Login| Sign Up| Help| Contact|

Patent Searching and Data


Title:
SEASONING AND METHOD FOR ENHANCING AND POTENTIATING FOOD FLAVOR
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2008/005231
Kind Code:
A2
Abstract:
A seasoning having particles less than 20 microns in size is added to food to provide taste enhancement and flavor potentiation. In one embodiment, a microwave popcorn product comprising a charge of popcorn kernels, a charge of seasoning for flavoring the charge of kernels, and a bag for containing the charge of seasoning and charge of kernels is disclosed. In another embodiment, the present invention is directed to a seasoning comprising a first seasoning component including a salt and a second seasoning component selected for at least one of complementing the first seasoning component and reducing the amount of the first seasoning component required for flavoring a food product.

Inventors:
JENSEN, Michael (621 South 15th Street, Omaha, NE, 68102, US)
SMITH, Gordon (727 North 163rd Avenue, Omaha, NE, 68118, US)
FEAR, Shawn (20055 George B. Lake Pkwy, Omaha, NE, 68130, US)
SCHILMOELLER, Lance (1501 South 193rd Street, Omaha, NE, 68130, US)
JOHNSON, Clinton (2312 North 52nd Street, Omaha, NE, 68104, US)
Application Number:
US2007/014783
Publication Date:
January 10, 2008
Filing Date:
June 26, 2007
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
CONAGRA FOODS, INC. (One Conagra Drive, Omaha, NE, 68102-5001, US)
JENSEN, Michael (621 South 15th Street, Omaha, NE, 68102, US)
SMITH, Gordon (727 North 163rd Avenue, Omaha, NE, 68118, US)
FEAR, Shawn (20055 George B. Lake Pkwy, Omaha, NE, 68130, US)
SCHILMOELLER, Lance (1501 South 193rd Street, Omaha, NE, 68130, US)
JOHNSON, Clinton (2312 North 52nd Street, Omaha, NE, 68104, US)
International Classes:
A23C15/00; A23L1/00; A23L1/22; A23L1/237; A23P1/08
Domestic Patent References:
Foreign References:
US4385076A
EP0063835B1
EP0518507A1
US6333059B1
US20050238788A1
US6517903B1
US5098723A
Other References:
RICKS N.P. ET AL.: 'Food Power Characteristics Important to Nonelectrostatic and Electrostatic Coating and Dustiness' JOURNAL OF FOOD SCIENCE vol. 67, no. 6, 2002, pages 2256 - 2263
MILLER M.J. ET AL.: 'Effect of Sodium Chloride Particle Size and Shape on Nonelectrostatic and Electrostatic Coaing of Popcorn' JOURNAL OF FOOD SCIENCE vol. 67, no. 1, 2002, pages 198 - 201
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
KELLER, Gerald, M. (Suiter Swantz PC LLO, 14301 Fnb ParkwaySuite 22, Omaha NE, 68154, US)
Download PDF:
Claims:

CLAIMS

What is claimed is:

1. A seasoned food product for enhancing and potentiating flavor, comprising: a food product having a first perceived taste impact, and a charge of seasoning for flavoring the food product, having a particle size less than 20 microns, wherein the charge of seasoning provides a second perceived taste impact greater than a third perceived taste impact, which would be provided by a charge of the seasoning having a particle size greater than 20 microns.

2. The seasoned food product in claim 1, wherein the charge of seasoning includes at least one of sodium chloride and potassium chloride.

3. The seasoned food product in claim 1, further comprising a second charge of seasoning selected for at least one of complementing the first charge of seasoning and reducing the amount of the first charge of seasoning required for flavoring the food product.

4. The seasoned food product in claim 3, wherein the second charge of seasoning includes at least one of sodium chloride, potassium chloride, a bulking agent, and a bitterness masking agent.

5. The seasoned food product in claim 4, wherein the bulking agent comprises at least one of starch and a starch derivative.

6. The seasoned food product in claim 3, wherein the first charge of seasoning is deposited at least partially around the second charge of seasoning.

7. The seasoned food product in claim 6, wherein the first charge of seasoning includes a salt and the second charge of seasoning includes at least one of a starch and a starch derivative.

8. The seasoned food product in claim 1 , wherein at least a portion of the charge of seasoning is deposited on the food product.

9. The seasoned food product in claim 8, wherein the charge of seasoning is deposited on the food product by at least one of vapor deposition and sputtering.

10. The seasoned food product in claim 1 , wherein the charge of seasoning includes at least one of a natural sea salt, a manufactured sea salt, and a flavored salt.

11. The seasoned food product in claim 1 , further comprising a cookware release composition, wherein the cookware release composition functions as a carrier for the first charge of seasoning.

12. The seasoned food product in claim 1 , wherein the food product is at least 50% fat free.

13. A seasoned microwave popcorn product for enhancing and potentiating flavor, comprising: a charge of popcorn kernels having a first perceived taste impact, and a charge of seasoning for flavoring the charge of popcorn kernels having a particle size less than 20 microns, wherein the charge of seasoning provides a second perceived taste impact greater than a third perceived taste impact, which would be provided by a charge of the seasoning having a particle size greater than 20 microns.

14. The seasoned microwave popcorn product in claim 13, further comprising a bag for containing the charge of popcorn kernels and the charge of seasoning.

15. The seasoned microwave popcorn product in claim 13, wherein the charge of seasoning includes at least one of sodium chloride and potassium chloride.

16. The seasoned microwave popcorn product in claim 13, further comprising a second charge of seasoning selected for at least one of complementing the first charge of seasoning and reducing the amount of the first charge of seasoning required for flavoring the food product.

17. The seasoned microwave popcorn product in claim 16, wherein the second charge of seasoning includes at least one of sodium chloride, potassium chloride, a bulking agent, and a bitterness masking agent.

18. The seasoned microwave popcorn product in claim 17, wherein the bulking agent comprises at least one of starch and a starch derivative.

19. The seasoned microwave popcorn product in claim 16, wherein the first charge of seasoning is deposited at least partially around the second charge of seasoning.

20. The seasoned microwave popcorn product in claim 19, wherein the first charge of seasoning includes salt and the second charge of seasoning includes at least one of starch and a starch derivative.

21. The seasoned microwave popcorn product in claim 13, wherein at least a portion of the charge of seasoning is deposited at least one of on and within the charge of popcorn kernels.

22. The seasoned food product in claim 13, further comprising a cookware release composition, wherein the cookware release composition functions as a carrier for the first charge of seasoning.

23. The seasoned food product in claim 13, wherein the food product is at least 50% fat free.

24. A seasoned ready to eat popcorn product for enhancing and potentiating flavor, comprising: a charge of popped popcorn having a first perceived taste impact, and a charge of seasoning for flavoring the charge of popped popcorn, the charge of seasoning having a mean particle size less than 20 microns, wherein the charge of seasoning provides a second perceived taste impact greater than a third perceived taste impact, which would be provided by a charge of the seasoning having a mean particle size greater than 20 microns.

25. The seasoned ready to eat popcorn product in claim 24, wherein the charge of seasoning includes at least one of sodium chloride and potassium chloride.

26. The seasoned ready to eat popcorn product in claim 24, further comprising a second charge of seasoning selected for at least one of complementing the first charge of seasoning and reducing the amount of the first charge of seasoning required for flavoring the food product, wherein the second charge of seasoning has a mean particle size less than 20 microns.

27. The seasoned ready to eat popcorn product in claim 26, wherein the second charge of seasoning includes at least one of sodium chloride, potassium chloride, a bulking agent, and a bitterness masking agent.

28. The seasoned ready to eat popcorn product in claim 27, wherein the bulking agent comprises at least one of starch and a starch derivative.

29. The seasoned ready to eat popcorn product in claim 26, wherein the first charge of seasoning is deposited at least partially at least one of around and within the second charge of seasoning.

30. The seasoned ready to eat popcorn product in claim 29, wherein the first charge of seasoning includes salt and the second charge of seasoning includes at least one of starch and a starch derivative.

31. The seasoned ready to eat popcorn product claim 24, wherein at least a portion of the charge of seasoning is deposited on the charge of popped popcorn.

32. The seasoned ready to eat popcorn product in claim 24, wherein the charge of seasoning is deposited on the charge of popped popcorn via at least one of spray drying, sputtering, and tumbling.

33. The seasoned ready to eat popcorn product in claim 24, wherein the salt includes at least one of a natural sea salt, a manufactured sea salt, and a flavored salt.

34. The seasoned ready to eat popcorn product in claim 24, further comprising a cookware release composition, wherein the cookware release composition functions as a carrier for the first charge of seasoning.

35. The seasoned ready to eat popcorn product in claim 24, wherein the seasoned ready to eat popcorn product is at least 50% fat free.

36. A seasoning for enhancing and potentiating flavor, comprising: a seasoning component including a salt having a particle size less than 20 microns and a perceived taste impact, wherein the seasoning component provides a second perceived taste impact greater than a third perceived taste impact, which would be provided by a charge of the seasoning component having a particle size greater than 20 microns.

37. The seasoning in claim 36, wherein the first seasoning component includes at least one of sodium chloride and potassium chloride.

38. The seasoning in claim 36, further comprising a second seasoning component selected for at least one of complementing the first seasoning component and reducing the amount of the first seasoning component required for flavoring the food product, wherein the second seasoning component has a mean particle size less than 20 microns.

39. The seasoning in claim 38, wherein the second seasoning component includes at least one of sodium chloride, potassium chloride, a bulking agent, and a bitterness masking agent.

40. The seasoning in claim 39, wherein the bulking agent comprises at least one of starch and a starch derivative.

41. The seasoning in claim 38, wherein the first seasoning component is deposited at least partially at least one of on and around the second seasoning component.

42. The seasoning in claim 38, wherein the first charge of seasoning includes salt and the second charge of seasoning includes at least one of starch and a starch derivative.

43. The seasoning in claim 36, wherein the salt includes at least one of a natural sea salt, a manufactured sea salt, and a flavored salt.

44. The seasoning in claim 36, further comprising a cookware release composition, wherein the cookware release composition functions as a carrier for the first charge of seasoning.

45. The seasoning in claim 36, wherein the food product is at least 50% fat free.

46. A method for seasoning a food product for enhancing and potentiating flavor, comprising: selecting a food product having a first perceived taste impact, selecting a seasoning component having a mean particle size less than 20 microns, and applying the seasoning component to the food product, wherein the seasoning component provides a second perceived taste impact greater than a third perceived taste impact, which would be provided by a charge of the seasoning component having a mean particle size greater than 20 microns.

47. The method in claim 46, wherein the first seasoning component includes at least one of sodium chloride and potassium chloride.

48. The method of claim 46, further comprising selecting a second seasoning component for at least one of complementing the first seasoning component and reducing the amount of the first seasoning component required for seasoning the food product, wherein the second seasoning component has a mean particle size less than 20 microns.

49. The method in claim 48, further comprising at least partially covering the second seasoning component with the first seasoning component.

50. The method in claim 48, wherein the second seasoning component includes at least one of sodium chloride, potassium chloride, a bulking agent, and a bitterness masking agent.

51. The method in claim 50, wherein the bulking agent comprises at least one of starch and a starch derivative.

52. The method in claim 48, wherein the first seasoning component and the second seasoning component are introduced to the food product using a non-aqueous vacuum brine system.

53. The seasoning in claim 46, further comprising a cookware release composition, wherein the cookware release composition functions as a carrier for the first charge of seasoning.

54. The seasoning in claim 46, wherein the food product is at least 50% fat free.

55. A seasoning for at least one of enhancing and potentiating food flavor consisting essentially of sodium chloride, having a mean particle size greater than or equal to five microns and less than or equal to twenty microns.

56. The seasoning of claim 55, wherein the sodium chloride has a mean particle size of ten microns.

57. The seasoning of claim 55, wherein the sodium chloride includes at least one of dendritic sodium chloride, sodium chloride derived from the Alberger process, and sodium chloride pressed into flakes.

58. The seasoning in claim 55, wherein the seasoning is encapsulated by a shell including a non-aqueous material.

59. The seasoning in claim 58, wherein the non-aqueous material includes at least one of a cooking oil, a vegetable oil, a seasoned oil, butter, and margarine.

60. The seasoning in claim 58, wherein a core of at least one of a starch and a starch derivative is at least partially encapsulated by a shell of the seasoning.

61. A seasoning for at least one of enhancing and potentiating food flavor comprising at least one of sodium chloride and potassium chloride, wherein the sodium chloride has a mean particle size greater than or equal to five microns and less than or equal to twenty microns.

62. The seasoning of claim 61, wherein the sodium chloride has a mean particle size of 10 microns.

63. The seasoning of claim 61, wherein the seasoning includes at least one of dendritic sodium chloride, sodium chloride derived from the

Alberger process, and sodium chloride pressed into flakes.

64. The seasoning of claim 61 , further comprising at least one of a bulking agent and a bitterness masking agent.

65. The seasoning of claim 64, wherein the bulking agent comprises at least one of a starch and a starch derivative.

66. The seasoning in claim 58, wherein the seasoning is encapsulated by a shell including a non -aqueous material.

67. The seasoning in claim 66, wherein the non-aqueous material includes at least one of a cooking oil, a vegetable oil, a seasoned oil, butter, and margarine.

