6 ways to cut back on salt — and keep the flavor — when cooking at home

Salt is everywhere. It serves an important function in keeping our bodies operating, but with modern convenience food and dining habits, it can be easy to overdo it. Limiting sodium intake is a real dietary concern for many people.

The best way to do that is to avoid processed foods and cook your own. You’re much less likely to overdo it on sodium with your from-scratch fare. Even then, though, there are strategies to cut back on the salt if needed or desired. Here are a few tips.

Buy no-salt-added products. Standard pantry ingredients can contain sodium you might not know about unless you scrutinize the labels. Those might include canned diced tomatoes, broth/stock, canned beans, tomato paste and other canned vegetables. No-salt-added versions of these types of products, however, are readily available.

Rinse your beans. Cook’s Illustrated commissioned a lab to see how much sodium you can get rid of simply by rinsing canned beans. Looking at cans of store-bought cannellini, pinto and black beans, plus chickpeas, the lab found that draining and rinsing them cut the sodium by about 100 milligrams per 1/2-cup serving, roughly 25 percent.

Go for reduced-sodium products. The best example is soy sauce. My standard bottle is always one with less sodium, and I have never found the seasoning lacking. My typical go-to is Trader Joe’s reduced sodium soy sauce, which contains 460 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon. By way of comparison, Kikkoman’s regular soy sauce has 960 mg per tablespoon.

Make your own pantry items. If you want to control or eliminate the amount of sodium in certain ingredients, it’s best to make your own. At the top of the list are beans and broths/stocks. I find that store-bought no-salt-added broths often range from bland to downright offensive, whereas you can make a richly flavored option at home from nothing more than vegetable scraps or picked-over bones and carcasses.

Add salt smartly. Depending on your own health situation, cutting back on sodium may not mean not using salt ever. So focus on getting more bang for your buck, flavor-wise. As Samin Nosrat says in her book “Salt Fat Acid Heat,” it matters when you use salt. “Add it in the right amount, at the right time, in the right form. A smaller amount of salt applied while cooking will often do more to improve flavor than a larger amount added at the table.” So, salt your meat in advance, sprinkle some on your vegetables before roasting and add it to the water in which you’ll be boiling vegetables, pasta and grains. That way you’re giving the salt time to work and season from within.

Try other assertive flavors. Nothing is an exact replacement for salt (some people find alternatives such as potassium chloride too metallic, and it’s best used in consultation with a physician since it can be problematic in the presence of certain medical conditions). Still, either in conjunction with less salt or in place of it, you can experiment with other flavors. Think citrus juice or zest, vinegar, herbs and spices. Especially at the end of cooking, a hit of vinegar or lemon juice can brighten and sharpen a dish when you might otherwise add salt.

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