In the Kitchen
The state of sodium
By Tom Stankiewicz
By Tom Stankiewicz
I think it’s pretty safe to say that we all know people who have to watch their consumption of sodium.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that we all know people who have to watch their consumption of sodium. The sad fact is, for many people it isn’t a choice but a necessity for health reasons. No matter how hard you try, you can’t escape this topic. It’s mentioned often in newspapers or television. When you read all of the information out there, there is only one conclusion: we consume too much sodium and it’s not good for us.
On Sept. 1, 2011, the new School Food and Beverage Policy created by the Ministry of Education in Ontario will come into effect. If your province doesn’t have a similar policy yet, chances are it will.
The goal of this policy is to ensure that schools have the necessary tools to create a healthier learning environment for kids. The food and beverages that will be allowed for sale at schools have been divided into three categories: sell most, sell less, and not permitted for sale. Based on these new guidelines, products in the first category must make up at least 80 per cent of food available for sale. As pizza happens to be a very popular choice at schools, it definitely made its way to the main chart of the document. There are three sections that apply to our industry, specifically in relation to sodium: pizza sauce must have less than 480 milligrams of sodium, pizza dough less than 240 milligrams, and the entire pizza less than 960 milligrams. If you need more details, please visit www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/healthyschools/ .
You can see why it is very important for us as independent pizza owners to understand how this change will affect our businesses. If we decide to stick to our old ways and not move with the change, it could have a huge financial impact for us. For those of us who depend on school contracts to generate more sales, this means it’s time to put your creative hat back on. Start by adjusting your existing pizza recipes and see if the difference in taste is minimal. It might not be a bad idea to prepare one of your existing pizza recipes based on the new food guidelines and ask customers to taste it. From my experience, this generates the most honest feedback. If customers say they like it, then you don’t have too much to worry about. If they say that it needs improvement, then you need to make some changes. It could be as simple as adding one new topping to improve the pizza taste. Most importantly, the new rules for sodium limits translate into healthier and more nutritious food for our kids.
In the next few years people will simply expect all pizzerias to comply with some sort of healthy food guidelines. I see it as our chance to show everyone that pizza doesn’t have to be unhealthy, and can even come to be seen as a healthy dish.
When I heard about the new sodium rules I started to investigate them in more detail. It seems likely that over the next few years most, if not all, businesses that produce food that’s ready to eat will have to disclose the sodium content in their products. In my opinion, that is good, because I believe people should know what they are eating. For our independent pizza businesses this would mean hiring someone who could evaluate and calculate the nutritional value of our pizzas. Even if this doesn’t become mandatory, I can see a lot of customers asking for this information because a lot of people are becoming more conscious about their health.
You can’t eliminate salt totally but it’s possible to look at other available spices and try using them instead. We make our own roasted red pepper and roasted portobello mushrooms, which are part of our gourmet toppings. For the longest time, we sprinkled them with salt before putting them in the oven. I experimented a bit with this simple recipe, substituting fresh ground pepper for salt. It totally eliminated salt on those two gourmet items but the awesome taste is still there. This is what you can control yourself. On the other hand, supplies such as pepperoni, canned tomato sauce and olives will require a different approach. I know that I will be asking my suppliers for a list of items that I order each week and comparing products with lower sodium levels. For my existing suppliers this might mean they will have to re-evaluate what they have available for order. For us, this could increase the cost of our supplies, as we won’t be selecting the cheapest product on the list but rather one that meets our strict criteria for sodium content.
In summary, whether we like it or not, big changes are coming our way. I believe we need to embrace them and keep improving our pizzas, not simply because our customers will expect it, but because it will mean healthier choices for everyone.
Tom Stankiewicz has been in the pizza business for more than 15 years. He has been the proprietor of Bondi’s Pizza in London, Ont., since 2000 and is president of the Canadian Pizza Team.