68. The seasoning in claim 61 , wherein a core of at least one of a starch and a starch derivative is at least partially encapsulated by a shell of the seasoning.

69. A seasoning for at least one of enhancing and potentiating food flavor comprising sea salt, having a mean particle size greater than or equal to five microns and less than or equal to twenty microns.

70. The seasoning of claim 69, wherein the sea salt is at least one of natural and manmade.

71. The seasoning of claim 69, wherein the sea salt has a mean particle size of 10 microns.

72. The seasoning of claim 69, further comprising a bulking agent.

73. The seasoning of claim 72, wherein the bulking agent comprises at least one of a starch and a starch derivative.

74. The seasoning in claim 69, wherein the seasoning is encapsulated by a shell including a non-aqueous material.

75. The seasoning in claim 74, wherein the non-aqueous material includes at least one of a cooking oil, a vegetable oil, a seasoned oil, butter, and margarine.

76. The seasoning in claim 69, wherein a core of at least one of a starch and a starch derivative is at least partially encapsulated by a shell of the seasoning.

Description:

SEASONING AND METHOD FOR ENHANCING AND POTENTIATING FOOD FLAVOR

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

[0001] The present application claims the benefit of U.S. Patent Application Serial No. 11 /703,067 filed February 5, 2007, which claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application Serial No. 60/817,993, filed June 30, 2006, and U.S. Provisional Applications Serial Nos. 60/847,724, 60/847,725, 60/847,734, and 60/847,739, all filed September 27, 2006. Said U.S. Patent Application Serial No. 1 1 /703,067 and U.S. Provisional Applications Serial Nos. 60/817,993, 60/847,724, 60/847,725, 60/847,734, and 60/847,739 are herein incorporated by reference in their entirety.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

[002] The present invention generally relates to the field of seasoning technologies, and more particularly to a seasoning used to enhance and potentiate the flavor and taste impact of food products.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[003] Salt has a rich history as a preservative, spice, flavor enhancer, and chemical feedstock. Salt is an essential nutrient which acts to maintain: (1 ) concentration and volume of extracellular fluid, (2) osmotic pressure and body water balance, (3) acid-base equilibrium, (4) nerve and muscle function, and (5) glucose and other nutrient absorption.

[004] Salt plays an important role and is highly desirable in seasoning, enhancing, and potentiating flavor in foods and beverages. More

particularly, sodium chloride, a salt, enhances the organoleptic potential, taste, and flavor of food. Several theories exist as to how flavor enhancers and flavor potentiators work. It is believed by some that flavor potentiators increase the sensitivity of the taste buds, and flavor enhancers act as solvents and free more flavors from foods. More flavor is then available to penetrate the taste buds. Flavor is the quality produced by the sensation of taste. Saltiness is one of the five basic tastes. Other basic tastes include sourness, bitterness, sweetness, and umami (savoriness). Sodium chloride is a major source of salty taste and provides important nutrients for the body.

[005] Sodium chloride, as well as other salts, acts to enhance and potentiate food flavor. Enhancing flavor is defined as magnifying and intensifying the degree of flavor perceived by the taste receptors. For example, sodium chloride enhances and magnifies the flavor of food. Potentiating flavor is defined as bringing out additional flavors, such as sweetness. For example, sodium chloride often acts to bring out additional sweetness in food.

[006] As a nutrient, sodium plays an important roll in maintaining concentration and volume of extracellular fluid. It acts with other electrolytes, such as potassium, to regulate osmotic pressure and maintain water balance within the body. Additionally, sodium is a major factor in maintaining cellular acid-base equilibrium, transmitting nerve impulses, relaxing muscles after contraction, absorbing glucose, and nutrient transport across cell membranes.

[007] Some health experts believe excess sodium may lead to or exacerbate high blood pressure, kidney affections, water retention, and stomach ulcers. Despite health concerns and nutrition recommendations,

many people frequently consume an excessive amount of salt. Prior attempts to maintain the desired sodium chloride taste while not exceeding dietary sodium nutrition recommendations have failed to sufficiently address the problem of avoiding excessive sodium intake while retaining acceptable flavor.

[008] The ability of salt to enhance flavors in food is universally appreciated. For example, salt is known to potentiate sweetness, decreases bitterness, and add "roundness" to foods. As a result, salt is routinely added to processed foods. Prior, attempts to decrease salt or sodium content have resulted in reduced flavor (both salt and "food" flavors). Since salt enhances a desired food flavor, a decrease in salt or sodium content will generally require food flavor fortification. Typically done with salty-tasting substitutes, however, no true substitute has been found for saltiness.

[009] Therefore, there remains the need for a seasoning which has flavor potentiating and enhancing properties similar to sodium chloride needed for a desired taste impact.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[010] Accordingly, the present invention is directed to a method for seasoning food, whereby a seasoning component less than 20 microns enhances and potentiates the flavor of food to which the seasoning is applied. Because the seasoning component enhances and potentiates the food flavor, less seasoning is required to achieve the same taste impact. For example, food may utilize less sodium chloride when seasoned with sodium chloride having a mean particle size of less than or equal to

approximately 20 microns. Likewise, sodium chloride may be a component in a seasoning or a separate seasoning while retaining the desirable salty flavor associated with sodium chloride.

[011] The present invention also includes snack products, such as microwave popcorn, ready-to-eat popcorn, crackers, pretzels, chips, seeds, nuts, and cookies, including a seasoning with a mean particle size of less than or equal to 20 microns.

[012] The present invention additionally comprises a seasoning including a second seasoning component selected for at least one of complementing a first seasoning component and reducing the amount of the first seasoning component required for producing a desirably flavored food product via flavor enhancement and potentiation. The first seasoning component has a mean particle size of less than or equal to 20 microns, and the second seasoning component preferably also has a mean particle size of less than or equal to 20 microns. In a currently most preferred embodiment the first seasoning component has a mean particle size of between five microns and twenty (20) microns.

[013] It is to be understood that both the foregoing general description and the following detailed description are exemplary and explanatory only and are not necessarily restrictive of the invention as claimed. The accompanying drawings, which are incorporated in and constitute a part of the specification, illustrate an embodiment of the invention and together with the general description, serve to explain the principles of the invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[014] The numerous advantages of the present invention may be better understood by those skilled in the art by reference to the accompanying figures in which: FIG. 1 is a model dose-response curve for determining a response for given concentrations of tastant A;

FIG. 2 is a model concentration versus time graph for a zero order reaction, a first order reaction, and a second order reaction for two initial concentrations of a given solute; FIGS. 3, 4, 5, and 6 are scanning electron microscope images magnified 300 times, illustrating five, ten, 15, and 20 micrometer sodium chloride particles distributed on the surface of a popped kernel of popcorn (as an example of a seasoned food), and further illustrating the progression of particle distribution as a function of particle size; FIG. 7 is a graph illustrating salt intensity versus time for various sizes of sodium chloride on a sample of popped popcorn, wherein salt intensity has been measured by a sensory panel (trained in evaluating and scoring salt intensity);

FIG. 8 is a graph illustrating salt particle surface area versus salt particle size, wherein the graph illustrates that the total surface area of a constant weight of salt increases when the mean particle size decreases;

FIG. 9A is a graph illustrating the effect of salt particle size on the intensity of salt perception at four predetermined times, wherein the amount of sodium chloride removed is replaced with an equal amount of potassium chloride;

FIG. 9B is a graph illustrating the effect of salt particle size on the intensity of salt perception at four predetermined times, wherein one-and- a-half the amount of sodium chloride removed is replaced with potassium chloride;

FIG. 9C is a graph illustrating the effect of ten micron sea salt on the intensity of salt perception after four predetermined times;

FIG. 1OA is a graph illustrating the effect of sodium chloride and potassium chloride on the intensity of salt perception at four predetermined times, wherein the size of potassium chloride is varied and the size of sodium chloride is 10 microns, and the combination is compared to a control salt;

FIG. 1OB is a graph illustrating the effect of sodium chloride and potassium chloride on the intensity of salt perception at four predetermined times, wherein the size of potassium chloride is varied and the size of sodium chloride is 20 microns, and the combination is compared to a control salt;

FIG. 11A is a graph illustrating the effect on salt perception of various sizes of potassium chloride particles when combined with various sizes of sodium chloride particles immediately after tasting (of popcorn);

FIG. 11B is a graph illustrating the effect on salt perception of various sizes of potassium chloride particles when combined with various sizes of sodium chloride particles during chewdown {of popcorn);

FIG. 11C is a graph illustrating the effect on salt perception of various sizes of potassium chloride particles when combined with various sizes of sodium chloride particles immediately after expectoration (of popcorn); and

FIG. 11D is a graph illustrating the effect on salt perception of various sizes of potassium chloride particles when combined with various sizes of sodium chloride particles thirty seconds after expectoration (of popcorn).

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

[015] Reference will now be made in detail to the presently preferred embodiments of the invention, examples of which are illustrated in the accompanying drawings.

I. PARTICLES

A. SIZE METHODOLOGY

[016] Herein, particle size generally refers to the size of a single particle, an agglomerated particle, the core of a coated or partially coated particle, and the like. The term "particle" may refer to a crystalline or lattice structure, regular three-dimensional shapes (referring to coordination geometry), and irregular shapes having no predefined or specific particle orientation or geometry. The particle size may be evaluated through use of a particle analyzer. For example, a Malvern Laser Particle Size Analyzer or an optical particle image analyzer may be used to obtain a particle size. The mean particle size may then be determined from the particle size distribution. Pursuant to the description of the invention herein, particle size, is particle size measured by utilizing a laser particle size analyzer.

B. DISTRIBUTION

[017] In order to measure distribution, small particle sodium chloride was distributed over popped popcorn (as an example of a seasoned food).

Illustrated in FIGS. 3 through 6, the small particle sodium chloride is evenly and randomly distributed over the popped popcorn surface. The sodium chloride generally adheres to the peaks and the valleys of the popped popcorn surface providing uniform sodium chloride coverage to the whole popped popcorn surface.

[018] Variable-pressure scanning electron microscopy (SEM) was used as a tool to determine if salt with smaller crystal sizes have greater distribution on popped microwave popcorn compared to salt with larger crystal sizes per

unit weight. Imagery at various magnifications, illustrated in FIGS. 3 through 6, was used to evaluate samples for salt distribution on these products.

[cm] Specifically, microwave popcorn samples were prepared in duplicate within 7 days of analysis. The duplicate samples were popped using a common household-type microwave for 2 Vx minutes and cooled for 5 minutes. Three popped kernels from each bag were randomly selected and tempered overnight (-18 hr) at 58° C. After tempering, a small portion of each popped kernel was removed and placed onto a microscope stage. The samples were subsequently observed at 300 χ , 1000 χ , 2000*, and 5000* magnification. Images were collected in an entirely random manner. Representative images from samples containing salts with different mean particle sizes were then compared. Shown in FIGS. 3 through 6, the resulting SEM images illustrate that the smaller sodium chloride particles give a more uniform distribution than the larger sodium chloride particles.

[020] The images illustrated in FIGS. 3 through 6 and the results of the taste test, as illustrated in FIG. 7, show as particle size is reduced the distribution improves. As best illustrated in FIG. 7 (effect of salt particle size on time-intensity salt perception), salt having a mean particle size of 10 microns achieves the greatest salt intensity. As shown in SEM images in FIGS. 3 through 6, small particle sodium chloride is evenly and randomly distributed over the popped popcorn surface. As illustrated in FIG. 8, when mean salt particle size decreases for a constant weight, the total surface area increases. Smaller diameter sodium chloride provides more particles per unit area. This provides the same salt perception with less salt mass.

[021] As illustrated in FIGS. 3 through 6 and discussed in the preceding paragraph, when salt particle size is reduced, particle distribution improves. Salt particles on the surface of seasoned and popped popcorn illustrated in FIGS. 3 through 6 were counted for determining salt particle distribution. The method for determining the distribution of salt on the surface of the popcorn included counting the number of starch open-cells on each image and counting the number of salt particles on each image. The salt particles counted included the white or light colored particles that were clearly separated. The number of salt particles was divided by the average number of starch open-cells resulting in a ratio representing the number of salt particles to the number of starch open-cells. The results indicate that a smaller salt particle size provides a better distribution than a larger salt particle size of the same weight on the surface of popped popcorn. A salt mean particle size of 5 microns resulted in approximately 5.19 salt particles per starch open-cell for compared to approximately 0.83 salt particles per starch open-cell for a salt mean particle size of 20 microns. The results of the particle count illustrate that a smaller size salt particle gives a better particle distribution for the same weight of salt. The results are shown in Table 1 below.

[022] Table 1 : Approximate number of salt particles per starch open-cell

[023] An excellent description, incorporated herein by reference, for calculating and characterizing particle size may be found at: Rawle, A., Basic Principles of Particle Size Analysis, Malvern Instruments Limited, Enigma Business Park, Grovewood Road, Malvern, Worcestershire, WR14 1XZ, UK. The article may be located at: http://www.malvern.co.uk/malvern/kbase.nsf/allbvno/KB000021 /$file/Bas ic_principles_of_particle_size_analvsis_MRK034-low_res.pdf.

