Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Feb 5, 2009 02:09 PM

What's your favorite no-salt or extremely low-salt flavoring?

This may be a futile or nearly so quest, but it's worth trying. What's your favorite combo of herbs, spices, fruit, whatever that you use as a healthier substitute in a salty world?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I use lots of salt-free spices/blends from Penzey's. In fact, they have a whole section of salt-free goodies. I'm not saying these are substitutes for salt per se, but they are very flavorful. Here's a link:
    I love so many--but here are some especially favorite ones:
    Sunny Paris
    Northwoods Fire
    California Seasoned Pepper
    Any of their chili powders

    Have fun browsing and experimenting!

    5 Replies
    1. re: kattyeyes

      Thanks, I was just contemplating a trip to Penzies. From their website description the chili seasonings seem especially worth a shot.

      1. re: broncosaurus

        Cool--it's always more fun to go to the store so you can sniff the jars in person. ;)

        1. re: broncosaurus

          P.S. My apologies--Northwoods Fire is a favorite of mine, but NOT salt-free. I took out the bottle last night and happened to notice on the label. Still lots of options for ya, though (beyond the ones I listed). And you have lots of great ideas below. Good luck!

          1. re: kattyeyes

            Penzey's "Sunny Paris" is great on salads, tossed with a little olive oil and vinegar.

          2. My favorite no-salt flavorings are black pepper and cayenne pepper.

            I don't use salt at the table. I barely use salt in my cooking. Salt is a habit that isn't too hard to gradually break.

            Once you cut down on salt things begin to taste saltier and saltier until you realize that many processed foods are way too heavily salted.

            1 Reply
            1. re: pgmrdan

              I heartily concur - no pun intended. I missed the salt shaker for a couple of weeks, but that was decades ago. I've rarely eaten out in months, between the rough winter and being retired. A few weeks ago en route home from a doctor's appt, it was 3pm and all I'd had that day was coffee. I started to feel light-headed so I got a drive-through Big Mac and found it overwhelmingly salty. When I was working, I had fast food maybe once a month, 3 or 4 Asian or Indian restaurant meals monthly, and brown-bag lunches were usually cold-cut sandwiches, so while I wasn't using much salt in cooking, I was still getting plenty. I unintentionally came closer to "cold turkey" in the last few months and now I seriously doubt I'll ever hit another drive-thru!

            2. Nutritional yeast. often considered to be the vegan answer to Parmesan, this stuff will change your life if you have to cut out the salt. it's got a nutty, savory, umami flavor, and only 5 mg of sodium per 2 Tablespoons.

              i'm extremely salt-sensitive, so i use it pretty sparingly in my cooking. most restaurant and prepared/packaged food tastes way too salty to me, and at least 50% of the time i swell up after eating food that i haven't prepared myself. i've found that when i cook for other people who are obviously used to consuming more of it than i am, they never miss the salt in my food when i use a variety of herbs, spices and bold flavorings like vinegar.

              there are also ways to intensify the flavors of certain ingredients - such as toasting spices or nuts before using. and finishing off a dish with a pinch of fresh herbs often adds a welcome brightness. also, don't underestimate the power of flavored oils (toasted sesame, walnut, hazelnut), and citrus zest.

              i know there have been threads about low-salt cooking before. you should search the Home Cooking board for more ideas.

              13 Replies
                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                  ghg, any recommendations/warnings about brands and/or sources for Nutritional Yeast?
                  And, is it true that sea salt has less sodium and a saltier taste than table and kosher salt?

                  1. re: greygarious

                    Nutritional yeast is getting pretty easy to find these days. there are only a few options in terms of brands, and i think i've probably tried them all! the one you'll typically find in the bulk bins at health food stores is Red Star, but i'm not crazy about it. i've also tried the one from Now Foods, which wasn't bad. but my favorite is KAL - it comes in cans, and i buy it at WFM (in the Whole Body department with the supplements), the Vitamin Shoppe, or smaller natural food stores.

                    re: salt, chemically speaking, they're all still sodium chloride, so the sodium is pretty much the same. while some sea salt manufacturers *claim* that their products contain up to 60% less sodium than table salt, i'm skeptical - my guess is that it's because the sea salt contains other minerals that account for more of the salt's volume. in terms of saltiness, it's more a matter of texture. kosher salt is flaky, which allows it to dissolve/melt on your tongue and sort of dissipate into foods. sea salt is coarser and crunchier, so it's a bit more assertive in terms of the texture when you bite into it, and because it doesn't dissolve as readily, it may remain on the tongue longer, and therefore it's flavor will linger. the flavor of both sea salt and kosher salt is cleaner than table salt because there's no iodine added, which is responsible for that metallic taste many of us attribute to table salt. i always think that stuff smells & tastes stale - i haven't used it in years.

