Today’s concerns over salt, sodium, cholesterol, saturated fat and sugar in food put added emphasis on spices. With the exception of cholesterol, each of these factors involve flavor in one way or another. Reducing any of them reduces flavor impact. Eliminate the fat, salt and sweetening and you may well reduce the palatability and satisfaction in eating the food. Spices, on the other hand, can more than make up for the loss of flavor. In normal usage, spices make no significant contribution of fat, sodium or calories (and being plant products, no cholesterol at all), yet they have a tremendous flavor impact.
Salt and Sodium
It is true that salt “brings out” the flavor of spices If it is entirely eliminated, it takes a potent spice to fill the flavor gap. Curry powder is one of those. Black pepper and garlic are very helpful, as are combinations of spices in which there is strong flavor identity or heat factor (in other words, in this situation, forget the “subtle blends”). On the other hand, product revisions today are more apt to reduce, rather than totally eliminate the salt. Here is where spices can be especially helpful. From a flavor standpoint, most formulations that were developed as recently as five years ago can be substantially reduced in salt if their spicing is simply increased modestly. No rules of thumb can be made because it depends on the nature of other ingredients, the processing and the seasonings being used, but it is certainly worth testing.
Fats and Natural Sweeteners
Whether the object is to cut fat (for various dietary reasons) or to cut fat and/or natural sweeteners to reduce calories, the end result is almost always a loss of appeal for the product. Fat and natural sweeteners are important flavor factors. The seasoning job here can be somewhat more complicated than simply remedying a lack of salt because of interplay’s between ingredients, but adjusting the spice formula can help. For example, if there is fruit in the product, an increase in the level of some of the sweet spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and allspice) can often serve to highlight the inherent sweetness of the fruit and permit less added sweetening.
When reducing fat, step up the amount of spicing, and if possible, at the beginning of the cooking period. This will increase the extraction by longer exposure to heat and will give a better penetration of seasoning into the other ingredients. To avoid unwanted specks, place the spices in a cheesecloth bag for easy removal (or for an industrial product, use extractives).