II. TASTE TEST

A. METHODOLOGY

[024] Taste tests evaluated the use of smaller size salt particles on popped popcorn {as an example of a seasoned food). The methodology of each taste test was strictly followed to ensure consistent results. Prior to popcorn presentation to a trained sensory panel, a panel technician popped the popcorn in a microwave according to established parameters. Immediately after popping, the popcorn was transferred into a large bowl for a 2 minute wait. After that time, the technician scooped popcorn from the main container using a 3.25 ounce translucent polystyrene souffle cup and filled the cup. The sample portions were immediately presented to the trained panelists. Due to the nature of the sample and its preparation, samples were presented in a sequential monadic manner.

[025] Each trained panelist selected four popped kernels from the sample portion and was instructed to choose pieces that best represented the sample. For example, if the trained panelist's sample was evenly mixed with highly coated yellow pieces and less coated white pieces, the trained panelist would choose 2 yellow & 2 white pieces for evaluation. All four

pieces were put into the mouth. The trained panelist evaluated salt impact immediately after putting the pieces into the mouth, defined as within the first two chews, and at the highest point in chewdown, defined as the highest salt impact observed during chewdown.

[026] The trained panelist was next instructed to collect the sample into a bolus in the center of the mouth and to forcefully expectorate the sample after evaluation. Expectoration was used to ensure that the majority of sample was removed from mouth. Using an individual timer, each trained panelist started the timer and further evaluated salt impact immediately after expectoration and thirty seconds after expectoration. Each trained panelist recorded the data using a paper ballot with the evaluation attributes preprinted on the ballot as well as places to record the date, trained panelist number, sample number, and attribute intensities by sample.

[027] At the beginning of each session, the trained panelists were instructed not to lick their lips during evaluation, to rinse the mouth thoroughly with room temperature spring water after evaluations, and to wipe their lips between evaluations. The samples were staggered for evaluation at least five minutes apart. The strength of each attribute was rated on a zero to fifteen point intensity scale or salt perception scale with zero being no strength and fifteen being high strength. This scale incorporated the ability to use tenths of a point and has the potential of 150 scale differentiations. If needed, intensities may be rated greater than fifteen using the same scaling criteria.

B. RESULTS

1. TRAINED SENSORY PANEL

[028] Taste tests showed that smaller particle salt delivers a greater taste impact over larger particle salt. FIG. 7 shows the effect of salt particle size on salt perception by measuring salt intensity determined by a trained sensory panel at four predetermined times. As best illustrated in FIG. 7 (effect of salt particle size on time-intensity salt perception), salt having a mean particle size of 10 microns achieves the greatest salt intensity. In the taste test, sizes smaller than 20 microns delivered the greatest salt intensity. As illustrated in FIG. 8, the total surface area for a seasoning increases for a given weight as the mean particle size decreases.

[029] Taste tests have further shown that when the sodium chloride removed is replaced with potassium chloride, the salt perception measured by a trained sensory panel is often greater than or within one salt intensity point of the control salt. FIG. 9A illustrates the effect of salt particle size on the intensity of salt perception at four different predetermined times. In the taste test results shown in FIG. 9A, reduced sodium salt with potassium chloride replacing the reduced sodium in equal amounts with varying particle sizes, were evaluated by a trained sensory panel. The results show that even with a 30% reduced amount of sodium chloride, the salt intensity is within approximately 1 salt intensity point of the control salt, which represents a full amount of sodium chloride. Shown in FIG. 9B, a similar taste test shows the salt intensity moves closer to that of the control salt when one and a half times the sodium chloride removed is replaced with potassium chloride. Additionally, FIG. 9C illustrates that similar results may be obtained using sea salt showing that even with a 30

and 50% reduction in sodium levels, smaller sized sea salt delivers a greater salt perception than the control salt. In FIGS. 9A through 9C, even with a 30% reduction in the amount of sodium chloride, utilization of a sodium chloride mean particle size less than 20 microns results in a salt perception within two salt intensity points of the control salt.

[0301 Further, a smaller particle potassium chloride is generally more effective for maintaining salt perception than larger particle potassium chloride when combined with a reduced amount of sodium chloride. As illustrated in FIG. 10A, five micron potassium chloride is generally more effective when combined with ten micron salt, although all evaluated particle sizes of potassium chloride deliver a salt perception within about one point of the 20 micron control salt. Similar results are shown in FIG. 10B with different particle sizes of potassium chloride being combined with 20 micron salt. Generally, smaller sized particle sodium chloride, alone and when combined with varying sizes of potassium chloride, deliver a greater salt perception than sodium chloride with a particle size greater than 20 microns. Referring generally to FIGS. 11A through 11 D, smaller sized potassium chloride had a more noticeable taste impact on salt perception when combined with 10 micron sodium chloride, compared to being combined with 20 micron sodium chloride at four predetermined times in a taste test.

[031] Additionally, potassium chloride was tested for bitterness intensity by a trained sensory panel. The methodology of each taste test utilizing potassium chloride was strictly followed to ensure consistent results. In the taste test for potassium chloride bitterness, there was no indication that a reduction in potassium chloride particle size affected bitterness intensity.

2. CONSUMER TESTS

[032] The positive effect of seasoning 20 microns or less, including sodium chloride, potassium chloride, sea salt, and combinations thereof were tested on consumers. The methodology and results of the test are discussed below.

[O33J A total of one hundred and fifty two consumers in Wayne, New Jersey were recruited to participate in the Low Fat Butter microwave popcorn comparison taste tests. The panelists were recruited from those who purchase and consume light or low fat microwave popcorn at least twice every month. Additionally, panelists had no food allergies and no one in their immediate family worked for a food company, in advertising, and/or for a market research company. Panelists were between the ages of 18-45 years of age (80% female; 20% male) and had not participated in a taste test within the last two months. Products were prepared as instructed on the bag. Multiple microwaves were used in the preparation of the product and samples were rotated evenly among the microwaves used. Each panelist tasted and consumed 4 samples of Low Fat Butter microwave popcorn. Serving orders were randomized and balanced for order and position effects. A sequential monadic serving procedure was used. A computerized ballot using Compusense® testing software was used for the collection of responses. A total of four questions were asked with two regarding whether the product was liked and two regarding flavor intensity. A 9-point anchored hedonic scale was used for the liking questions and a 10-point intensity scale was used for the intensity questions. Results were analyzed using SAS Statistical software for the Analysis of Variance. A 90% confidence level was used to determine significant statistical difference between samples. Table 2 illustrates that sodium chloride, when combined with

various sizes and amounts of potassium chloride, is more effective the smaller the size of sodium chloride utilized when used with low fat butter flavored popcorn.

[034] Table 2: Mean Liking Scores of Low Fat Butter Flavored Popcorn Made

With Small Particle Salt.

Means having different letters are significantly different at alpha=0.1.

N= 152. For Hedonic measures: A 9-point hedonic scale was used (ranging from 1=dislike extremely to 9=like extremely).

For Intensity measures: A 10-cm line scale was used.

Intensity scales measure the degree to which consumers rate products as different or not different in amount or intensity of specific attributes. It does not indicate liking. "KCl amounts defined as the ratio of KCl added/NaCl removed.

[035] A total of one hundred and two consumers in Chicago, Illinois were recruited to participate in the Movie Theater Butter microwave popcorn comparison taste tests. The panelists were recruited for those who purchase and consume Movie Theater Butter Flavor Microwave Popcorn at least twice every month. Also, panelists had no food allergies, and no one in their immediate family who worked for a food company, in advertising,

or for a market research company. Panelists were between the ages of 18- 55 years of age (79% female; 21% male), and had not participated in a taste test within the last two months. Products were prepared as instructed on the bag. Multiple microwaves were used in the preparation of the product and samples were rotated evenly among the microwaves used. Each panelist tasted and consumed 4 samples of Movie Theater Butter Flavor microwave popcorn. Serving orders were randomized and balanced for order and position effects. A sequential monadic serving procedure was used. A computerized ballot using Compusense testing software was used for the collection of responses. A total of six questions were asked with four regarding whether the product was liked and two regarding flavor intensity. A 9-point anchored hedonic scale was used for the liking questions and a 10-point intensity scale was used for the intensity questions. Results were analyzed using SAS Statistical software for the Analysis of Variance. A 90% confidence level was used to determine significant statistical difference between samples. Table 3 illustrates that sodium chloride, when combined with various sizes and amounts of potassium chloride, is more effective the smaller the size of sodium chloride utilized when used with movie theatre butter flavored microwave popcorn.

[036] Table 3: Mean Liking Scores of Movie Theatre Butter Flavored Microwave Popcorn Made With Small Particle Salt

Means having different letters are significantly different at alpha=0.1. N= 102.

For Hedonic measures: A 9-point hedonic scale was used (ranging from 1=dislike extremely to 9=like extremely).

For Intensity measures: A 10-cm line scale was used.

Intensity scales measure the degree to which consumers rate products as different or not different in amount or intensity of specific attributes. It does not indicate liking.

*KCl amounts defined as the ratio of KCl added/NaCl removed.

[037] A total of one hundred consumers in Chicago, Illinois were recruited to participate in the Butter flavor microwave popcorn comparison taste tests. The panelists were recruited for those who purchase and consume Butter Flavor Microwave Popcorn at least twice every month. Also, panelists had no food allergies, and no one in their immediate family who worked for a food company, in advertising, or for a market research company. Panelists were between the ages of 18-55 years of age (78% female; 22% male), and had not participated in a taste test within the last

two months. Products were prepared as instructed on the bag. Multiple microwaves were used in the preparation of the product and samples were rotated evenly among the microwaves used. Each panelist tasted and consumed 4 samples of Butter Flavor microwave popcorn. Serving orders were randomized and balanced for order and position effects. A sequential monadic serving procedure was used. A computerized ballot using Compusense testing software was used for the collection of responses. A total of six questions were asked with four regarding whether the product was liked and two regarding flavor intensity. A 9-point anchored hedonic scale was used for the liking questions and a 10-point intensity scale was used for the intensity questions. Results were analyzed using SAS Statistical software for the Analysis of Variance. A 90% confidence level was used to determine significant statistical difference between samples. Table 4 illustrates that sea salt enhances sodium chloride and is more effective when smaller size sodium chloride is utilized when used with butter flavored popcorn.

[038] Table 4: Mean Liking Scores of Butter Flavored Microwave Popcorn Made With Small Particle Sea Salt

Means having different letters are significantly different at alp a=0.1.

N= 100.

For Hedonic measures: A 9-point hedonic scale was used (ranging from 1=dislike extremely to 9=like extremely).

For Intensity measures: A 10-cm line scale was used.

Intensity scales measure the degree to which consumers rate products as different or not different in amount or intensity of specific attributes. It does not indicate liking.

*2:1 10μm Sea Salt to 20μm Salt ratio

III. EMBODIMENTS OF THE INVENTION

[039] Referring generally to FIGS. 1 through 11 D, a seasoning for flavoring and/or preserving a food product is described in accordance with exemplary embodiments of the present invention. The present invention includes compositions useful in the seasoning arts, food products seasoned in accordance with the compositions of the present invention, and methods for enhancing and potentiating food flavors by utilizing the compositions of the present invention.

A. SEASONING COMPOSITIONS

[040] In a first embodiment of a seasoning composition of the present invention, a seasoning consisting essentially of salt having a mean particle size of between five and 20 microns, is described. It will be appreciated by those of reasonable skill in the art, that the salt may be particles containing other ingredients, as part of a process of collection or manufacture, such as from mining, evaporation, and the like. However, it is generally conceived and comprehended that such salt will include essentially sodium chloride (NaCl) molecules.

[041] For instance, the food product may include seasoned snack foods, such as peanuts (including other edible nuts and seeds), pretzels, popcorn, and potato chips; meat products, such as beef, pork, and poultry; cheese products in liquid, solid, and semi-solid states, and similar food products. In a specific embodiment, the food product is a charge of popcorn kernels disposed within a bag configured for microwave cooking. In this embodiment, the seasoning may be introduced to the food product before the food product is in a ready-to-eat state, such as before microwave cooking. Additionally, the seasoning may be introduced after the food product is cooked, much like how table salt (i.e., sodium chloride) is frequently used.

[042] The overall salt component of the food product may be comprised of any salt fit for human consumption, preferably small particle sodium chloride, or "salt", small particle natural sea salts or sea salt blends, alone or in various combinations with small particle potassium chloride. Small particle salt, natural sea salts, or sea salt blends may have a mean particle size between 5 and 20 microns when determined by Malvern Laser Particle

Size Analysis, preferably 10 microns. The particle size distribution curve may display a d90-value of less than 75 microns, preferably less than 20 microns. Potassium chloride may have a mean particle size between 5 and 150 microns when determined by the aforementioned method of analysis, preferably 10 microns. The particle size distribution curve may display a d90-value of less than 200 microns, preferably less than 25 microns.