                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      is "Brewers Yeast" the same as "Nutritional Yeast"? I saw a big can of Brewers Yeast (probably a pound or so) at the store yesterday. I'm anxious to try something other than salt on my popcorn.

                      1. re: DGresh

                        No not the same product.
                        Use nutritional yeast on popcorn.

                        1. re: HillJ

                          HillJ---okay, I now have some of that nutritional do you adhere it to the popped corn? Butter? Olive oil?

                          1. re: Val

                            Couple of options actually:
                            Drizzle with olive oil then sprinkle away or just sprinkle to popcorn immediately while still hot and a bit sticky from the popping process
                            Last time we drizzled with truffle oil and then a shake of the yeast.

                            Also, the NY has many uses so be sure to google the CH search engine & google for other applications.

                            My kids are using NY in place of parm cheese completely now.

                          2. re: HillJ

                            yes, i decided not to buy the brewer's yeast and then googled it on line. Apparently it is kind of nasty at least as a parmesan substitute! I found the NY at Mrs Greens and will try it on my popcorn on tuesday when I guiltily watch american idol :)

                            1. re: DGresh

                              Tried out the nutritional yeast (and butter buds-- got to lose some weight) on my popcorn the last two nights. Definately not as good as butter and salt, but I didn't expect it to be. The NY was actually kind of tasty in a cheesy sort of way. Might also try a mist of olive oil as an alternative to the "buds".

                              1. re: DGresh

                                DG, I can't say I've ever had butter buds. What is it made of? Another interesting way to add flavor to popped corn is the olive oil and herbs, like crushed dried rosemary or 5 spice powder. Good luck experimenting. It's always a personal preference.

                                1. re: HillJ

                                  From the BB web site: Butter Buds contains maltodextrin (a natural carbohydrate derived from corn), natural butter flavor (extracted from the butter oils and then dried to a powder-like form), salt, dehydrated butter, guar gum and baking soda

                                  The salt content is negligible. It has a reasonably good butter smell, but doesn't (obviously) have the wonderful greasiness of butter.

                        2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          Regarding the salt, the reason you hear coarse sea salt has less sodium than table salt is that by VOLUME, it does. Coarse Sea salt is coarser than table salt and as such a tablespoon of sea salt weighs less than a tablespoon of table salt. So, a tablespoon of sea salt has less sodium in it than a tablespoon of table salt. If you compared an ounce of coarse sea salt to an ounce table salt, it would be the same amount of sodium. It all has to do with the grind of the salt.

                          To help visualize it, imagine a cup of unpopped popcorn kernels versus a cup of popped popcorn.

                      2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        Thank you SO much for the ideas for salt flavoring substitutes! My 95 yr old Father-in-law is on 500mg or less sodium per day and has just been taken off all potassium salt substitutes. He is not a happy camper. He is also allergic to onion, in any form, and is on a pureed food diet. Any help is most welcome.

                      3. I grew up in a low sodium household. I still can't eat a snack sized bag of potato chips without salt overload on my tongue. Most processed foods are WAAAAAAY too salty for me. I LOVE Jay's no salt potato chips, and no salt tortilla chips. Can eat a whole bag in one sitting. A few weeks ago I got a small order of mcdonald's fries. I was able to eat three. WAAAAAY too salty.

                        Here's a suggestion for a no salt combo seasoning:
                        Melted butter, lemon juice, and balsamic vinegar. (then add whatever herbs you like)

                        Toss this with pasta or veggies or whatever you can think of.
                        Half a stick of butter, a tbs of balsamic and a squeeze of lemon juice. My mouth is watering right now. I usually make a meal of it with pasta, and sauteed spinach or escarole. If you can do some parmesan, that will ad a salt-ish smidge of flavor as well.

