Despite efforts to regulate sodium intake, restaurant menus rely on salt more than ever

Efforts to reduce the daily sodium intake of U.S. consumers have been underway for decades with little progress, in part because salt has many desirable properties and serves as an inexpensive way to enhance the flavor of food, making good food taste even better. 

Despite national salt reduction initiatives, salt mentions on major chain and independent restaurant menus have increased by 144 percent over the last five years. Technomic’s MenuMonitor analysis of over 2,000 top chains, emerging concepts and leading independent restaurants reports that not only have operators included salt on the menu with greater frequency, but the evolution of salt use across menu categories has shifted dramatically.

“Salt and pepper has always been prevalent on the menu,” says Technomic EVP Darren Tristano.  “However, we are seeing more artisan, spice blended and designer finishing salts being introduced broadly across appetizers, entrees and dessert menus. Although the roots of this trend originate in fine dining establishments, it’s catching on in mainstream casual dining, fast casual and quick service restaurant chains.”

Tristano also points out, however, that the addition of these menu descriptors does not necessarily indicate a conflict with the restaurant industry’s efforts to lower the overall sodium content in food, and that the salt not included in menu descriptions has been consistently lessened in recent years, even as these artisanal uses of the spice have increased.

Examples include:

  • Dragon Salt, a blend of salt, cayenne pepper, garlic, ginger and Cajun spices is offered at Asian stir-fry chain Genghis Grill, as a seasoning for several featured bowls.
  • Salt and vinegar French fries appear on the menu at Old Chicago Restaurants while Wendy’s national roll out of Natural-Cut Sea Salt Fries occurred late last year.
  • California-based independent operator, The French Laundry menus Caramel Ice Cream and Maldon Salt on their dessert menu while Firebirds Wood Fired Grill menus Warm Chocolate Brownies with Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Sauce.
  • O Ya, the haute Japanese fusion restaurant in Boston pairs their Seared Petit Strip Loin with a 2 oz. Potato Confit with Sea Salt White Truffle Oil. Miso Braised Beef Marrow featuring Hawaiian black lava sea salt is offered at Tanuki Tavern Japanese gastropub in New York.
  • Ocean Prime offers a specialty martini called Sea Salt Caramel Martini featuring Belvedere Vodka, Navan Vanilla, Caramel and Black Lava Salt while SushiSamba’s Kimori cocktail is served with a Nori-salt rim.

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