[043] The overall added seasoning component of the food product may be comprised entirely of small particle salt (mean particle size of between five and 20 micron particle size), small particle natural sea salts, or sea salt blends alone to improve the salty flavor (or other food flavor attributes) of the food product. The addition of small particle potassium chloride to the salt component of the food product may complement and improve the desired salty flavor. Small particle potassium chloride may be a component of the overall added seasoning component at a value of 5% to 75%,. by weight, preferably 30% to 40% when a bitter masking agent is included, such as trehalose, neotame, or other ingredients used for this purpose. Higher percentages of potassium chloride may be used when a bitter masking agent is included. Additionally, a bulking agent, such as starch, maltodextrin, dextrose, other starch derivatives, or other suitable bulking agents, which will not adversely affect the flavor or organoleptic properties of the salt seasoning component, may be added as needed.

[044] In another embodiment, sea salt is utilized as a seasoning on a food product. Sea salt may contain sodium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium, calcium, sulfates, and /or other constituents. Sea salt also includes both natural and manufactured or man-made salt. Natural sea salt is generally sea salt procured from seawater utilizing the natural processes of drying and evaporating by the sun and wind and gathered by hand.

Manufactured or man-made salt is generally harvested utilizing machinery or produced using other non-natural techniques. The taste of sea salt often depends on the source. Sources of sea salt may include Cape Cod, the Cayman Islands, France, Ireland, Italy, and Hawaii, as well as many other locations. The flavor, mouthfeel, and color may vary from each source and is advantageous to a consumer base with differing tastes. Preferably, the sea salt has a mean particle size between 5 and 20 microns.

[045] In one embodiment, the present invention is a seasoning for at least one of flavoring and preserving a food product, comprising a first seasoning component including a salt and a second seasoning component selected for at least one of complementing the first seasoning component and reducing the amount of the first seasoning component required for producing a desired flavor of the food product. For instance, the desired flavor may be a true salty flavor, such as from sodium chloride, which is known to potentiate taste. The first seasoning component and the second seasoning component may have a mean particle size of less than or equal to 20 microns. In another embodiment the first seasoning component may have a mean particle size of between five and 20 microns, and the second seasoning component may have a mean particle size of greater than or equal to 20 microns.

[046] In another embodiment, the first seasoning component includes at least one of sodium chloride and potassium chloride. For example, in one specific embodiment the first seasoning component is sodium chloride having a particle size such that when included with the second seasoning component, the mean particle size of the first seasoning component is less than 20 microns. The food seasoning may further comprise a second seasoning component selected for at least one of complementing the taste

impact of the first seasoning component and reducing the amount of the first seasoning component required for producing the desired taste impact or enhancing a flavor present in the seasoned food product. In this embodiment, the second seasoning component includes at least one of potassium chloride, a bulking agent, and a bitterness masking agent. In another specific embodiment, the second seasoning component is potassium chloride, which may additionally include a bitterness masking agent commonly used in the art. The bitterness masking agent may be any additive commonly used in the art to mask, inhibit, and/or mitigate the bitter sensation associated with potassium chloride. An exemplary bitterness masking agent is trehalose, as disclosed in U.S. Patent Publication No. 2006/0088649 and U.S. Patent No. 6,159,529. Many experts agree only sodium chloride elicits a true salt taste. However, other edible salts such as potassium chloride may be used to complement the flavor of sodium chloride. Because potassium chloride may impart a bitter flavor, a bitterness masking agent may be utilized to mitigate this bitter sensation.

[047] As described above, the second seasoning component may include a bulking agent. The bulking agent may be utilized to further reduce the amount of the first seasoning component required to impart the desired flavor. The bulking agent may comprise starch, maltodextrin, dextrose, another starch derivative, and/or another suitable bulking agent which may not adversely affect the flavor and organoleptic properties of the first seasoning component. Utilization of a bulking agent may be necessary when applied to a surface with moisture for preventing a large amount of salt dissociation.

[048] In an additional embodiment, a seasoning component is delivered to the product in a non-aqueous suspension. In one embodiment, the

seasoning component is sodium chloride comprising a particle size such that when included in the non-aqueous suspension, the particle size is less than 20 microns, and the non-aqueous suspension is cooking oil. The sodium chloride in the cooking oil may be sprayed onto a food product such as ready-to-eat popcorn or chicken dinners. Additionally, the non-aqueous suspension may include seasoned oil, butter, margarine, and other nonaqueous suspensions as required. A non-aqueous suspension is necessary to prevent the sodium chloride from dissolving and becoming less concentrated. When the sodium chloride particle dissociates, the concentration is lessened because the same volume of sodium chloride in the particle is dispersed into a larger volume of solvent. It is important the sodium chloride or seasoning component not dissociate because flavor impact depends on the concentration, and lessening the concentration lessens the flavor impact.

[049] In another embodiment, a seasoning is applied to a product using adhesion. In a specific embodiment, a coating, such as cooking oil, butter, or a non -nutritive oil is first applied to a food through an aerosol spray. Sodium chloride, which is the seasoning, is then applied to the coating. In an alternative embodiment, the sodium chloride, with a particle size less than 20 microns, is included in the aerosol spray. The sodium chloride may be delivered as a suspension not only in cooking oil, but also in alcohol or some other non-polar delivery medium. One serving amount of sodium chloride from a saltshaker may contain approximately 1500 to 2000 mg of sodium chloride, while one serving amount of a sodium chloride suspension applied as an aerosol may contain approximately 300 to 400 mg of sodium chloride. It is necessary that the coating be non-aqueous so that the sodium chloride does not dissociate. Dissociation of the sodium chloride reduces the concentration, which in turn reduces the flavor impact. If

sodium chloride is applied to a food with an aqueous surface, soy oil, maltodextrin, or other seasonings or ingredients may be utilized as bulking agents and help prevent the sodium chloride from dissociating.

[050] In another embodiment, a seasoning of salt, having a particle size less than 20 microns, is surrounded, or encapsulated, by a non-aqueous coating. For example, a particle of sodium chloride less than 20 microns may be encapsulated by cooking oil or fat. When applied to a surface with aqueous properties, the layer of cooking oil or fat prevents the salt from dissociating and preserves the concentration of the salt particle as a tastant. During consumption, the oil or fat layer is ruptured and the salt is available for use.

[051] In a further embodiment, a seasoning component is deposited at least partially around a second seasoning component. Deposition may occur via high shear granulation; fluid bed coating; spray drying; tumbling; coacervation; physical vapor deposition, including plasma deposition and sputtering; chemical vapor deposition; and /or other suitable deposition techniques. The second seasoning component may be fully encapsulated by the first seasoning component, or in the alternative, only a portion of the second seasoning component surface area is covered by the first seasoning component. In a specific embodiment, in a seasoning particle, starch acts as a core component upon which sodium chloride is deposited. While sodium chloride is located around the perimeter of the seasoning particle, saliva may quickly dissolve the salt into solution, so that it may be tasted. Since starch comprises the core of the seasoning particle in this embodiment, less sodium chloride is ingested per seasoning particle compared to a seasoning particle solely comprised of sodium chloride. Even though the core may not impart a salty flavor, the rapid dissolution of the

salt may result in a relatively high perceived salt taste. Alternatively, starch and sodium chloride may be admixed or agglomerated into a joined particle. In this manner, the saltiness perception may be lengthened or extended due to a separation of sodium chloride units by the starch. Thus, rather than a rapid dissolution, the sodium chloride will be dissolved upon breaking up of the agglomeration or admixture, resulting in a lengthened dissolution process and a longer lasting taste of sodium chloride.

[052] In a similar embodiment, sodium chloride less than 20 microns in size acts as the core component while cooking oil or fat is deposited on the surface of the sodium chloride. This is useful when the seasoning is to be deposited on an aqueous or partial aqueous surface. The cooking oil or fat layer on the perimeter of the sodium chloride may prevent the sodium chloride from dissociating on the aqueous surface and in turn maintaining the concentration of the seasoning, which acts as a flavor potentiator and enhancer. The outer perimeter may be ruptured during the chewing process and the sodium chloride may be available to the taste buds in concentrated form for flavor potentiation and enhancement. In a specific embodiment, cooking oil is deposited on the surface of a sodium chloride particle, and dispersed on a meat product, which has an aqueous layer on its surface upon which the cooking oil or fat layer prevents the sodium chloride from dissociating. Because the sodium chloride does not dissociate and remains more concentrated, the flavor of the turkey is potentiated and enhanced and the same flavor impact requires less sodium chloride.

[053] It is also foreseeable that sodium chloride particle structures other than a cubic crystal lattice may be utilized in the present invention. For example, dendritic salt or salt produced from the Alberger process may be used. Dendritic salt may be produced in vacuum pans from chemically

purified brine to which a crystal modifying agent is added. The resultant crystals are porous, star-shaped modified cubes. This structure ensures an even greater solvent exposed area and better solubility than regular cubic crystalline structure. The Alberger process produces salt through mechanical evaporation and may use an open evaporating pan and steam energy. The resultant crystals are stairstep-like flakes with very low bulk density. This structure increases the solvent exposed area, and thus, has better solubility characteristics than regular cubic crystalline structure. Additionally, the irregular shapes of these salt forms may enhance their ability to cling to surfaces, such as on foodstuffs. Smaller amounts of these salt forms may be required than traditional amounts of salt to obtain the desired taste, due to the high solubility of these specialized forms.

[054] In another embodiment, a seasoning of salt, having a particle size less than 20 microns, is delivered to a food product by a vacuum brine system. For example, a charge of sunflower seeds is placed in a container for creating a vacuum. A suspension of sodium chloride particles less than

20 microns in a non-aqueous material is introduced into the container with the seeds. The vacuum causes the salt suspension to enter in the shell and season the sunflower seeds with sodium chloride. The sodium chloride seasoning potentiates and enhances the flavor of the sunflower seeds and creates a desirable taste for consumers.

B. POPCORN EMBODIMENTS

[055] In a further embodiment, a microwave popcorn product is disclosed. The microwave popcorn product includes a charge of popcorn kernels, a charge of seasoning for flavoring the charge of popcorn kernels, and a bag for containing the charge of popcorn kernels and the charge of seasoning,

wherein the charge of seasoning has a particle size of less than 20 microns. The microwave popcorn product also may include an edible oil, fat, or other food adhesive configured to adhere the charge of seasoning to the charge of popcorn kernels. Additionally, the edible oil or fat may cover popped popcorn kernels such that the charge of seasoning adheres to the popcorn during microwave cooking. Alternatively, the charge of seasoning may be deposited onto the charge of popcorn kernels prior to microwave cooking. Deposition of the charge of seasoning may replace the need for an adhesive prior to microwave cooking, since deposition methods result in direct adherence of the charge of seasoning to the charge of popcorn kernels.

[056] In yet another embodiment, a seasoning of sodium chloride, having a particle size greater than or equal to 5 microns and less than or equal to twenty microns, is utilized for seasoning a popcorn product that is 9496 fat free. The seasoning may further include potassium chloride, bitterness maskers, bulking agents, and flavorings and colorings as required. Additionally, the seasoning of sodium chloride may be utilized on other fat free or reduced fat products as required, including microwave popcorn.

[057] The charge of seasoning discussed in the previous paragraph may include sodium chloride and/or potassium chloride. In one specific embodiment, the charge of seasoning is sodium chloride with a particle size of less than 20 microns. In an alternative embodiment, the charge of seasoning includes sodium chloride, potassium chloride, and a bitterness masking agent with each component having a particle size less than 20 microns. Additionally, the charge of seasoning may include a bulking agent, such as starch or a starch derivative, to further decrease the amount of sodium in the microwave popcorn product. The charge of seasoning may comprise an admixture, core and coating, agglomeration, or other

configuration of particles. By using a small particle size with or without combination of other sodium reducing components, a desired enhancement of the popcorn flavor is attained in a microwave popcorn product having reduced sodium content. Additional examples of seasoning may include sodium chloride and/or potassium chloride combined with other salts, such as natural or manufactured sea salts and other variously flavored salts and flavorings.

[058] In yet another embodiment, the microwave popcorn charge of seasoning comprises a water/oil emulsion. For example, the seasoning may be included as a component of a stable water/oil emulsion, and upon heating in a microwave oven or similar cooking device, the water at least partially vaporizes. In a specific embodiment, a sodium chloride saline solution is emulsified with a cooking oil commonly used in the art, such as palm oil, for example. Upon heating the water element vaporizes and sodium chloride is deposited onto both popped and unpopped popcorn kernels via the steam. The cooking oil may provide adequate adhesion characteristics to the kernels for deposition of the seasoning. In another embodiment, sodium chloride, less than 20 microns, is emulsified with a cooking oil and applied as an aerosol to a final food product such as pizza crust, french fries, ready-to-eat popcorn, and other similar examples.

