I hope you enjoy reading this blog post. It has been written and vetted by RenalTracker's team of kidney experts and researchers. The same team was awarded the KidneyX Prize organized by the American Society of Nephrology and HHS for pre-dialysis solution in Washington DC in 2019.   

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Salt-free spices and herbs for low salt diet

How do you retain flavor in your food on a low-sodium diet? With the use of the right herbs and spices, chronic kidney disease (CKD) dieting doesn’t have to be bland and boring. Our friends at Spiceology are on a mission to make renal dieting as flavorful and appetizing as possible with their wide range of kidney-friendly, salt-free seasonings.

We’ve had the pleasure of having a quick chat with them about their affinity for spices, the importance of giving people with kidney disease a variety of flavoring options, and how they can perk up their everyday meals using Spiceology seasonings.

Here’s the transcript of the recent interview.

Karen: Hi everyone, my name is Karen Naranjo, CoFounder of RenalTracker. For today’s learning session we have two chefs who are championing taking flavor back for people living with Chronic Kidney Disease. 

Chef Duane Sunwold walks the talk, he’s a kidney patient who has delayed dialysis the past two decades by making kidney-friendlier food choices that are by no means bland “patient food.” He is a National Kidney Foundation Patient Mentor, and is RenalTracker’s Patient Partner. 

Chef Tony Reed is Spiceology’s Director of Foodservice. He is also the one who led the development of their salt-free spice blends designed to bring flavor and deliciousness to patients on a low-sodium diet that are tired of sacrificing taste for health.

K: So, how do you two know each other?

Duane: Tony was a student a few years back in my class.

Tony:  Oh, it was great. You know, Duane had a really interesting story. I think he was one of my first instructors that I had, I think it was about seven years ago now. And, you know, becoming an F and B (Food and Beverage manager) in Hawaii was really interesting, had a great story behind that. And it was always something that I aspired to do at some point in my career, but the path led me to Spiceology, and here we are working together again, it's been fun.

K: Anyone who’s watched a cooking show or picked up a cookbook knows salt is a go-to. How do you wrap your head around creating flavor without using salt?

Tony: At first, it was something that, you know, going through the industry of culinary, you're always trained about using salt. And that's kind of like the measurement that you're using to flavor food. 

And so it was a little bit challenging at first, but when you realize how many people really need a salt-free diet, you start to do a little bit more research and start to realize that if you have quality spices in your life, they hold a ton of medicinal purposes, as well as flavor.

So I started to try to play with flavors that carried a health factor and started there and then you know, Spiceology products, we tend to think we have the best, freshest dry ingredients out there. So everything is holding all their essential oils. So it just kind of amplifies that. 

(The flavor profile and each of the blends started) with a quality product, and trying to use it to keep it healthy, and then just going from there. I realized that a lot of people using the salt-free diet, they tend towards a sweeter side of things. And so, using some citrus notes helps a lot in the flavors that we're producing.

K: Spiceology offers an amazing range of spices, herbs, and seasonings for a number of culinary applications. Can you tell us more about you guys and what made you decide to create salt-free blends?

spiceology salt-free breakfast seasonings

Tony: The company started as a blend and rub business. It was founded by two culinarians. One was a chef Pete Taylor, who was also a student of Duane's, I believe at some point. And he works in some resorts in the Caribbean, in North Idaho, Priest Lake. And then Heather Scholten, who is a top five food blogger here in the US, and with Farmgirl Gourmet and so they created spices. 

When they brought me into the business, they wanted to create a foodservice side. And so you know, we try to hit the spice world from every angle that we can and we use the freshest ingredients we can find. We're a small-batch manufacturer, so we're able to control the quality by smaller batches more frequently. 

K: And for you, Duane, this was a much more personal journey like wrapping your head around flavor without salt. What was that like for you at the beginning?

Duane: Well, that was my first dietary constraint with kidney disease. So for me, the first thing I did was I took all the salt I could out of my kitchen. And then I had to really look at making sure that I use proper cooking techniques to add as much flavor back as possible. 

So for one example, I love roasted vegetables. I've used roasted vegetables in a lot of different dishes to help increase the flavor without adding salt. And then the other thing I did was I started playing with spices and herbs. And I find patients are usually very afraid of spices, especially if their mom didn't use spices, they only know what their mother used. So I think it's an obstacle that patients and caregivers need to overcome.

