Salt is a well-known flavor enhancer; when added in cooking, salt decreases water activity in foods which concentrates flavors and improves their volatility, making the flavors more prominent in the dish. However, recent research suggests that too much sodium can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, and even stroke. It can be challenging to prepare flavorful dishes without relying on salt, but swapping it with foods such as cheese, citrus, or spices can make a big difference for the palate.

Saltiness from natural cheese

Sometimes naturally salty foods, such as cheese, provide the same flavor benefits as added salt but boast lower sodium levels overall. Cheeses like feta or parmesan offer a rich, creamy flavor and naturally salty aftertaste. Because these cheeses are high in glutamate, the compound responsible for umami flavors, a lower sodium concentration still packs a heavy flavor punch. Try adding these salty cheeses to salads, pasta, or vegetable dishes to amp up the flavor.

various types of cheese on rustic wooden table


Capers and olives for a briny touch

From dressings to sauces, olives and capers add a briny flavor sure to brighten up any dish. Traditionally pickled or packed in a brine solution, both capers and olives are relatively high in sodium, but a little bit goes a long way when using these flavor enhancers. A small sprinkle as a finishing touch on a dish offers increased flavor profiles with a smaller sodium footprint.

Italian appetizer. Mediterranean snack assortment olives, capers with fresh rosemary in a small bowl on a gray background. place for text, top view.


Umami from anchovies

Many turn up their noses at the thought of anchovies, but these little fish offer a big flavor impact. Anchovies add depth and umami to a variety of foods, which increases both the richness and satiety of the dish. Because of their delicate taste, these fish rarely overpower the other flavors in a recipe. Use them sparingly to enhance dressings, sauces, and roasts.

canned anchovy fillets and slices of baguette on wooden kitchen table


Cured meats for seasoning

Incorporating cured meats into recipes may be one of the easiest ways to dress up a simple soup or salad. Cured meat, often known for its unique umami quality and chewy texture, adds a richness to foods that the simple addition of table salt traditionally lacks. High in fats, these savory meats offer deep flavor and a satisfying complexity to foods. Some of the most popular cured meats include bacon, pancetta, and jerky.

Cured Meat Platter, Antipasto, Appetizer on a Boardover Dark Background


Citrus zest and juice for brightness

Citrus zest and juice brighten flavors when added at the end of cooking. The acidity of these fruits cuts through the richness of fatty dishes, adding a tang to both sweet and savory recipes. Citrus fruits stimulate the mouth by increasing saliva production; this increased saliva production allows taste buds to derive more flavor from foods. Try using lemon or lime juice to highlight the flavors in rich dishes such as fatty fish or savory dressings.

freshly squeezed lemon juice in small bowl


Spices for interest

Reach for a variety of spices instead of salt to improve both the flavor of foods and heart health. Spices like cumin, chili powder, garlic, and black pepper add a depth of flavor and heat without the weight of additional sodium. Some spices even boast health benefits; cinnamon combats high blood sugar levels and turmeric neutralizes free radicals in the body. Many ready-made spice blends offer low sodium or salt-free varieties, so look for these if heart health is a concern.

Variety of spices and herbs on kitchen table.


Toasted nuts and seeds for crunch

Packed with vital nutrients, healthy fats, and brain-boosting vitamins, nuts and seeds are a beneficial addition to any diet. While raw nuts and seeds add a pleasant crunch to foods, toasting them brings out even more nuanced and complex flavors. For instance, roasting pumpkin seeds with a drizzle of olive oil brings out a nuttiness that its raw counterpart lacks. Add toasted nuts and seeds to salads and cooked vegetables for additional texture and deeper flavor.



Fresh herbs for vibrancy

Fresh herbs like parsley, mint, basil, and coriander add brightness and depth to a variety of foods and are easily found in traditional supermarkets. Particularly beneficial to individuals with low-sodium diets, herbs do not rely on salt to enhance their flavor. Additionally, herbs boast a plethora of health benefits; researchers suggest that herbs possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic benefits.

close view on fresh herbs bunch


Sauces and dressings for richness

Low-sodium food doesn't have to be bland—sauces and dressings can pack a powerful flavor punch without the addition of salt. Often made with a combination of oils, spices, and umami additions, rich and creamy sauces elevate an otherwise basic dish. Make homemade sauces or dressings if sodium is truly a health concern, as many prepackaged offerings boast high sodium levels. Try marinating chicken in a low-sodium Italian dressing or tossing fresh vegetables in a herb vinaigrette to bring out their freshness.

Set of different bowls of various dip sauces, on dark background, top view


Chilies and ginger for heat

Many people avoid adding spicy elements to their dishes, but chilies and ginger offer a gentle heat that helps bring out subtle flavors from other foods. These delicious spices come in a variety of forms, such as fresh, dried, and even candied; each type offers unique flavor benefits and delicate heat. Popular in Indian cuisine, ginger boasts many health benefits as well. Current research suggests that the spice may help gastrointestinal problems, alleviate menstrual pain, and improve lipid profiles in those with diabetes.

Red Chillies Background,Selective focus


Vinegar varieties for tang

Instead of enhancing taste through copious amounts of salt and sugar, reach for vinegar instead. Known by professional chefs to be an integral part of flavor depth, acids like vinegar enhance and brighten key flavor notes of other foods in the dish. Traditional white vinegar, with its high percentage of acetic acid, offers a lovely tang to dishes; sweeter kinds of the acid, such as apple cider vinegar, bring out fruity notes and saccharine flavors. Vinegars should be added towards the end of cooking, as this allows for maximum flavor impact.

 Glass bottles with various types of oil and vinegar isolated on white background


Natural salinity from sea vegetables

Traditionally found only in international supermarkets, edible sea vegetables have risen in popularity over the past few years due to their high concentrations of antioxidants and vitamins, and these vegetables can now be found in most grocery store chains. Seaweeds, such as kombu or nori, boast a naturally salty flavor with umami undertones. Popular in Asian and Hawaiian cooking, seaweed adds a beautiful depth to stews, stir-fries, and even traditional casseroles.

Various dry seaweed, sea vegetables, shot from above on a black background


Flavorful alliums for depth

Alliums, a genus of monocotyledonous flowering plantsadd a striking depth of flavor to any dish. Some of the most common alliums, such as onions, garlic, chives, and leeks, benefit from a slow cooking time—low and slow heat allows richness and sweetness to develop without the addition of salt. Those who are health conscious may also appreciate that most alliums are prebiotics and aid in the growth of good bacteria in the gut.

Flavor fusion: garlic, onion, lemon, and ginger isolated on white and maroon background Faisalabad, Pakistan. 4-01-2024 sana komal / Shutterstock.com


Exotic spice blends for enhancement

It's easy to get stuck in the rut of reaching for the same spices every day, which can lead to a heavy-handedness with salt. Experimenting with exotic spice blends may help curb the reliance on salt, as harissa, dukkah, and zataar boast a unique and powerful flavor punch. Found in international supermarkets, these spices help tenderize meat, enhance rice dishes, and add a depth to hearty stews.

zaetar, Thyme plant , Za'atar , aromatic evergreen herbs


Intense flavor pastes for big impact

Another simple way to add flavor to family favorites is through concentrated flavor pastes. Miso paste, a Japanese staple created from soybeans, enhances the umami quality of both sweet and savory dishes, while tomato paste adds depth and richness to tomato-based dishes. As with herbs and spices, a little bit goes a long way with these intensely concentrated pastes.

Miso is a Japanese fermented seasoning.Soybeans and 2 types of miso.Red miso and rice koji miso.


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