[059] In one embodiment, a microwaveable popcorn product is seasoned utilizing seasoning with a particle size less than 20 microns. In general the product includes a closed microwave popcorn package, such as a tub or bag. Unpopped popcorn kernels and a slurry are placed inside the package. The term "slurry" as used herein, unless otherwise stated, is meant to describe all food components included within the package not including the unpopped popcorn kernels. A typical component in a microwave popcorn

slurry is an oil/fat material. The oil/fat material generally has a melting point (Mettler drop point) of at least 90 0 F <32°C) and preferably not greater than 145° F (62.8°C). Typically, the Mettler drop point for the oil/fat material is at least 95°F (35°C) and preferably not greater than 140 0 F (60X). Usually the Mettler drop point is within the range of 100° - 135°F (37.8° - 57.2°C), often at least 110 0 F. Current preferred oil/fat materials often have Mettler drop points between 110T - 135°F (43.3° - 57.2°C). Some examples according to the descriptions herein may have Mettler drop points no greater than 130 0 F (54.4°C). The slurry may include a variety of materials in addition to the oil/fat material. It may include salt, sweetener, various flavorants, antioxidants, lecithin and /or coloring.

[060] The oil component is preferably in the form of a slurry at elevated temperatures, e.g., around 120°C and generally in a solid form at room temperature. Oils suitable for use in the present invention include partially hydrogenated oils, such vegetable oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, rapeseed oil, low erucic acid rapeseed oil, cottonseed oil, maize oil, linseed oil, varieties of high oleic acid residue, groundnut oil, and /or other mixtures. The oil component enhances the flavor of the microwaved popcorn product. If desired, the oil component may include an artificial sweetener. A particularly preferred composition for the oil component comprises partially hydrogenated soybean oil, salt, color, butter flavor and sucralose.

[061] The oil/fat material may comprise a mixture of oil/fat components, having the overall Mettler drop points discussed above. The oil/fat material may include a first oil/fat component comprising at least 32% by weight of the oil/fat material, typically at least 80% by weight of the oil/fat material and usually at least 90% by weight of the oil/fat material. The first oil/fat component may be present within the microwaveable popcorn package at

least 3% by weight of the unpopped popcorn kernels, more preferably at least 8% by weight of the unpopped popcorn kernels and typically and preferably at least 10% by weight of the unpopped popcorn kernels. Typical applications will involve use of the first oil/fat component in the slurry at a level corresponding to 20%-70% by weight of the unpopped popcorn kernels.

[062] The oil component may further include a flavoring agent and/or a coloring agent. Suitable flavoring agents may include natural and artificial flavors, such as synthetic flavor oils and flavoring aromatics and/or oils, oleoresins and extracts derived from plants, leaves, flowers, fruits, and so forth, and combinations thereof. Particularly useful flavorings include artificial, natural and synthetic fruit flavors such as vanilla, citrus oils including lemon, orange, lime, grapefruit, and fruit essences including apple, pear, peach, grape, strawberry, raspberry, cherry, plum, pineapple, and apricot. The flavoring agents may be in liquid or solid form. Commonly used flavors include mints such as peppermint, menthol, artificial vanilla, cinnamon derivatives, and various fruit favors. Other flavorings that may be used include aldehyde flavorings, such as acetaldehyde (apple), benzaldehyde (cherry, almond), anisic aldehyde (licorice, anise), cinnamic aldehyde (cinnamon), citral, i.e., alpha-citral (lemon, lime), neral, i.e., beta-citral (lemon, lime), decanal (orange, lemon), ethyl vanillin (vanilla, cream), heliotrope, i.e., piperonal (vanilla, cream), vanillin (vanilla, cream), alpha-amyl cinnamaldehyde (spicy fruity flavors), butyraldehyde (butter, cheese), valeraldehyde (butter, cheese), citronellal (modifies, many types), decanal (citrus fruits), aldehyde C-8 (citrus fruits), aldehyde C-9 (citrus fruits), aldehyde C-12 (citrus fruits), 2-ethylbutyeraldehyde (berry fruits), hexenel, i.e., trans-2 (berry fruits), tolyl aldehyde (cherry, almond), veratraldehyde (vanilla), 2,6-dimethyl-5-heptanal, i.e., melonal (melon), 2,6-dimethyloctanal (green fruit), and 2-dodecenal (citrus,

mandarin), cherry, grape, strawberry shortcake, and similar flavorings. Preferred flavoring agents include butter, brown sugar, caramel, cooked milk, maple, vanilla, cream, pastry, marshmallow, cheese, cinnamon, and honey. Other examples of suitable flavoring agents are described in S. Arctander, Perfume and Flavor Chemicals (1969) and Allure Publishing Corporation's Flavor and Fragrance Materials (1993), the disclosures of which are incorporated herein by reference. In general, the amount of flavoring agent used should be in an amount effective to provide the desired or acceptable taste to the consumer.

[063] Coloring agents may be included in an amount up to about 10% by weight, preferably no more than about 6% by weight, of the microwaveable popcorn composition. Suitable coloring agents may include natural food colors and dyes suitable for food, drug and cosmetic applications, which are preferably oil-dispersible, including the indigoid dye known as F. D. & C. Blue No. 2, the disodium salt of 5,5-indigotindisulfonic acid), and the dye known as F. D. & C. Green No. 1 , the monosodium salt of 4-[4-(N-ethyl-p- sulfoniumbenzylamino)-diphenylmethylene]-[1 -(N-ethyl-N-p-sulfoniumben- zyl)-delta-2,5-cyclohexadi-eneimine.

[064] The oil component preferably also includes salt. Any suitable type of salt can be used, including coarse, fine, extra fine salt, or salt less than 20 microns in size. The salt is preferably present in an amount up to about 10%, more preferably from about 0.5% to about 6% by weight, based on the total weight of the composition. However, because salt may increase burning of sugar, the precise amount of salt used may depend on the presence, size and shape of the susceptor, and amount of sugar utilized in the packaging, discussed further below.

[065] Three general types of oil/fat components are described as usable for the first oil/fat component referenced in the previous paragraphs. The three general types are: certain types of oil blends including an interesterified oil component; selected physical melt blends of oils, typically with an emulsifier; and, selected physical palm oil melt blends.

[066] With the three types of blends, the general objective is to develop a relatively stable first oil/fat material with respect to problematic levels of undesirable flow (wicking) within the microwaveable popcorn package or undesirable levels of flow from the microwaveable popcorn package despite the fact the first oil/fat material includes a substantial amount of an oil component with the characteristic of being relatively flowable or pourable under typical conditions of storage, such as room temperature. Low trans oils are typically liquid at room temperature, possibly with some solid content. If the low trans oils are not modified, the oils will tend to wick undesirably from the package during storage.

[067] Two general approaches for managing wicking have been developed.

First, referenced herein as "interesterified blends," the oil properties are modified through a chemical interesterification process to provide for a different Mettler drop point or melting point profile for the blended oil resulting in higher stability with respect to undesirable levels of wicking.

Second, referring to selected physical oil blends and selected palm oil blends, a solid phase and liquid phase are melt blended together under conditions such that when the mixture is cooled, the solid phase reforms in a manner that defines a matrix for helping trap the liquid oil and inhibiting undesirable levels of wicking.

[068] When the first oil/fat component includes an interesterified oil/fat material, it is generally an oil/fat resulting from an interesterification of a mixture including a first stearine component and an oil having a saturated fat content no greater than 50% and a Mettler drop point no greater than 110T (43.3°C), typically no greater than 100 0 F (37.8 0 C). Typically this oil/fat resulting from interesterification comprises the result of interesterification of a mixture including at least 5%, and not more than 50% by weight, of a) the first stearine component, typically having a Mettler drop point of at least 130°F (54.4°C) and not greater than 170 0 F (76.7°C), usually not greater than 165°F (73.9°C), and b) an oil component having a saturated fat content no greater than 40% and a Mettler drop point no greater than 100 0 F (37.8°C). Typically, the oil used in interesterification has a saturated fat content no greater than 35% and a Mettler drop point no greater than 90 0 F (32 0 C). Often the oil used in the interesterification will be one which has a Mettler drop point of no greater than 70 0 F (21 "C). In typical applications, the component resulting from interesterification comprises at least 10% and not more than 40% by weight of a first stearine component, and b) the oil component as defined. Typically the blend subjected to interesterification comprises 15% to 30% by weight stearine. The component resulting from interesterification, preferably the first stearine component, may be soybean stearine, cottonseed stearine, com stearine, palm stearine and various mixtures of the components. Typically the component is soybean stearine. Additionally, the interesterification process may be a directed interesterification.

[069] The first oil/fat component may be a result of an interesterification of a mixture of a non-hydrogenated oil and stearine component. Various techniques for interesterification, both chemical and enzymatic, are known and may be utilized in microwave popcorn applications. There is no

preference with respect to whether a chemical or enzymatic interesterification is used in the preferred embodiments discussed above.

[070] Interesterification is a reaction that involves the exchange of acyl groups among triglycerides. The reaction may include the interchange of acyl groups between a fatty acid and a triacylglycerol (acidolysis), an alcohol and triacylglycerol (alcoholysis), and an ester with another ester, referred to as interesterification, ester interchange, proper esterification, rearrangement, or transesterification. During an interesterification process, fatty acids are rearranged both within triacylglycerol molecules (intramolecular) and between different molecules (intermolecular). The reaction is performed in order to modify the functional properties of lipids and not the specific fatty acids. Only the positions of fatty acid groups are changed, not their properties. Unsaturation levels remain the same and there is no cis-trans isomerization, such as that in hydrogenation. Interesterification may be used to change the physical melting and crystallization properties of lipids. The final resulting properties are dependent on the composition of the starting materials.

[071] Interesterification may be performed using either a chemical or enzymatic catalyst. Alkaline catalysts, such as sodium methoxide, are generally preferred for chemical interesterification. Upases are used as the catalyst for enzymatic interesterification. Upases vary in their specificity. They may be specific according to the following: substrate, fatty acid, positional esters, and stereospecific (for example, random and sn- 1 ,3specific). Most lipases preferentially hydrolyze at the 1 - and 3-positions on the triglyceride, although some may react at all three positions. An example of an industrial application of this process is used in providing the NovaLipid™ line of oils supplied by Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Decatur,

IL, in which an immobilized 1 ,3-specific lipase from Thermoces languinosus, named Lipozyme TL IM (Novozyme A/M Bagsvaerd, Denmark), is used as the catalyst (Reference: Cowan, D and TL Husum, Enzymatic Interesterification: Process Advantage and Product Benefits, Inform, March 2004, VoI 15(3), p. 150-151). Typically, an interesterified oil consistent with the parameters defined herein may be obtained by order from a food oil supplier such as ADM.

[072] The oil component from which the interesterified oil is formed has a saturated fat content no greater than 50% (typically no greater than 40% and usually no greater than 30%), and b) a Mettler drop point of no greater than 110 0 F (43.3°C), typically no greater than 100 0 F (37.7 0 C), and usually no greater than 90 0 F (32°C). The oil component is typically and preferably selected from the group consisting essentially of soybean oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, rapeseed oil, cottonseed oil, mid-oleic sunflower oil, safflower oil, one of the identified oils partially hydrogenated, or mixtures of one or more of the identified oils and/or one or more of the identified partially hydrogenated oils. Preferably, any partially hydrogenated oil that is used has an iodine value of at least 90. Most preferably this oil component, for use in interesterification, comprises soybean oil that has not been hydrogenated at all or which has an iodine value of at least 110, typically within the range of 120-145.

[073] The first oil/fat component of the oil/fat in the slurry may comprise 100% of the result of the interesterification. However, in some instances, the first oil/fat component will comprise a mixture of the result of the interesterification and a second stearine component. When this type of mixture or blend is used as the first oil/fat component, preferably it is made with at least 1%, typically at least 2% and usually no more than 10% by

weight of the second stearine component. Typically no more than 5% by weight of the second stearine is used, while the remainder comprises the result of the interesterification. The second stearine typically has a Mettler drop point of at least 130 0 F (54.4° C) and typically not greater than 170° F (76.7°C). Usually the Mettler drop point is no greater than 165°F (73.9°C). The second stearine is typically selected from the group consisting essentially of cottonseed stearine, soybean stearine, corn stearine, palm stearine, or mixtures thereof, usually soybean stearine. The first stearine component and the second stearine component may be independently selected. The same stearine may be used for both components if desired. The interesterified blends generally result in a microwave popcorn product including an oil/fat material with a relatively low trans content. The low trans content is a result of the oil/fat material being developed from oil material low in trans content, yet showing a melting point profile or Mettler drop point profile more acceptable for incorporation in package microwave popcorn products on a substantial basis with respect to storage stability and heat characteristics.

[074] When the first oil/fat material is a physical oil blend, it is often a result of melt blending, with an overall saturated fat content no greater than 50%, preferably no greater than 44% and most preferably no greater than 38%, and an overall Mettler drop point no greater than 145°F (62.8° C), more preferably no greater than 140 "F (60 0 C), and most preferably no greater than 135°F (57.2°C).

[075] The physical oil blends typically result from melt blending a liquid oil component and a solid fat component. Typically the Mettler drop point of the blend is at least 100 0 F, usually at least 11O 0 F (43.3°C), and often 115°F (46.1 °C) or more. In one embodiment, a Mettler drop point of 125°-135°F

(51.7° -57.2° C) may be obtained by melt blending corn oil (85% by wt.), soybean stearine (10% by wt.), and mono-glycerides (5% by wt.).

