rice, it should be possible to make low salt pickles in India also by maneuvering the acid-salt proportion in the recipes. Umeboshi is a dry pickle and therefore the water activity must be very low making it safe from any microbial contamination. Indian pickles can be made into dry concentrated versions which can be reconstituted adding water at the time of consumption and once the role of salt as a preservative is made subservient to low moisture content for preservation, the end product made by the consumer will carry much less salt than a normal commercially marketed RTE pickle. Also possible would be concentrated pickle containing spices 2-3 times more than the normal pickle and diluting further at the consumer end as when it is to be consumed. There can be many other technological options and Indian food scientists owe to the consumer to come out with a modified technology of pickle making that will cut down sodium intake very significantly. .