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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?

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  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 yeast...how 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?" http://www.sixwise.com/newsletters/05...

                                  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.

                              2. Lemon (juice or zest) is very stimulating to the taste buds. Also garlic and hot peppers (dried or fresh).

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Karen_Schaffer

                                  Lemon or any citrus is my go to salt sub.
                                  Vinegars can sub nicely in certain recipes
                                  Although, I not salt sensitive I tend to grab the pepper mill not the salt pot.

                                  1. re: Karen_Schaffer

                                    What she said. Lemon, garlic, hot pepper - all work very well, not as salt substitutes but as flavors that work in place of salt.

                                  2. Penzey's Adobo! No salt, and it's great in so many dishes, from Mexican to chicken salad.

                                    1. Any suggestions on what's good on popcorn besides salt? That's where I just "can't give it up"

                                      4 Replies
                                        1. re: DGresh

                                          Nutritional yeast - the stuff i mentioned above. it's great on popcorn.

                                          1. re: DGresh

                                            Pepper! It's a totally different effect, but yummy. And I second nutritional yeast -- gives a sort of cheese flavor, like those white cheddar popcorns.

                                            1. re: DGresh

                                              I put lemon juice and cayenne pepper on mine

                                            2. I have been buying Spike for almost 30 years. I first found it in a health food store (in the bulk bin), now I can get it at my supermarket. I also make a mix from a recipe I found in Glamour Magazine, of all places, roughly around the same time. It's called Worth-A-Shake Mix, and has, IIRC (I'm at work now), onion power, paprika, garlic powder, oregano, powdered mustard, thyme....and I forget what else. It's great, you can use it on anything. I can post it when I get home tonight.

                                              6 Replies
                                                1. re: Beach Chick

                                                  A dear friend turned me onto Spike years ago. Count me in as a fan. Spike does contain salt tho. http://www.naturalgrocers.com/spike_s...

                                                  1. re: HillJ

                                                    Salt is the first (and second) ingredient!

                                                    1. re: DGresh

                                                      Arrgh--I guess it's been a long time since I read the ingredients! LOL. Well, I'll still use it, but more carefully.

                                                    2. re: HillJ

                                                      Spike and I have broken up..hee hee
                                                      No wonder I love it!
                                                      Mrs Dash is good too..

                                                      1. re: Beach Chick

                                                        i was just about to jump in with a warning about Spike - the original variety (which i'm guessing is the one most people love) contains salt. they do make a salt-free version with nutritional yeast, dehydrated vegetables & herbs...unfortunately for me it also contains soy.

                                                2. I use very little salt when I cook, use other spices on their own, but Tony Chacherie's no salt cajun spice I really like

                                                  1. Mrs. Dash -- 13 flavors, all salt-free. I've been using the Original for a huge number of years.
                                                    Available in every grocery store and a easy way to pump up flavor separately from the salt level.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. What you need is something that mimicks the tang of salt. I find that acids do that best, so I suggest lime juice, white vinegar or rice vinegar, and lemon juice, in that order. What you want is a sort of neutral acid taste, without a lot of sweetness. Lemon juice is last on my list above because it has some sweetness, despite the stereotypical attitude about it. White vinegar has a lot more kick than rice vinegar, but therre will be dishes which seem to require a softer touch. When that is the case, use the rice vinegar (which also, by the way, has some sweetness in it).

                                                      However, in defense of salt, I love the stuff! Aren't we all getting a little bit paranoid on the topic? Salt has become the new cholesterol.

                                                      5 Replies
                                                      1. re: gfr1111

                                                        "Aren't we all getting a little bit paranoid on the topic? Salt has become the new cholesterol."
                                                        while some people can get unreasonably paranoid about it, others have genuine, serious health reasons for limiting their sodium intake...and most Americans could probably benefit from cutting down a bit.

                                                        1. re: gfr1111

                                                          No paranoia here - just a 95 yr old father-in-law with heart problems. Me? I use salt sparingly; but Papa is restricted to 500mg of sodium per DAY, not just per meal. His cardiologist would have my head on a platter if it goes higher than that.