[076] The liquid oil component generally possesses liquid properties at room temperature. For example, it is pourable at room temperature (70 0 F for 21.1 "C). Oils which meet this definition typically have either a solid fat content ("SFC") no greater than 30% at 70 0 F (21.1 "F) and/or a Mettler drop point of no greater than 90° F. Although palm oil (palm fruit oil) does not necessarily meet both of these criteria, other liquid oils may. The liquid oil component generally has a Mettler drop point no greater than 106°F

(41. rc), typically no greater than 90° F (32.2°C), and often a Mettler drop point of (70° F or 21.1 0 C) or below.

[077] The solid fat component usually exhibits the properties of a solid at room temperature. The solid fat component typically has a Mettler drop point of at least 130° F (54.4°C) and not more than 170 0 F (76.7°C). Usually it has a Mettler drop point no more than 165°F (73.9°C).

[078] When the liquid oil component and solid fat component are melt blended together, an oil/fat material or blend results upon cooling, in which the solid fat material matrix helps retain the liquid material from undesirable levels of wicking from a microwave popcorn package.

[079] The liquid oil component is often selected from the group consisting essentially of soybean oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, rapeseed oil, cottonseed oil, safflower oil, partially hydrogenated oils, mixtures of one or more of the identified oils, mixtures of one or more of the partially hydrogenated oils, mixtures of one or more of the identified oils and/or identified hydrogenated oils, and/or mixtures of one or more of the

identified oils and /or hydrogenated oil, optionally including up to 49%, by weight palm oil, sometimes called palm fruit oil. The liquid oil component may contain up to 49%, by weight palm oil, although in some instances it may be preferred to include no palm oil for nutritional reasons.

[080] If partially hydrogenated oil is used for the oil component, it preferably has an iodine value of at least 90. Most preferably, the oil component includes an oil which contains less than 3% linolenic, such as cottonseed and/or corn oil that has not been hydrogenated, or which has an iodine value of at least 110, typically within the range of 120-145.

[081] The solid fat component may be soybean stearine, cottonseed stearine, corn stearine, palm stearine, hydrogenated palm stearine, hydrogenated palm fruit oil, and mixtures thereof. The solid fat component is often soybean stearine.

[082] In many instances, the melt blend will further include an additional mouth feel adjuvant for providing assistance with wicking control or flow of the liquid oil component and helping improve mouth feel of the resulting product. Materials for operating as adjuvants typically include materials solid at room temperature that may be melt blended. Preferably, the adjuvant material is not a triglyceride. Edible materials marketed as emulsifiers are often useable despite the fact they are not selected, at least with respect to the steps of melt blending, for their characteristics as emulsifiers. When present, this adjuvant is typically present at a level sufficient to provide an effective amount of improvement in mouth feel relative to its absence in the composition. Typically, this amount will be on the order of at least 0.5% by weight of the liquid oil component, solid fat component, and mouth feel adjuvant together in the melt blend. Usually

this adjuvant will be present no more than 7% by weight of the melt blend (oil, solid fat component, and adjuvant component for improvement of mouth feel). A typical amount may be on the order of 1%-6% by weight. The mouth feel adjuvant is typically and preferably mono-glycerides, di- glycerides, mixtures of mono and di-glycerides, polyglycerol esters of fatty acids, partially hydrogenated monoglycerides, propyleneglycol esters of fatty acids, and mixtures thereof. Often, commercially available mixtures of fully hydrogenated mono-glycerides, usually sold as emulsifiers, may be used. When this type of mixture is melt blended for use in a packaged microwaveable popcorn product as the first oil/fat component, it is preferably made with at least 80% and no more than 95% by weight of the liquid oil component, at least 5% and no more than 15% by weight of the solid fat component, and, if present, 0.5% - 7% by weight mouth feel adjuvant.

[083] Selected palm oils blends may be utilized for providing satisfactory performance with respect to wicking characteristics in packaged microwave popcorn products. Palm oil blends are often higher in saturated fat than the other physical oil blends. If the first oil/fat component is a palm oil blend, it is often a palm oil blend having a saturated fat content no greater than 60% (preferably no greater than 55 % and most preferably no greater than 53%), and a Mettler drop point of at least 100 0 F (37.8°C), typically at least 110 0 F (43.3 0 C) and no greater than 125 0 F (51.7°C), typically no greater than 120 0 F (48.9°C) and often no greater than 118°F <47.8"C).

[084] The palm oil blend is often a melt blend of a first liquid palm oil component with a Mettler drop point no greater than 106°F (41.1 0 C) and a second solid palm oil/fat component having a Mettler drop point of at least 120°F (48.9°C), typically at least 130 0 F (54.4°C), and usually not greater

than 145° F (62.8°C). The second, solid, palm oil/fat component is often selected from palm stearine, fractionated palm stearine, hydrogenated palm oil, or mixtures thereof. The second solid palm oil/fat component is typically palm stearine.

[085] The first liquid palm oil component typically is selected from palm fruit oil (sometimes refered to as palm oil), palm olein, and mixtures thereof. Typically it comprises palm fruit oil. An oil/fat component made with palm oil is preferably made with at least 10% and no more than 60% by weight of the second solid palm oil/fat component, more preferably at least 15% and no more than 50% by weight, with the remainder 40% to 90%, typically 50%-85% by weight comprising the first liquid palm oil component as defined. The typical preferred melt blends of the second solid palm oil/fat component and first liquid palm oil component may yield a Mettler Drop Point of between 110°F (43.3°C) to 120 0 F (48.9°C) with a saturated fat level between 60% and 50%.

[086] The oil/fat material of the oil /fat slurry may comprise 100% of the first oil/fat component without regard to which of the above three types of oil/fat materials is used. It may be advantageous in certain applications for the oil/fat material of the oil/fat slurry to include at least 80% by weight of the first oil/fat component as defined, more preferably at least 95% by weight of the first oil/fat component, and most preferably at least 99% of the first oil/fat component, as defined.

[087] In some instances, it may be desirable to provide the first oil/fat component in the form of a material having low saturated fat content. The material may typically be chosen from the interesterified oil blends and

physical oil blends discussed earlier and not the palm oil blends or blends including liquid palm oil.

[088] The oil/fat material may include an effective amount of anti-oxidant when made or when blended into a slurry for inclusion of microwave popcorn packaging. A typical antioxidant may be TBHQ (tert-butyl hydroxy quinone) utilized at 200 ppm. TBHQ, is available in tenox 20 from Amerol, Farmingdale, New York 11735. Various alternatives are possible, such as mixed tocopherols.

[089] Preferred nutritional compositions may be formulated with respect to selection of an oil/fat component in a microwaveable popcorn composition slurry. Even though the overall microwave popcorn slurry typically contains at least 10% by weight oil/fat material, the total trans fatty acid presence may be no greater than 5% by weight of the oil/fat component. Preferred oil/fat components that meet this definition may be utilized in amounts allowing less than 0.5 grams of trans fatty acids per popcorn serving, even when used in amounts on the order of at least about 32 grams (per package in a microwave popcorn product) and with at least 60 grams of unpopped popcorn kernels in the package.

[090] Certain preferred compositions may provide for low total saturated fat content. A total saturated fat content may be obtained with no greater than 40%, preferably no greater than 35%, based on total oil /fat weight in the popcorn composition when evaluated by GLC analysis, even though the composition includes stearine/ fully hydrogenated oil. Some compositions may be achieved with saturated fat content no greater than 14%, and preferably no greater than 12%, based on total food product composition, and a saturated fat content no more than 5 grams per serving, preferably no

more than 4 grams per serving. This may be accomplished by selecting the first oil/fat component from either the interesterified blend or the physical oil blends discussed above. When one of the physical oil blends is utilized, it may be preferable to avoid those that may include palm oil above a minimal level.

[091] When selected palm oil blends are used, the saturated fat content may be higher. If palm oil blends are utilized, the methods and principles discussed above may be used to provide a total saturated fat content no greater than 60% and preferably no greater than 55% based on total oil/fat weight in the popcorn composition when evaluated by GLC analysis. Utilizing the palm oil blends, a saturated fat content no more than 19%, preferably no greater than 17%, based on total food product composition and a saturated fat content no greater than 7 grams per serving, typically no greater than 6 grams per serving may be achieved.

[092] Preferred compositions may be formulated to have acceptable and desirable mouth feel characteristics for a typical consumer. Mouthfeel typically relates to such factors as the melting point range and the highest melting or softening point. The first oil/fat component may formulated to possess a Mettler drop point (melting point) within the range of 110 0 F - 145°F (43.3° - 62.8 0 C), typically 115°F - 135°F (46.1 - 57.2°C), while at the same time imparting an acceptably low level of mouthcoat. Mouthfeel refers to the texture of food sensed by the mouth during consumption of a food item. Mouthfeel is an important characteristic in determining consumer acceptance of a food item. Mouthfeel may encompass many characteristics such as crispness, hardness, graininess and mouthcoat. Mouthcoat refers to the food residue left on the surfaces of the mouth, especially the roof of the mouth and the tongue. Certain aspects of

mouthcoat include the perceived amount of residue (i.e. a thick or thin layer), the texture of residue (i.e. slippery, waxy, and/or sticky), and the duration of residue (whether it quickly disappears or lingers). Consumption of microwave popcorn may leave a mouthcoat often due in large part to the slurry component of the microwave popcorn. Oil is often a major component in the slurry and may impact the mouthfeel. For example, a pure liquid oil or an oil system containing emulsifiers often leaves a slippery mouthfeel. Oil with a melt point above body temperature often leaves a waxy mouthfeel. A waxy mouthfeel is often considered an undesirable characteristic of microwave popcorn.

[093] An advantage to the principles discussed above is that the slurry in a microwave popcorn bag may be formulated to less likely exhibit undesirable levels of wicking through popcorn packaging at typical handling storage temperatures than liquid oils.

[094] The preferred compositions of microwave popcorn may be used in a variety of popcorn bags found in prior art, such as those constructed using fluorocarbon treated paper. Examples of useable constructions are described in U.S. patents 5,044,777; 5,081 ,330; 6,049,072; 5,195,829; and 6,396,036, all incorporated herein by reference. The compositions can also be incorporated into tub products, such as those described in U.S. patents 5,008,024; 5,097,107; and 5,834,046, all incorporated herein by reference.

[095] In addition to the prior art packaging characterized above, compositions may be used in recently developed packaging. Examples include those described in U.S. provisional application 60/544,873, filed February 13, 2004; U.S. Provisional application 60/588,713, filed July 15, 2004; U.S. Provisional application 60/647,637, filed January 26, 2005; PCT

US 05/04249, filed February 11 , 2005; and U.S. Provisional application 60/574,703, filed May 25, 2004, filed as PCT US 05/08257, filed March 11 , 2005, these six references being incorporated herein by reference.

[096] When the first oil/fat component is a physical oil blend as described above, it is typically produced by physically blending fully melted components, such as a liquid oil component, a solid fat component, and, if present, an emulsifier, as previously defined. When the first oil/fat component is a palm oil blend, it is typically prepared by blending the fully melted whole or fractionated palm oils together, without an emulsifier. The term "palm fruit oil" may refer to the whole or non-fractionated oil derived from the palm fruit. Fractionation is a physical process that separates oil based on melting point. The lower melting point fraction is commonly referred to as the olein fraction while the higher melting point fraction is commonly referred to as the stearine fraction. The olein fraction has a lower saturated fat content than the stearine fraction.

[097] Microwave popcorn compositions contained in bags generally involve a collapsed package having a microwave interactive sheet or susceptor with a microwaveable popcorn charge positioned in a covering relation or thermoconductive relation to the microwave interactive construction or susceptor. For many conventional bag arrangements, the package is generally folded into a tri-fold configuration during storage and prior to use. The tri-fold is typically positioned in a moisture barrier overwrap to enhance shelf life.

[098] The microwave popcorn charge may often include at least 50 grams of unpopped popcorn kernels and at least 20 grams of oil/fat, typically having a melting point (Mettler drop point) of at least 100°F (37.8°C),

usually at least 110 0 F (43.3°C) and typically under 145°F (62.8°C), usually under 135° F (57.2 0 C). Often the popcorn charge contains at least 60 grams of unpopped popcorn kernels and at least 25 grams (in non-light oil products) of oil/fat.

[099] Preferably the microwave package includes a susceptor for enhancing the popping of the kernels. Once placed under microwave energy, the packaging containing the susceptor often reaches temperatures in excess of 300° F. In one embodiment, the microwave susceptor is positioned between two plies of the bag on the bag's bottom surface. The susceptor is preferably provided in a location over which the unpopped corn kernels rest when the bag arrangement is unfolded and placed in a microwave oven for cooking. The susceptor may comprise any of a variety of microwave interactive materials including a thin layer of metal, such as vapor deposited metal, metal oxide, carbon and similar materials. The susceptor may be applied directly to the interior of the bag, preferably between the two plies, or may be supported on a sheet of paper or plastic that is subsequently bonded to the packaging. The susceptor preferably comprises a metallized polymeric film, such as Hoechst Celanise polyester film (typically 48-92 gauge) vacuum metallized with aluminum to give a density of 0.2-0.3 as measured by a Tobias densitometer.

