University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Strategies to slash sodium: Prep methods and flavor hacks


If you've got the equipment and labor capacity, some tweaks to your cooking methods can ramp up flavor without extra salt.

1. Fruits and vegetables serve double duty as ingredients AND seasonings. Onions, garlic, and leeks add savory flavor while celery, peppers, and carrots add sweetness. Citrus zest and juice add a bit of acidity or tartness. This brightens up the food, the color, and the taste.

2. Focus on your prep and cooking techniques to add flavor before you even start seasoning. Try marinating to keep lower sodium meats juicy and tender. Marinating is when you soak a food in a sauce before cooking, and it might include oil, vinegar, herbs, or spices. Browning and caramelizing can add a lot of flavor without adding salt, too. When you subject foods to high temperatures, chemical reactions happen that deepen and develop flavors. You can achieve this by grilling, roasting, or sautéing in a pan. Look for that beautiful golden brown color when you cook onions, vegetables, meats, and more!

3. Try using more herbs and spices! Herbs come from the leaves and stems of the plant. Spices are different from herbs in that they come from the roots, bark, seeds, buds, flowers, and fruit of plants and trees. Like many herbs, spices can typically be purchased fresh (like ginger) or dried and (whole or ground). Fresh herbs should be wrapped loosely in plastic film wrap or placed in a container and refrigerated. Individual leaves can be placed in a food-safe plastic bag. Herbs should be washed in cool running water and have any blemished leaves discarded before using. Fresh herbs should be used within four days.

It doesn't take much to add flavor without salt; master these hacks and take the food you serve to the next level!