Lemon Paella dish

Here’s a challenge: Create a heart-healthy, low-sodium, low-calorie dish that everyone will crave.  Ready, set, go!

Taking on the challenge

This is the task for chefs in the food industry today, many of whom are looking to meet customers’ health expectations without sacrificing flavor.  In the end, if it doesn't taste good, customers won’t order it.  This has prompted many to put flavors first when creating healthy and delicious meals.

Culinary artist Christopher Koetke tells Flavor & the Menu magazine that, in order to succeed, you must use ingredients and techniques of healthy cooking instead of trying to twist something unhealthy into something wholesome.  “‘Better-for-you’ becomes a strategy rather than a category,” he says.

The article mentions data from the National Restaurant Association (NRA) that shows 71% of adults say they are trying to eat healthier than they were two years ago.  Joy Dubost, NRA’s Director of Nutrition, says, “‘Better-for-you’ is not one-size-fits-all…whatever the strategy, putting flavor first seems to be the silver bullet.”  There are a number of strategies for creating these “better-for-you” options, one of the biggest focuses on salt reduction.

Salt Solution

We all know the importance of moderating our sodium intake, but we also understand that salt is what brings great flavor to our dishes.  Therefore, we are torn between eating healthy at the cost of sacrificing flavor.  The challenge requires a reduction in salt, without creating a noticeable difference in taste. The solution? Spices and herbs.

For instance, cooking with citrus adds a boost of flavor, which diverts attention from the reduction in salt.  Use lemons, limes, and oranges to enhance your pasta and rice dishes.  Even different citrus products pack different flavor punches.  For example, lemons have a floral aroma and clean, sharp flavor, while Meyer lemons bring an orange-blossom aroma for a sweeter taste. 

Citrus is not the only option.  Other flavor builders include chili peppers, fresh herbs, garlic, ginger, and vinegar.  Get creative with spices like cinnamon, black pepper, and turmeric.  The object is to put flavor first when fixing healthy food, because let’s face it, not all of us crave unflavored boiled vegetables.

What tricks and trades do you perform to cut the salt and keep the flavor? Have you tried the “better-for-you” dining style at restaurants?  Share what menu items you like best!

The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association of the United States (FEMA) was founded in 1909 and is the national association of the U.S. flavor industry.  FEMA’s membership is comprised of flavor manufacturers, flavor users, flavor ingredient suppliers, and others with an interest in the U.S. flavor industry.  The association is committed to ensuring a safe supply of flavor ingredients used in foods and beverages enjoyed by billions of men, women, and children around the world.

Lemon paella dish. Photo courtesy of Flavor & the Menu.