                                                          1. re: Evpraxia

                                                            I totally think it's wonderful that you take such good care of your father. But, I just have to say one thing. I hospiced my Mother until her passing and I argued many days with the nursing home about this. She was dying, what little food she did eat they tried to limit her salt and wouldn't allow her to have any at all. I made sure I was there during meals and I brought her the salt shaker. My Mom lived a long, healthy life and if she wanted salt at the point in her life by damn she was going to have it.

                                                          2. re: gfr1111

                                                            Paranoid about salt? I don't think so. For medical reasons, kidney disease and high blood pressure, I have to be very on guard about salt. I eat very little processed foods. But I have found I enjoy the taste of the food now, not the salt! I don't cook with it or have it on the table.

                                                            I have never thought about needing a substitute, once I got used to tasting food without it. Salt overload happens often when I eat out!

                                                            I love pepper and orange peel and celery seeds.

                                                          3. I really love using Herbes de Provence. I do use a pinch of salt with it, but it's so flavorful alone too.

                                                            Nutritional yeast is a great idea. I need to pick some up.

                                                            1. Worth-A-Shake Mix

                                                              5 teaspoons onion powder
                                                              2 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
                                                              2 1/2 teaspoons paprika
                                                              2 1/2 teaspoons mustard powder
                                                              1 1/2 teaspoons thyme leaves, crushed
                                                              1/2 teaspoon white pepper
                                                              1/4 teaspoon celery seed

                                                              I use this alot, on everything from chicken, to fish, on salads, you name it.

                                                              1. As a gift this past xmas, I bought pepper mills and filled with a nice mix:
                                                                rosemary, coriander, fennel, cumin, black and red peppercorns, garlic chips
                                                                It goes on everything, excellent on roasted vegies.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: lexpatti

                                                                  how interesting...like making your own "Mrs. Dash"--but what are garlic chips? Dehydrated garlic pieces? Available at most grocery stores? Thanks lexpatti!

                                                                2. braggs aminos! i eat it everything....good stuff...

                                                                  1. I am addicted to Spice Hunters Grill Shakers Roasted Garlic. Ingredients: Roasted garlic, sea salt, garlic, brown sugar, parsley, citric acid

                                                                    I put it on everything. Unfortunately I ran out and I can't find it anywhere.

                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                      1. re: krisrishere

                                                                        If salt is the #2 ingredient, this probably won't help the OP.

                                                                        1. re: Striver

                                                                          You can barely taste it. It's a perfect balance of everything.

                                                                          Plus, everything in moderation.

                                                                          1. re: krisrishere

                                                                            for people who need to watch salt (and yes some do) "tasting it" is unfortunately not the issue. If it's the second item listed, then it is probably not going to be acceptable.

                                                                            1. re: krisrishere

                                                                              It's 160 mg Salt per 1/4 teaspoon - so if you use 1 teaspoon, that's 480 mg of salt, which is not low for someone on a salt restriction.

                                                                              1. re: Striver

                                                                                One teaspoon is a lot of salt -- I use less than that in a whole week.... It's frightening to read the sodium counts on prepared foods, and those are based on small serving sizes. Why do manufacturers think everything tastes better with such high levels of salt? Unedible to me.

                                                                          1. Lemon pepper is by far my favorite

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: JerryMe

                                                                              Read the label on any package of lemon pepper. The first ingredient is salt.

                                                                            2. I use Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute: onion, black pepper, celery seed, cayenne, parsley, basil, marjoram, bay leaf, oregano, thyme, savory, rosemary, cumin, mustard, coriander, garlic, carrot, orange peel, tomato granules, lemon juice powder, oil of lemon, citric acid.

                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                              1. re: greygarious

                                                                                i like the sound of that. thanks grey!

                                                                                1. re: greygarious

                                                                                  That sounds really good and I''m usually not into those blend things. I'll pick up some.

                                                                                  1. re: greygarious

                                                                                    gg, how long have you been using the 21 Seasoning Salute? i used to love it when i first discovered it at TJ's 8 or 9 years ago, but i feel like they changed the formula - the orange peel is much too prominent now. is it just me?