[0100] The microwave popcorn products of the invention may be quickly and conveniently prepared by the consumer in a single step. The consumer may remove any cellophane overwrap from the microwaveable bag and may place the bag in the microwave oven with the bottom surface of the bag resting on the inner surface of the microwave oven. In the case of a tri-fold bag as described above, initially only the bottom surface of the middle region may rest on the surface of the microwave oven. As the product is

exposed to microwave energy, the bag expands, as is well known in the art. Suitable rnicrowaving times for the products of the invention range from about 1.5 minutes to about 4 minutes, and may vary based on a number of variables, including the power of the microwave being used and the presence and size of the susceptor in the microwaveable container.

10101] Additional examples of microwave popcorn formulations may be found in U.S. application 10/475,284, PCT filed on March 29, 2002, and U.S. publication number 2005/023233, both incorporated herein by reference.

[0102] Salt may be added to a bag of microwave popcorn in a slurry comprising oil, fat, salt, flavorings, and/or other ingredients. The microwave bags may have an unsealed open end and are advanced to a first kernel popcorn filling station. The open end of the microwave bag is charged with the desired amount of popcorn kernels. Subsequently, the bags are advanced to a second filling station where the fat/salt slurry is added to the bag. Often, the slurry is added in the form of a vertically dispensed pencil jet for confining the slurry stream, such as in U.S. Pat. No. 4,604,854, issued Aug. 12, 1986, which is incorporated herein by reference. Other single station filling methods are also known in the art for applying the fat/salt slurry as a spray onto the kernel popcorn as the kernel popcorn falls into the bag, such as in U.S. Pat. No. 5,690,979, issued Nov. 25, 1997, which is incorporated herein by reference. The microwave bags including both kernel popcorn and slurry are advanced to a sealing station where the bags are sealed to complete microwave bag closure. The sealed popcorn bags are advanced to later finish packaging operations for folding of the bags, providing the bags with an overwrap, and inserting bags into cartons, bags, etc.

C. POTATO PRODUCT EMBODIMENTS

[0103] In another embodiment, a seasoning having a mean particle size less than twenty microns is utilized on potato food products. The potato food products may include french fries, potato chips, and other similar potato derivatives. The potato food products may be baked, fried, or cooked utilizing other methods.

[0104] Potato chips or french fries may be prepared utilizing a variety of methods. The initial step is generally prepared by initially slicing or cutting the potato into the desired shape. Shapes may include simple slicing, such as for a potato chip, or batons, as in the case for French fries. After shaping the potato pieces, the potato pieces are generally cooked utilizing various frying or baking methods. Subsequent to cooking, the potato may be seasoned with various seasonings, including sodium chloride having a mean particle size less than 20 microns.

[0105] Further explanations describing various methods for making potato chips may be found in U.S. Pat. No. 4,277,510, entitled "Process of Making Potato Chips," U.S. Pat. No. 4,844,930, entitled "Method for Making Potato Chips," and U.S. Pat. No. 4,933,194, entitled "Low Oil Corrugated Potato Chip," all incorporated herein by reference. Relevant discussions of processes for preparing french fries may be found in U.S. Pat No. 6,969,534, entitled "Process of Preparing Frozen French Fried Potato Product," and United States Patent Publication No. 2005/0266144, entitled "Parfried Frozen French Fry Having High Solids Content," both incorporated herein by reference.

D. PRETZEL EMBODIMENT

[0106] In another embodiment, a seasoning having a mean particle size less than 20 microns is utilized for seasoning pretzels. A pretzel may be a baked snack formed into a twisted shape, a straight stick, or various other shapes and sizes. The pretzel may be hard or soft. An explanation of a method for making pretzels is U.S. Pat. No. 5,955,118, entitled "Apparatus and Method for Manufacturing Twisted Pretzels," incorporated herein by reference.

E. FORMULATIONS

[0107] The following tables illustrating microwave popcorn formulations utilizing sodium chloride, potassium chloride, and sea salt, all less than 20 microns in size, are intended to be exemplary only and are not necessarily restrictive of the invention as claimed.

[0108] The popcorn used in the following examples may be hulled or dehulled, flavored or colored, and/or any size kernel with an internal moisture level of 12-14.5 %. The oil used in the following examples may be primarily tri-fatty acid esters of glycerol. Fat is a natural lipid material that is generally solid at room temperature. The oil used is similar to fat but is liquid at room temperature. The term "oil/fat" is meant to refer to oils, natural or modified fats, and /or any semi-solid mixtures at room temperature.

[0109] Suitable flavoring agents may include natural, artificial, and synthetic flavors, such as synthetic flavor oils, aromatic flavorings and /or oils, oleoresins and extracts derived from plants, leaves, flowers, fruits, nuts, and so forth. Other examples of suitable flavorings agents may be

found in Arctander, S. , Perfume and Flavor Chemicals (Aroma Chemicals), Montclair, NJ, 1969, and AUured's Flavor and Fragrance Materials, Carol Stream, IL, 1993.

[0110] Coloring agents may be included in an amount up to 3% by weight, but preferably no more than 1% of the microwave popcorn composition. Suitable coloring agents may further include natural food colors and dyes suitable for food, drug, and cosmetic applications, which are preferably oil dispersible and/or soluble.

[0111] The following four tables disclose examples of sodium chloride and potassium chloride utilized in microwave popcorn recipes.

0112] Table 5: Qrville Redenbacher's® Smart Pop! Gourmet®, Butter

0113 Table 6: OrviUe Redenbacher's® Light Gourmet®, Butter

[0116] The following four tables disclose examples of sodium chloride and sea salt utilized in microwave popcorn recipes.

0118 Table 10: Orville Redenbacher's® Li ht Gourmet®, Butter

[0119] Table 11: Orville Redenbacher's® Gourmet®, Butter

0120 Table 12: OrvUle Redenbacher's®, Sweet N' Buttery

F. EXAMPLES

[0121] The following list of examples is exemplary and explanatory only and is not necessarily restrictive of the invention as claimed.

EXAMPLE 1

[0122] This example presents an application of small particle salt as a component of breadings or toppings for frozen or refrigerated foods. Further in the following example, the use of small particle salt in exchange of the existing salt will produce a saltier flavor than using the industry- standard salt. The food products may include poultry, red meat, fish, baked goods, vegetables, or other appetizers including potatoes, onions, or cheeses, and may contain seasoning, flour, wheat, cornmeal, nuts (tree or legumes), and /or soybeans. Processes may include frying, baking, roasting, partial or fully cooking, or extrusion. Specific examples may include breaded zucchini, mozzarella, mushrooms, or chicken, flavored or unflavored onion rings, potato products (i.e., french fries), pastry pie crumb topping, or breaded pasta (i.e., toasted ravioli).

EXAMPLE 2

[0123] This example presents an application of small particle salt as a component for dry mix breadings for the covering of food products. Further in the following example, the use of small particle salt in exchange of the existing salt will produce a saltier flavor than using the industry-standard salt. The food products may include poultry, red meat, fish, baked goods, vegetables, or other appetizers including potatoes, onions, or cheeses, and may contain seasoning, flour, wheat, cornmeal, nuts (tree or legumes), and/or soybeans. Processes may include frying, baking, roasting, partial or fully cooking, or extrusion. A specific example includes SHAKE 'N BAKE®, manufactured by Kraft Foods, Inc.

EXAMPLE 3

[0124] This example presents an application of small particle salt as a component in a seasoning blend for a topical application. Further in the following example, the use of small particle salt in exchange of the existing salt will produce a saltier flavor than using the industry-standard salt. The food products may include poultry, red meat, fish, baked goods, vegetables, or other appetizers including potatoes, onions, or cheeses (topical or non- aqueous). The topical application may include seasonings or bulking agents. A specific example may include seasoning salt.

EXAMPLE 4

[0125] This example presents an application of small particle salt as a component in cured and non-cured dried meats as a topical additive. Further in the following example, the use of small particle salt in exchange of the existing salt will produce a saltier flavor than using the industry- standard salt. The meats may include beef, bacon, or bacon -flavored

mimics. The dried meats may be dried, freeze-dried, extruded or baked. A specific example includes bacon bits.

EXAMPLE 5 [0126] This example presents an application of small particle salt as a component in non-snack, cereal-based food compliments. Further in the following example, the use of small particle salt in exchange of the existing salt will produce a saltier flavor than using the industry-standard salt. The cereal-based food compliments may include bread, wheat, corn, oats, millet, rye, soybeans, cornmeal, seasoning, nuts (tree or legumes), and/or rice, and may be processed by baking, frying, extruding, puffing, drying, or may be left unprocessed. Specific examples may include croutons or bread crumbs.

EXAMPLE 6

[0127] This example presents an application of small particle salt as a direct addition to natural and artificial spreads. Further in the following example, the use of small particle salt in exchange of the existing salt will produce a saltier flavor than using the industry-standard salt. The natural or artificial spreads may contain nuts (tree or legumes), nut ingredients, soybeans, and/or seeds. Specific examples may include hazelnut spread, soy butter, or peanut butter.

EXAMPLE 7 [0128] This example presents an application of small particle salt for use as a direct addition or part of articles in non-aqueous batters. Further in the following example, the use of small particle salt in exchange of the existing salt will produce a saltier flavor than using the industry-standard salt. The batters may include edible fats and oils, flour, salt, seasoning, wheat, corn,

cornmeal, nuts (tree or legume), and/or soybeans. Specific examples include potato wedges, onion rings, fish, and cheese sticks.

EXAMPLE 8 [0129] This example presents an application of small particle salt for use as a direct addition to prepared pie crusts. Further in the following example, the use of small particle salt in exchange of the existing salt will produce a saltier flavor than using the industry-standard salt. The pie crusts may contain seasoning, flour, wheat, corn, cornmeal, nuts (trees or legumes), and/or soybeans. A specific example is a graham cracker pie crust.

EXAMPLE 9

[0130] This example presents an application of small particle salt added to a dried, grated, or shredded cheese for topical use. Further in the following example, the use of small particle salt in exchange of the existing salt will produce a saltier flavor than using the industry-standard salt. The cheese may be dried or dehydrated. Specific examples include parmesan, romano, asiago, or other dried, grated or, shredded cheeses with salt and other ingredients.

EXAMPLE 10

[0131] This example presents an application for the direct addition of small particle salt into oil or fat-based products. Further in the following example, the use of small particle salt in exchange of the existing salt will produce a saltier flavor than using the industry-standard salt. The oil or fat based products may be natural, conditioned, de-gummed, stabilized, deodorized, homogenized, bleached, or winterized. The oil or fat products may contain partially or fully hydrogenated oil and fat based products. Uses may include confectionary non-aqueous fillings, sprays, liquid or solid

flavored edible cooking oils or fats. Specific examples may include Oreo filling, manufactured by Nabisco, PAM spray, manufactured by ConAgra Foods, Inc., or butter flavored vegetable shortening. An oil based slurry, such as PAM with small particle salt, may be topically applied to French fries, potato chips, or the like.

EXAMPLE 11

[0132] This example presents an application of small particle salt as an application for cereals and cereal bars. Further in the following example, the use of small particle salt in exchange of the existing salt will produce a saltier flavor than using the industry-standard salt. The cereal or cereal bars may include bread, wheat, corn, oat, millet, rye, soybeans, cornmeal, seasoning, nuts (tree or legumes), rice, and/or granola processed by baking, extruding, roasting, toasting, frying, drying, or puffing. Specific examples may include any type of breakfast cereal, or any type of granola bar that is non-aqueous, pressed, and formed.

EXAMPLE 12

[0133] This example presents a topical application of small particle salt for vegetables and fruits. Further in the following example, the use of small particle salt in exchange of the existing salt will produce a saltier flavor than using the industry-standard salt. The vegetables and fruits may be freeze-dried or processed other ways. A specific example is Gerber freeze- dried sweet corn for babies, manufactured by the Gerber Products Company.

EXAMPLE 13

[0134] This example presents a topical application of small particle salt for snack foods. Further in the following example, the use of small particle salt

in exchange of the existing salt will produce a saltier flavor than using the industry-standard salt. The snack foods can contain rice, oats, corn, soybeans, wheat, cornmeal, flour, seasoning, potato, rye, millet, and /or nuts (tree and legumes). The snack foods can be flavored and unflavored snack crackers, crisps, cakes, mixes, chips, shells, cookies, crackers, pork rinds, and can be toasted, roasted, baked, fried, extruded, puffed, and the like. Specific examples may include potato chips (i.e. Pringles, manufactured by Procter & Gamble), Chex mix, manufactured by General Mills, Inc., pork rinds, corn chips, popcorn, soy or rice cakes, popcorn that is microwavable or ready-to-eat, saltines, Chips Ahoy cookies, manufactured by Nabisco, bagel chips, pita chips, Planters peanuts, manufactured by Kraft Foods Global, Inc., and other similar products.

