Everything you love about potato chips comes down to the combination of three basic flavors: potatoes, oil and salt. But as health concerns about sodium continue to rise, food manufacturers are scrambling to figure out how to reduce it -- without sacrificing taste.
Research and development executives at PepsiCo, the company that owns Frito-Lay, think they have the answer. And it's a solution only a chemist could love: They're going to change the basic shape of salt.
A quick high-school science class recap: Salt molecules are basic cubes, which means it takes each crystal awhile to break down in your mouth when you're chomping on chips.
"Early on in our research, it became apparent that the majority of salt on a snack doesn't even have time to dissolve in your saliva because you swallow it so rapidly," Mehmood Khan, senior vice president, chief scientific officer and a former Mayo Clinic endocrinologist, said during a recent PepsiCo investor presentation.
A Wall Street Journal piece reported only about 20 percent of the salt on a potato chip dissolves on the tongue, while the remaining 80 percent is swallowed without contributing to taste. The solution? Use crystal chemistry to re-jigger the shape of salt to create more surface area. That way, no un-tasted salt ends up in your digestive system. PepsiCo thinks it can cut up to 25 percent of the sodium in their chips using this technique.
If messing with nature makes you a little nervous (remember Olestra?), you can breathe easier knowing that Brits have been consuming a similarly altered salt for three years with no reported problems. And you have some time to get used to the idea -- chips using this technology aren't expected on shelves for at least a year.