                                                                                    1. re: greygarious

                                                                                      I have been on a marinated cucumber kick lately: mandoline-thin sliced English or pickling cukes and onion, 21Seasoning Salute, white vinegar, water, sweetened in my case with Splenda, but use your preferred sweetening ingredient to taste. The seasoning elevates this simple salad to something special. I also use some, drained, on sandwiches.

                                                                                    2. This is a really old thread... but I used to use Mrs Dash on everything. Alas DH is allergic to peppers so I had to drop it from the repertoire because it was making him sick, but a pretty good substitute is equal parts onion powder, garlic powder, a little pepper, ground coriander, and just a touch of ground oregano.

                                                                                      1. I bought Tone's Rosemary Garlic Seasoning at Sams Club a few weeks ago and it's been going into all sort of things. Does 65 MG of sodium per one-quarter teaspoon count as low-sodium? It doesn't taste salty to me but I'm fairly profligate with the salt shaker. The seasoning has a lot of punch so you don't use very much at a time. I like the combination of the two flavors and the rosemary in this mix doesn't have that woody texture that dried rosemary alone can have.

                                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: mandycat

                                                                                          mandycat, the 6tmg of sodium per 1/4 t is low sodium, but it all depends on how much sodium OVERTIME (during one day) you consume. I'm on a low sodium diet and pick and choose where my salt comes from all day long and plan my meals around a certain amount per day. If it is for general health reasons or because your doctor told you to reduce salt, than follow doctor's orders. I can have about 1/3 teaspoon per day on a low salt diet. Nearly all foods have sodium, by nature. Processed foods must be owned by the salt companies!!!

                                                                                          1. re: chocolatejam

                                                                                            "Processed foods must be owned by the salt companies!!!"

                                                                                            I looked in horror one day at the nutritional information on a teensy little envelope of chicken broth mix, enough to make one cup of broth. It had approximately one-half the recommended sodium intake for an adult. It was more like chicken flavored salt than salty chicken broth. So I can understand how careful you have to be.

                                                                                            1. re: mandycat

                                                                                              Hey, mandycat, Herb-OX makes no-sodium chicken broth packets...just so you know...it's passable...when my son was sick a few years ago, we discovered this product and I keep buying it because it's okay in a pinch...just throwing it out there for you.

                                                                                        2. Cumin, sweet Hungarian paprika, fresh basil, fresh mint, fresh dill, cilantro, and white balsamic vinegar, lately.

                                                                                          1. An old thread but pertinent question. I used Spike for awhile instead of salt. But now I just use less salt. Restaurant food is almost always too salty for me now.

                                                                                            1. I am currently reading 'Salted' by Mark Bitterman...

                                                                                              It is about the history of salt around the world, salt making (harvesting), variuos kinds of salt - kind of a selective catalog - and recipes.

                                                                                              I do find it interesting his treatise that humans throughout history have found and either scraped salt, or learned refining methods to gather it, and that it is a necessary part of our blood, body balance, sweat, etc.

                                                                                              I like his idea of 'salting food at the RIGHT time' - consciously salting. Not just putting a tsp. in a recipe because it calls for it (tho I know most of bake from someone elses recipe, and they allready told you how much to put in). I think this is more applicable to savory foods.

                                                                                              Not done with perusing the book, but I am allready going to stay away from 'industrial salt", and move toward more intentional producers, and focus more on easy salt in my cooking - also moving to using 'finishing salts' to add that crucial' salt taste that heightens food, rather than indiscriminately adding it to dishes.

                                                                                              A great read, and informative.

                                                                                              I suggest this to a low-salt thread as a conversation starter, and for a discussion with any health proffessional who says no-salt at all. Is this truly scientifically viable, or another diet-science trend that can be managed in other methods than just - no salt at all?

                                                                                              As for those who cannot have salt, I second or third the use of Bragg's liquid Amino's. Small sodium content, but high Umami quotient for this tiny element of the blend. A good substitute, especially for straight soy in asian dishes.