                        One more thing to consider about low sodium diet. After a while, your palate will adjust, and salty foods will just flat out taste bad. They will make you cringe.

                        Another low sodium food that seems to taste salty to me is sour cream. It has that "tang" and enough of a salty hint to it to make things have the "taste/mouthfeel" of salt without all of the sodium.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: gordeaux

                          Great, I'll be trying these out shortly. I was playing with some balsamic vin tonight and see a lot of poooooooootential.

                          1. re: broncosaurus

                            Yep, I would say that balsamic vinegar and fresh lemon are about our favorites...will definitely check out the nutritional yeast, especially on popcorn! By the way, for anyone who loves Triscuits but not their salt/sodium content, they've come out with a new variety "Hint of Salt"--very good! 50 mgs per serving (6 crackers)...dgresh, I saw on some other websites that they've been discontinued...I thought they were brand new! Oh no!

                            1. re: Val

                              I got those a couple weeks ago and loved them (I'm a salt-lover but even I think the regular ones are too much) but then I never saw them again :(

                              1. re: DGresh

                                On my last trip to Trader Joe's I noticed in the cracker section their version of Triscuits, and I think the label may have said something about low-salt. I wasn't interested in buying them so I wasn't paying attention but my recollection is that according to the large print on the label, they were healthier alternative to Triscuits.

                                1. re: greygarious

                                  Thanks, GG...fortunately, I can still find the "Hint of Salt" Triscuits here in SW Florida where we don't have any TJs...Publix had a buy one-get one special a few weeks ago for Triscuits...I stocked up on the Hint of Salt and Rosemary Olive Oil...just love those! Whole Foods has just opened here, though; they have their own store brand of triscuits but the box is smaller, I think...anyway, that's my Plan B in case stupid old Nabisco really does discontinue the Hint of Salt variety...sheesh!

                          2. re: gordeaux

                            By the way - I use unsalted butter for this. The creaminess/fattiness of the butter combined with the balsamic vinegar does something - not sure what, but it tastes great, and needs no salt added.

                          3. Garlic


                            Mustard powder


                            Star anise

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              msg? It is to die for, literally in this case...

                              1. re: broncosaurus

                                What's wrong with MSG?

                                It's a naturally occurring substance in many foods.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  This article's title is "MSG: If It's Safe, Why Do They Disguise It On Labels?"

                                  Yet, other sources (Mayo Clinic and WebMD for two) say it's perfectly safe and that some people are merely sensitive. Either way, I'm glad I don't eat very much of it. Maybe broncosaurus or goodhealthgourmet can elaborate.

                                  1. re: kattyeyes

                                    That article is, at best, inconclusive. The most one can take from an article like that is *excessive* consumption of MSG *can* have side-effects.

                                    That isn't so shocking. Almost anything eaten at excessive levels (sugar, salt, etc.) can have negative side effects.

                                    If a person has an aversion to MSG (real, or otherwise) then avoid it by all means. But to then to postulate that MSG is "bad" in absolute terms is simply an ignorant position to take.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      since broncosaurus asked, i'll add my two cents. i don't have a problem with the small quantities of naturally-occurring glutamates that exist in certain foods. but that's NOT the same thing as the highly concentrated, man-made additive we see in everything from bagged chips to Chinese food..and that's the stuff that really gives me pause.

                                      the nutritionist in me has a problem with the issue of additives in my food, period. but i have a particularly hard time accepting them when they're highly concentrated and/or processed derivatives of otherwise natural substances that have been adulterated for use in applications for which Mother Nature most likely never intended.

                                      oh, and the consumer in me gets *wicked* migraines if i consume the man-made stuff.

                                      so i'm pretty much Anti-MSG. just in case that wasn't clear ;)

                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        After trying a "good" take out Chinese food restaurant, highly recommended by several friends, I immediately noticed a very sick, "spacy" feeling. The food tasted great but the only difference was the MSG. I usually ask them to hold it, but this time I didn't do the ordering. Everyone else was fine. MSG can definately have it's effects. Trust me I stay away from it as much as possible.