IV. TASTE MECHANISM

[0135] Employing a particle size of less than 20 microns is essential to maximizing the taste impact of the seasoning. While many theories about the mechanism by which chemicals elicit a specific taste sensation exist, many of these theories agree that tastants must be water soluble to be tasted. Taste cell receptors exist within taste buds grouped together on the human tongue. These receptors allow humans to detect differences in varying concentrations of materials. For example, taste cell receptors enable an individual to differentiate between a highly concentrated or saturated solution of sodium chloride dissolved in water and a significantly lesser amount of sodium chloride dissolved in water. A weight of sodium chloride comprising a small particle size provides more surface area than the same weight of sodium chloride comprising a larger particle size and the same crystal structure. This is important with regard to the dissolution process of the present invention.

[0136] The rate at which a substance is dissolved into solution is dependent on multiple factors. One such factor is the surface area of the substance.

When a substance is exposed to a solvent, the surface area in contact with the solvent may be termed the solvent exposed area. In general, the greater the solvent exposed area, the faster the dissolution of the substance. The present invention utilizes this particular dissolution property combined with the function of taste receptors to maximize taste impact of seasoning, and particularly sodium chloride introduced with a second seasoning component.

[0137] The present invention utilizes small particle sizes to increase the solvent exposed area of the seasoning components. For example, a particular weight of sodium chloride having a particle size of 10 microns will dissolve into a given volume of saliva more rapidly than an identical weight of sodium chloride having a particle size of 250 microns, comprising the same crystal structure, and in an identical volume of saliva. After a short period of time, the 10 micron solution will have a higher concentration of dissolved sodium chloride than the 250 micron solution. Tasting response to sensory stimuli is rapid, usually occurring within 50 milliseconds. Thus, only a short amount of time is allotted before a tastant elicits a response on the taste receptors. Therefore, by using a smaller particle size, the seasoning dissolves into solution more rapidly and elicits a larger taste impact than seasoning comprising a larger particle size.

[0138] It will be appreciated by those in the art, that scientists do not know entirely how humans detect salty taste. However, many agree sodium is the chemical responsible for the characteristic salty taste. Many experts believe a sodium receptor is responsible but such a receptor has not been

identified. Other experts agree the yet unidentified receptor structures are taste receptor cells within taste buds; however, it is unknown how such receptor cells convert chemical information from sodium into the electrical language of nerves. Sweet and bitter taste molecules interact with protein receptors similar to a lock St key. Conversely, salty taste appears to be mediated by ion channels, or pores, that span the taste cell's membrane. Most researchers agree that tastants (flavor molecules) must be water soluble to be sensed (tasted).

[0139] The present invention utilizes a smaller particle size to elicit a larger taste impact of seasoning. Relative taste impact is primarily a function of tastant dissolution rate. As such, the amount of tastant required for a desired taste becomes less critical for producing the desired taste. For example, while a large amount of coarse salt may produce a highly concentrated solution, it may take a significant portion of time, relative to the short time required for tasting, to achieve this high concentration. On the other hand, while a smaller amount of fine salt may not produce as concentrated a solution after the significant portion of time, it may achieve a higher concentration after a short period of time, due to the enhanced solubility. Less fine salt is required to produce a desired taste impact. Therefore, using smaller particle size sodium chloride enhances and potentiates the food flavor and results in the same taste impact while requiring less dietary sodium.

[0140] If in fact salty taste is detected by the way in which it goes into solution at specific receptors, and changes in solution concentration are part of the tasting mechanism, then particle dissolution rate is a key to salt taste perception and food flavor potentiation. One way to affect this rate is to control salt particle size and the resultant solvent exposed area.

Additionally, decreasing the mean particle size of salt increases the number of salt particles per unit weight increasing the distribution of the seasoning on the food product and improves distribution over salt sensing areas (i.e. taste bud receptors).

[0141] Salt taste perception is dependent upon the sodium ion concentration at the proper location on the tongue. Smaller particle salt compared to larger particle salt, at the same unit weight has a greater surface area, and thus will go into solution more quickly. Table 13 below was used to construct FIG. 8.

[0142] Table 13: Mean particle size surface area calculations

*MPS = mean particle size (units) * SA = Surface area (units)

[0143] These calculations were based on a cubic-shaped salt crystal. The first column displays the salt mean particle size as calculated by Malvern Laser Diffraction techniques, column 2 displays the surface area per particle, column 3 displays the volume per particle, column 4 displays the relationship between number of particles for a given weight for salt for different sizes, and column 5 displays the relationship between the surface area for a given weight for salt at different sizes. This shows that when the mean particle size is cut in half, the surface area per unit weight doubles.

[0144] The dissolution rate is thought to play a role in the perception of salty taste. Dissolution rate is affected by surface area. A greater concentration of sodium ions will be present at the taste receptor site when using smaller particle salt. This will deliver a larger, initial salt perception compared to that of larger particle salt because the dissolution rate may be affected by surface area of the solute. In other words, the smaller the particle, the greater the surface area per unit weight. For example, 10 grams of 10 micron salt will have a larger surface area than 10 grams of 20 micron salt. The greater the surface area of the salt, the quicker it dissolves. The quicker the salt dissolves at the desired site, the quicker salt is perceived by taste receptors. It may be advantageous to use lower salt amounts for achieving similar salt perception, or the same amount of salt and increase salt perception.

[0145] Results indicated that as particle size decreases, salt perception increases, especially at earlier times during the eating process. A salt size of 10 microns was optimal.

[0146] Additionally, decreasing the mean particle size of salt increases the number of salt particles per unit weight, thereby increasing the distribution of the seasoning on the food product. For example, Table 13 demonstrates that decreasing the mean particle size by half results in 8 times the number of particles when the weight is kept constant. The information in Table 13, along with the images shown in FIGS. 3-6, demonstrate that salt coverage on the food product can be enhanced by decreasing particle size. This allows more particles to be presented to taste bud receptors. For example, a food that contains salt with a mean particle size of 10 microns will deliver more salt particles to a given number of taste receptors than when using 20 micron salt.

[0147] Relevant discussions of how taste is perceived is explained in T.A. Gilbertson et al., Taste transduction: appetizing times in gustation, Neuroreport, 14:905-911 (2003), and in E. Neyraud et al., NaCl and sugar release, salivation and taste during mastication of salted chewing gum, Physiology & Behavior, 79 (2003) 731 -737, both incorporated herein by reference. Other relevant discussions regarding mammalian salt taste receptors and salt taste channels are explained in Vijay Lyall et al., The mammalian amiloride-insensitive non-specific salt taste receptor is a vanilloid receptor- 1 variant, J Physiol 558.1 (2004) pp.147-159, and United States Patent Application Publication 2005/0031717, both incorporated herein by reference.

[0148] Although, taste qualities are found in all areas of the tongue, salt taste perception depends on sodium ion concentration at the proper location on the tongue (within operable range of a suitable taste bud receptor cell). Smaller particle salt compared to larger particle salt, at the same unit weight, has a greater surface area, and thus will go into solution more quickly. To efficiently produce the desired salt taste impact it is necessary to rapidly increase sodium ion concentration near as great a number of receptor cells as possible. A greater concentration of sodium ions is present at sites of recently dissolved particles, when using smaller particle salt. This delivers a larger initial salt perception compared to that of larger particle salt (where comparable dose weights are employed). Likewise, a higher available ion concentration near receptor cells act to increase receptor sensitivity and act as solvents to free more food and other none salt based flavors.

[0149] Five micron salt may be less effective because these particles may have a greater chance of fitting between areas in which do not contain taste receptors and dissolve in an undesirable area. Additionally, if salt were to dissolve too quickly, the initial salty impact would be less significant given that the amounts of sodium in solution become more similar over time, regardless of particle size.

[0150] It will be apparent to those of skill in the art, that two like sized solutions of brine, a first solution containing 1.0 I of H 2 O and 1.0 g of NaCl of 10 μm mean particle size, and a second solution containing 1.0 I of H 2 O and 1.0 g of NaCl of 25 μm mean particle size, will taste equivalently or equally salty. Further, that in comparing a third and fourth solution, wherein the third solution contains 1.0 I of H O and 0.5 g of NaCl of 10 μm mean particle size, and a fourth solution containing 1.0 I of H 2 O and 1.0 g of NaCl of 25 μm mean particle size, will not taste equivalently or equally salty. However, as will be recognized by those of equal skill, a starch snack (for example), having a surface area of 32.0 cm 2 (such as a potato chip), which is seasoned with 10 mg of NaCl having a mean particle size of 10 μm (reasonably distributed) will taste saltier than an equally sized chip (32.0 cm 2 ) seasoned with 10 mg of NaCl having a mean particle size of 25 μm (reasonably distributed). It is currently believed, but not theoretically relied upon, that by increasing the number of salt particles per unit weight, acts to increase the density (particles per unit volume) of distributed particles on a seasoned food product, so as to increase the number of receptors receiving a salt particle at least one of before, during, and after mastication. This provides an initial desirable high salty taste impact with a reduced amount of salt. As has been disclosed herein, as particle size decreases and approaches approximately 5.0 μm, this effect diminishes. Therefore, a preferred embodiment of the present invention utilizes a

seasoning having a mean particle size of between 5 and 20 μm (with 10 μm most currently preferred).

[0151] This result of reduced dietary sodium intake while retaining the desired taste impact may be supported by multiple views of the mechanism by which tastants elicit taste. For instance, this result may be supported by the lock and key view or the shallow contour view, which are similar to an enzyme/substrate relationship. Under these models, the relationship between the amount of seasoning consumed and the taste impact may be approximated by a simplified dose-response curve, as depicted in FIG. 1.

According to these models, a normalized response may be of the form

1 response °c - l + e ~A where A is the concentration of a tastant. Thus, a given response, such as taste impact on a taste receptor, is dependent upon the concentration of a tastant. A small particle size tastant, such as sodium chloride, will dissolve into saliva quickly, resulting in a more concentrated solution after a short period of time. A larger particle size of sodium chloride will dissolve into saliva more slowly and may result in a lower concentration solution in the same period of time. According to the simplified dose-response curve, the response will be higher for the smaller particle size solution after this short period of time. Response increases for increasing concentration on the simplified dose-response curve. Thus, taste impact increases for increasing concentration of tastant according to these models.

[0152] Retaining a desired taste impact may also be approximated by the chemical tastant-receptor interaction model. As explained above, tastes are differentiated by the symmetrical nature of the interactions, in which no chemical products are formed. Thus, the interactions of this model may

be approximated by chemical reaction equations solely dependent upon the concentration of the tastant. As shown in FIG. 2, approximate concentration versus time curves for three reaction orders and two initial concentrations are depicted. FIG. 2 is a theoretical graph, where the units for concentration and time are dependant on a theoretical rate constant k, which differs for each reaction order. While no products are formed, the interaction between the chemical tastant and the receptor can be approximated as a product for the purposes of modeling. Also, since the taste receptor cells remain fixed and essentially unchanged by the interaction, the concentration of the tastant is the limiting factor of the reaction rate. So according to this model, the initial concentration of tastant is the driving force for the subsequent "reactions." Since the chemical tastant-receptor interaction model is theoretical, the reaction rate for the tasting "reaction" must also be approximated. FIG. 2 displays three possible reaction rates: zero order (rate is constant), first order (rate oc [A]), and second order (rate «= [A] 2 ), where [A] is the concentration of a chemical tastant, such as sodium chloride. These reaction curves are approximate and account for initial doses of tastant, rather than a slow dissolving process. Therefore, this approximation may be viewed in two ways. First, the tastants are given a short time to dissolve before interacting with taste receptors, where no additional tastants are allowed to dissolve. In this instance, smaller particle size seasoning, such as sodium chloride, will dissolve rapidly, resulting in a larger initial concentration when compared to larger mean particle solutions. When comparing like ordered reactions, the higher initial concentration remains at a higher level throughout the "reaction." Taste cell receptors can distinguish between varying concentrated solutions and may recognize this difference as a difference in taste impact. Second, the tastants are allowed to fully dissolve before interacting with the taste receptors. In this instance, where

two different particle sizes are used, the initial concentration would remain the same if the same mass of tastants is used. There would be no difference in the concentrations of the two solutions over time. However, suppose less mass was used for the smaller particle size solution. In this case, the initial concentration would be less. For reaction orders greater than zero, the difference in concentrations between the smaller mean particle solution and the larger mean particle solution becomes smaller as time progresses. The taste impact difference becomes less apparent to an individual with time. These two alternative ways to view this model support using less seasoning with smaller particle size. The smaller particle size will allow a higher concentration solution after a short period of time, and, with regard to total concentration, the difference between a higher concentration and a lower concentration becomes less evident over time (for reaction orders greater than zero). Therefore, less sodium chloride of a smaller particle size (e.g. 10 microns) may be used as a seasoning component, while maintaining the desired taste impact.

[0153] The present invention allows 25 to 75% sodium reduction without reducing salt flavor or taste impact when utilized in salting desirable consumer snacks. A thirty percent reduction in salt use by the assignee of this invention would remove approximately 4 million pounds of sodium from its annual output of microwave popcorn packages.

[0154] It is believed that the present invention and many of its attendant advantages will be understood by the foregoing description, and it will be apparent that various changes may be made in the form, construction and arrangement of the components thereof without departing from the scope and spirit of the invention or without sacrificing all of its material advantages. The form herein before described being merely an explanatory

embodiment thereof, it is the intention of the following claims to encompass and include such changes.