By M.M. Donaldson
Trends aren’t always found on the fashion runways of Paris or Milan, but so often in the aisles of any grocery store. And right now, a trendy pairing is on everyone’s lips. Salted caramel.
In this must-have duo, caramel has become an accomplice for delivering mass quantities of sodium.
Salt has been a staple of human history and language. Think “salt of the earth,” “worth its weight in salt,” and Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt. But more recent history has made NaCl into a health villain.
Salt knows everyone loves to follow sexy couples and despite the hyphenated name, would anyone just choose caramel by itself?
Becoming a flavor so common it is on a trajectory to reach the level of go-to vanilla or chocolate. Google “salted caramel” and get about 10,900,000 results in 0.24 seconds for cake, sauce, cupcakes, ice cream, chocolate caramels, brownies, popcorn, recipes and images.
This sweet and salty couple is now accessorizing pita chips, pretzel bites and popcorn bits as if brownies and cookies weren’t good enough. And the rest of the grocery store aisles are pining to get in on the trend. 2015 has been ushered in with a salted caramel protein drink and salted caramel craft beers.
Chocolate has always been the little black dress for just about any occasion, but with salted-caramel, a black tee shirt and sweat pants are now acceptable at the party.
But how much of a good thing should anyone have?
Health experts recommend capping sodium at 2300 mg per day. Or less. In real-person-speak 2300 mg is one teaspoon.
According to the Dietary Guidelines For Americans, 2010 estimates the average intake is 3400 mg per day with the majority of the sodium found in processed or convenience foods.
The Centers for Disease Control warns excessive sodium consumption can raise blood pressure and the risk of heart disease and stroke. Having kidney failure, heart attack or a major blood vessel blow out is way not sexy.
Despite the possible health consequences of too much sodium, opponents of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 have successfully lobbied against decreasing the sodium content in the school lunch program. Arguments ranged from school children refusing to eat the healthier food to school administrators complaining the standards cost too much.
The original legislation called for step decreases in the maximum amount of sodium that could be served in a school meal. By the 2022-23 school year, the cap would be at 500 mg. Many children who would be affected by the standard haven’t even been born yet.
But the belying and winning argument may have been whispered into the right ears.
In the book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, Michael Moss interviews salty snack industry experts who state sodium is such a cheap ingredient, it is more cost effective to throw it away than redesign equipment to minimize waste.
Food companies are providing more salted caramel options to sate consumers demand while caramel is a delightful flavor and can truly be enjoyed by itself.
A safer bet for enjoying the salted caramel duo might be the WoodWick® Sea Salt Caramel candle where you just light the wick and enjoy the scent.
M. M. Donaldson is allergic to scented candles and commits to leave the salt for French fries. She has a bachelor of science in family and community services from Michigan State University, and has several years’ experience with nutrition issues affecting infants through older adults.