Salt plays a major role in food manufacturing and affects the technological and sensory properties of foods. At the same time, high dietary salt intake increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases and represents a considerable public health concern. In many populations, bread is a major contributor to salt intake and is therefore targeted by health policies recommending salt reduction reformulations. However, producers are often reluctant to reduce salt content due to fears of potential negative effects on consumer acceptability and drops in sales. The present work aims to assess the effect of salt content on consumers' hedonic liking and perception of saltiness intensity, as well as the interaction of these two. The study was conducted using two market-leading bread types (white and multigrain) and bread samples with the national average (reference), reduced (-15%) and increased (+10%) salt levels. A sensory evaluation study (n = 200) was done including a questionnaire on attitudes and behaviour regarding bread and salt, enabling the exploration of individual differences in reactions to modified levels of salt content. The latter only affected hedonic liking for the multigrain sample with 15% salt reduction but not for others, which discloses the importance of the bread matrix; and it did not affect the perception of saltiness intensity. Penalty analysis revealed that perceived non-optimal saltiness results in significantly penalised hedonic liking scores. Segmentation based on perceived saltiness disclosed the explanatory importance of underlying consumer behaviour dimensions which should be considered in designing bread reformulations.
Keywords: PCA; bread; hedonic liking; intensity perception; latent class clustering; salt reduction.