K: Why do you think it’s particularly important to provide people living with CKD different flavoring options?

Duane: I talk to patients all over the world. And their number one complaint is they hate their diet. You know, and dietitians are very, very talented in the science of nutrition and food, but they're not always trained in flavor. That's why I think this combination of medicine and chefs together is a great way of helping patients 

K: Elderly CKD patients often experience a loss of appetite. This is a natural occurrence brought by ageing and declining kidney function. Are there specific spices that may help increase their desire to eat? Or is that more an urban legend?

Duane: I know there are spices that can stimulate appetite. But the other thing with kidney patients as they progress through a disease is that their taste buds change. So (they have to constantly) figure out what foods they like and what foods they don't like. 

So I always just say, you know if you can get to a spice store, and smell new spices, and just pick. Pick one that you think smells good, and start playing with it.

Let’s talk about people who are just starting to peek out of their comfort zones to explore spices. Given the infinite possible flavor combinations, what are good things to remember?

Tony: Oh, man, that's a great question. (One of the things to keep in mind is to) try to take a cuisine that you like the most (and) do a little research. Just Google, you know, maybe your favorite cuisine is Asian cuisine. (Discover) the flavors that you're attracted to and just substitute the salts out. 

Just take the salt out and see what you can do. And then, you know, like I said earlier, adding sweetness to a lot of the blends and a lot of the flavors that you like. That's what makes it better for me when I remove salt. 

So (take) your favorite cuisine and (try) to understand where the salt is in those recipes. (Remove) them slowly and understand how to balance out your favorite flavors. I think that's the best way I could describe it.

K: Can you tell me about a time your food experimentation with spice didn’t exactly go as planned?

Chef duane preparing plant-based foods for a salt-free diet

Tony: Every day. Every day I experiment something because, you know, we really push for innovation at Spiceology. I try to think outside of the box and create recipes that people wouldn't ever want to attempt because maybe they're classically trained and they've been told by their chefs that you know, these flavors don't mix well or things like that. 

So every day I'm trying something new that's innovative and fun. I think the best example was -- it took me about two months -- I was developing a burger rouge spice blend. And, you know, it was playing with lots of vinegars and fruit powders that you generally wouldn't see in any other blends. 

And so there were a lot of cringe-worthy tasting moments through that, with the trying to balance the vinegars out and with the fruit powders and all that so, I think that was the most recent challenging one that I've experienced.

K: And how about you, Duane, knowing you bring in your family as volunteer taste testers?

Duane: They're pretty challenging critics. I actually had a Thanksgiving disaster with the stuffing for the turkey. I actually added way too much sage because I wasn't going to add salt. The spices and herbs were there to enhance the dish, not overpower it.

K: What’s your everyday Spiceology spice or blend?

Duane: I actually use a lot of paprika. And I find it a great way of enhancing and making kind of a vegan smoked gouda flavor. And one of my Spiceology favorites is Tandoori Glory. I love that it's so great with vegetable soups and main dishes.

Tony: I love Szechuan Peppercorns. I tried to implement it in just about everything that I use at home. But as far as a blend goes, the Spiceology Greek Freak. My wife… she's not the greatest cook in the world. So (Greek Freak) makes her food taste a lot better and makes my food taste a lot better. It's just so versatile. 

You can use it… with your tomato sauces for spaghetti or you can use it on your chicken to do roasted chicken. It can be used on any meat. Any vegetable. For me it's the most versatile.

K: When you’re feeling a bit adventurous, which Spiceology spice or blend do you want to do more food experiments with?

Tony: I did a smoked brisket with the Korean BBQ Blend that I had created. We actually created it for William Sonoma a few years back and it ended up being one of our top sellers. And so I like to take ingredients that people want to really use it for and create a recipe with it and the brisket was a popular one.

DuaneWell I want to follow up with what Tony said first because I love the Korean BBQ [Blend] to sprinkle it on a cucumber sandwich. So it's great not just with meat. It's also great with some vegetables. So yeah. For me, I can't wait to work with Mango Tango. I'm really excited to play with that more.

To find out more about the kidney-friendly seasonings mentioned in this conversation for a low-sodium diet, check out Spiceology’s salt-free seasonings page.